Harlock Space Pirate (DVD Review)

Harlock Space Pirate (DVD Review)
Space Pirate Captain Harlock (movie)
宇宙海賊キャプテンハーロック
Uchū Kaizoku Kyaputen Hārokku

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***SPOILERS!!!***

Harlock Space Pirate DVDAs a long time anime fan, the original, classic anime series Captain Harlock is well known to me. It has long been on my list of classic anime titles to watch. So when I was given an opportunity to get a review copy of the recent, CG anime Harlock Space Pirate DVD, I immediately sprang at the chance.

The story, in brief, centers around the 100 year old, immortal pirate, Captain Harlock, who commands the last surviving Deathshadow-Class battleship, Arcadia. Having failed to defend Earth during the Homecoming War, Captain Harlock plans to reset things and turn back time by setting powerful, planet destroying bombs he stole from the Gaia Sanction all over the galaxy. Isola, the Admiral of the Gaia Fleet, dispatches his younger brother Yama to infiltrate the crew of the Arcadia, in order to locate the detonators and remove Harlock as a threat to the Gaia Sanction.  However, Yama discovers things aren’t as black and white as he’d believed before joining the crew of the Arcadia, and has to decide if Harlock is the true enemy, or if the Gaia Sanction is the true enemy.

Harlock Space Pirate

Since I’ve never watched the original Captain Harlock anime, I was curious to see how this CG anime story would pan out. After all, how do you cram 42 episodes of the original TV series into a 115 minute movie?  The answer is, you don’t do it well, but rely on fans of the original anime to just fill in whatever pieces.

Even without knowing there were 42 episodes compressed into a single movie, when one watches the movie, it is painfully obvious at times that there’s a lot of things missing. I say “painfully obvious,” but a more accurate description would probably be that at times, things make no sense because too much has been cut from the original source material.

Harlock Space Pirate

Characters get almost no development because there’s zero time for it. The relationship between Isola, Yama, and their female companion Nami is supposed to be a pivotal element in the movie. I thought Nami was Isola’s and Yama’s sister throughout most of the movie, but then out of the blue, it is revealed that Nami was Isola’s and Yama’s childhood friend, and the two brothers both loved her, but naturally, she only had feelings for one of them. So we go from what seems to be a sister both care about to a love-triangle with zero development, and I’m supposed to suddenly care when the truth of whom Nami loves and its consequences are suddenly revealed.

Harlock Space Pirate

Then there’s the Nibelung alien female, Miime, whom has sworn herself to Captain Harlock’s service because he rescued her at some point. I was never quite sure how the Nibelung fit into the story, other than I guess their technology allowed the Deathshadow-Class battleships to be built prior to the Homecoming War. I was also never sure if Miime was truly alive, or just a part of the ship. Sometimes, Captain Harlock was seen chatting with the computer core, addressing it as “old friend.” So she might have been the ship’s AI for all I know, taken from the alien babe Harlock saved.

Harlock Space Pirate

What’s really frustrating about this movie was how much I wanted to like the movie and the characters within. You have the heavy-set Yattaran, who seemed a hoot, but who kicked butt in combat. You have the blonde female, Kei, who believes in her captain, and who comes off as the first officer. I was never sure if she was or not.  Unfortunately, we just don’t get to know these characters that well, so it is hard to care for them, even when bad things happen to them and we want to care about them.

Harlock Space Pirate

As to the overall plot, while things were interesting on the whole, as I said earlier, it was clear to me that we were missing out on things that should have been in the story to make the plot flow smoothly. Unfortunately, as the Japanese seem to be wont to do, viewers are expected to just already be versed with the source material to fill in the gaps and just enjoy the ride. Well, that doesn’t work when one doesn’t know the source material, so those of us left out in the cold can be scratching our heads at times saying, “OK, what was that all about?”

Harlock Space Pirate

Also, there are too many random things that happen, just to have something happen.

With CG animation, while the animation itself is smooth and fluid, the characters have very little in the way of facial expressions. There are some expressions, but there’s not enough to convey a whole lot of emotion, in my opinion.

