Director: Shinji Aramaki
Writers: Harutoshi Fukui & Kiyoto Takeuchi
Based on a manga series by Leiji Matsumoto, Space Pirate Captain Harlock (or Harlock: Space Pirate) is a CGI space opera from Toei Animation studios, the same company that brought you Yu-Gi-Oh! film and Dragonball Z. This film was the biggest budgeted production the company had done up to that point, and fittingly, it went completely under my radar.
So, the movie starts with a ton load of text that sets up the film’s story, and as usual to all Japanese anime, the set up is very convoluted. The far far future (or the past, even the movie’s unsure) has the human race scattered to the far reaches of space due to a cataclysmic event that forced the people to desert Earth. Now mankind’s homeplanet is a symbol of hope, and the Gaia-coalition (actually bunch of old dudes sitting behind a very tall table) forbids any human to return there. The coalition is afraid of one man that poses a real threat to their rules, that man being the notorious Space Pirate himself, Captain Harlock.
Captain Harlock and his loayal crew cruise around in their self-healing, black smoke billowing, skull-tipped spaceship that looks like it escaped from a Judas Priest album cover. They recruite a new member, beutiful manboy Logan, to their crew not knowing he is a double agent leaking information to his wheelchair-bound brother Ezra, who’s leading an armada of Gaia’s spaceships closer to their position aiming to destroy Harlock.
Logan gets to know the crew better and soon gets a whiff of Harlock’s true plans, which gets Logan to reconcider his allegiance. Captain Harlock tries to initiate a new start for Earth and his risky plan is almost complete, needing only help with few more daring missions. Logan is guilt-ridden by a tragic accident that he caused in the past, and that makes it difficult for Logan to switch sides, but eventually (aided by the fact that Harlock saves his life during a mission gone bad) Logan decides that Harlock is right and finally joins Harlock rag-tag crew, which leads Ezra to remove all caution for his brother and attack with full force. But the real question still remains, is Harlock really doing the right thing by trying to have a clean slate for life?
Space Pirate Captain Harlock really goes full sci-fi with it’s dialogue and the story elements feels often like a mixture of Final Fantasy and Neon Evangelion. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but it sometimes makes the viewing a tad taxing. Also the film is very plot-centric, so there’s very little time devoted to character development. Mostly they are there to move the story forward. Thankfully Captain Harlock is played as a somewhat mysterious character and it works. When the guy gives a dry smirk, it feels huge. He is a brooding badass and the reveal of his character’s history feels appropriate (actually, in a different movie, he’d be the villain with a backstory like that). Logan, the main character is not that strong of a character, but thankfully he is not a complete tool either and his character arc is somewhat satisfying.
Logan’s brother, Ezra is an interesting villain. Once again, in another film he’d most likely be the hero. Come to think about it, he is the guy who’s trying to capture a well known terrorist and a guy who is about to end the universe. Yeah, what an asshole. Also, he has a genuine right to be angry for his brother for the horrific tragedy in his past. His arc is the most well-rounded and it’s good that the film never has him going ”I am now evil, so I will kill your family and rape your pet” or some silly shit like that.
But is the film actually any good, and who is it meant for? Well…after the CGI Final Fantasy films and that pointless animated cutscene of a movie Resident Evil Degeneration, I was really pessimistic about the quality of Japanese animation. I was not disappointed on the films’ production values, but the lack of a good story and poor characters seemed to alienate me from those films. Yes yes, the writing is still a bit too convoluted and the characters are a bit too melodramatic and hollow…BUT it’s fucking spectacular. The animation is ridiculously awesome and the space battles are jawdroppingly gorgeous. When Harlock’s ship rams head first on to another starcruiser, I really didn’t care that Logan isn’t the most interesting protagonist out there. When Kei attacks a bunch of soldiers wearing that über-sexy red leather suit and machine pistols them dead I really didn’t care that the most of the exposition happened either through dialogue or flashbacks.
The film is a hard sci-fi eye candy, and will most likely be appreciated by people who dig anime, hardcore science fiction and epic space battles. If you enjoy those things, you’ll like this too. It’s not a perfect movie, but it sure tries its hardest to look like one.
Best Scene: The showstopping space battle, where Captain Harlock takes on an entire armada of space cruisers
Most Memorable Bit: Kei. I will never forget her awesome costume design. If you cosplay that, I will marry you, without questions.