#211 : Arei no Kagami: Way to the Virgin Space

Do you believe the universe has an edge where beyond that boundary is untouched, pure… virginal?. If space and the universe are infinite, how can there be an edge? We now are about to enter the realm of imaginative sci-fi space fantasy… rules and reason, yeah let’s leave that at the door. Ever hear of Arei no Kagami: Way to the Virgin Space? Like many obscure titles from the 1980s this was an unknown for me as well, but something about Arei no Kagami invited me in with something very familiar.

AnK_1Upon quick glance of the characters one who is in the know would easily recognize that Arei no Kagami is a part of Leiji Matsumoto’s portfolio of work. His hallmark style surrounds the visual appeal of the likes such as Galaxy Express 999 and Queen Millennia, amongst many others, but Arei no Kagami has many other similarities. A young boy in the company of a beautiful blonde woman on a sci-fi themed journey is a common theme expressed in the other two Matsumoto productions, but for Arei no Kagami we see a variation with an auburn female lead instead, Maya. Along with her is the young Meguru and both of them escape a planet torn apart by war to search for the promised land, the edge of the universe, Arei. Onboard as well is a stowaway android, Zero, who also yearns to find this special zone.

AnK_2Created specifically for Expo ’85, The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, 1985, Arei no Kagami would fit into the future oriented theme of the event. And while progress and the hope of things to come were the main focus, Arei no Kagami would also question much about humanity’s past actions. The dark side of war, hatred and mistreatment towards the environment and other humans would be brought forth to our trio of space explorers who must defend the human race’s more redeeming qualities. Architecture, the arts and advancements in science and philosophies would be presented as a counterpoint. Yet the entry into the virgin space of the universe demands the most noble of hearts… can these three characters pass the test of showing that the human race is far more than our past sins?

AnK_3Matsumoto’s Arei no Kagami was a fellow classmate to his former Yamato partner Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (Oh! ODEEN!). And as different as both men are (artist vs. businessman literally), both productions are literally… light years apart in many ways. Arei no Kagami is short (20–25 minutes), a concise story and has a feeling of conclusion. You feel in many ways you made it to the final destination intended. Odin is two plus hours long, confusing, over complicated and end ups going nowhere. I am still “Searching for Odin my love” like many of us. Matsumoto was always the stronger storyteller of the two and while Arei no Kagami is very simple and kind of generic, it does what it does well with a limited time span.

#199 : Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX

It does not matter what the title says, this is pure Captain Harlock beyond any other name. 1982 would mark a return of anime’s ‘Man in Black’ with the epic film Arcadia of my Youth. Later in the year a TV series would follow detailing the journey towards the mythical paradise of Arcadia with both Harlock and Tochiro aboard their battleship the Arcadia (maybe they are already at home?). And let’s not forget their friend Emeraldas making brief appearances too. Three outlaws according to the status quo, the Illumidas empire, who label the trio as S00998, S00999 and X00001. SSX they would be and with that designation would appear the title of our story, Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX.

AoMYERSSX_1The love I have for any of the animated works featuring Leiji Matsumoto’s iconic steadfast outsider cannot be denied. Captain Harlock is my personal symbol for what it means to be a hero, or perhaps an anti-hero. His appearance alone strikes fear, respect, or joy depending on the individual; a true mark of one who follows their own path outside the limits of society’s expectations. His loyal friendship with the engineer Tochiro Oyama makes these two a strong buddy combination, a dynamic duo beyond compare much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Joining them is a crew that combines characters from the Arcadia of my Youth movie, the original TV series, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and all new faces. They all travel the stars searching for their legendary paradise of Arcadia while evading the Illumidas Empire, a human sell out ti the Illumidas, Mr. Zone, and a mysterious golden light that seems both dangerous and sometimes helpful.

AoMYERSSX_2Arcadia SSX is almost perfect par for one minor issue. Compared to the AArcadia of my Youth movie this TV series feels a little more juvenile, just a little. Not a bad thing mind you, but that film was such a grand epic of seriousness and romanticism. Perhaps they tried to appeal to as wide an audience as possible? This could be Harlock’s version of Galaxy Express 999, another Matasumoto iconic series, in that he plays steward to a young boy learning the ways of growing up. You know Tadashi (Arcadia SSX) looks a little like the movie version of Tetsuro (GE999). Then again wasn’t Harlock in the GE999 movies? (YES!) Now as an action sci-fi series it is maybe one of the best in all the Harlock stories I have seen. Harlock is not as stiff, quiet, or detached as in other portrayals. And as a Toei animated show it is maybe one of the best looking, or well polished in their catalog from the era. Occasionally a scene, or two is pulled from the movie from time to time which explains a need to keep the consistent detail high.

AoMYERSSX_3And yet with all these positives in place there was sadly a lack in popularity. By 1982 Harlock was on the way out and this show would be cancelled early leaving the episode count to only 22. Not fair! In the new world of the early 1980s Macross, Gundam and Ususei Yatsura had the limelight, while the old Matsumoto influenced Yamato and Harlock were beginning to fade away. And how many reboots of Harlock and Yamato have there been since nostalgia came around a few years later? Many. Fickle as some fans are in the current zeitgeists of fashion, this was a missed opportunity that needed more time to flush out the larger plotline. Even Tochiro’s eventually demise, which has been shown in several iterations of Harlock, was rushed too soon. We miss you my friend.

AoMYERSSX_4Many across the world define their passion, or nostalgia for Captain Harlock with this show. How many times do I bump into the name Albator 84, the French version of Arcadia SSX whenever I do general searches online? Many. I really like this show, but my go to will always be the original 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Just know that Arcadia SSX is a very close second and I wish you could have hung on a little longer because I was having way too much fun trekking trough the stars with my heroes Harlock and Tochiro. And that SSX designation also has another significance in this show beyond the wanted numbers, but I’ll let you find that one out. Raise a toast for this one! Gohrum!

… Now in my silly moments I often joke about the SSX designation because it is so close to S…E…X. Immature perhaps, but it’s so true.

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.