On the other side of the equation, the CG animation comes off quite well for space battles and such. The Arcadia comes off with an appropriate amount of fearsomeness, whether it was from the “black, electrically charged smoke screen” around it (dark matter), to the awesome looking ram on the front of the ship, shaped like a human skull, to the Arcadia firing a broadside. There’s no doubt that the Arcadia looked amazing.

Harlock Space Pirate

Now, for the adaptation from Ketchup Entertainment. Let’s start with the movie’s title. When the movie was released in Japan, it was given both a Japanese title and an English title. The English title was Space Pirate Captain Harlock, a direct translation of the Japanese movie title. So why did Ketchup Entertainment decide, “You know, we don’t like the title Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Instead, we are going to call it Harlock: Space Pirate, ’cause we think that’s cooler.” Yeah, whatever.

Harlock Space Pirate

While pointless title change is a minor issue, what wasn’t so minor to me was Ketchup Entertainment deciding to be VERY random and just rename certain characters. So “Yama” becomes “Roger” because I guess “Yama” is too much of a “slant-eyed git name, so we need a good English name. Roger. Yeah, that’s the ticket!” And yes, even in the subtitles, Yama is called “Roger.” I couldn’t believe it and was highly annoyed.

Harlock Space Pirate

My annoyance grew as Isola become Ezra in both the dub and the subtitled version. Yattaran becomes Yullian for some unearthly reason. I could write off Miime being “Mimay” in the English dub and even the subtitles (using the “Oono” is “Ohno” phonetic naming scheme), but the other name changes irritated me enough that I’m not giving them a pass here.

Harlock Space Pirate

So while some characters get renamed, characters like Kei, Nami, Roujin, and Soukan all keep their original names. I’m glad they do, but you see how utterly random and pointless renaming characters was in the first place. This isn’t 1980 for crying out loud. Don’t rename characters, especially in the subtitles.

Harlock Space Pirate

Also renamed was the Gaia Sanction. The term clearly appears in displays and such in the movie, but apparently, that’s also a stupid name for an empire bent on preserving Earth to go by. So Gaia Sanction becomes Gaia Coalition, and you just ignore anything that says Gaia Sanction on the screen, dagnabit!

(I’m stunned they didn’t rename the Arcadia, but random renames are just that — random.)

Harlock Space Pirate

Another gripe I had was the odd choices of how Captain Harlock was addressed in the subtitles. At times, the Japanese would just call him “Captain” (using the English word, not the Japanese word), but the subtitles would say “Harlock.” At other times, they’d display it right. Sometimes, if Harlock was addressed as “Captain Harlock” (again, using the English word “captain”), we’d only see “Harlock” on the screen. At other times, we wouldn’t. It just made no sense to me, more so since these weren’t dub-titles.

Harlock Space Pirate

Based on my limited Japanese, for the most part, I think the subtitles weren’t too liberal in their adaptation of what was actually being said on screen. The English dub would often add additional stuff, but as usual, that’s more about finding words to match mouth movements. I don’t think the Japanese even used Japanese honorifics in this film (other than Yama sometimes referring to Isola as “Nii-san”).

In the end, this is a beautiful CG anime movie with a lot of awesome action. The weak plot is just interesting enough to keep things going, but problems with plot holes and missing character development really hurt this movie. As such, I’d say the movie was worth a watch, but I suspect Captain Harlock fans will never watch this again.

Harlock Space Pirate

Note: I am now going to get the original Captain Harlock anime and watch it. I’ll episode blog it as well. I’m not sure when that will start, since the Spring 2015 anime season is pretty packed.

For those interested, here’s the English dub trailer for the movie.

 

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4 Responses to “Harlock Space Pirate (DVD Review)”

  1. Julz says:

    I also thought Nami was Ezra and Logan’s sister to begin with and I understand that when Harlock was talking to the ship/”old friend” he was talking to his friend Tochiro who haunts the ship? I thought the CG-animation was stunning, but I agree that the facial expressions let it down somewhat.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I don’t know Tochiro, but then I don’t know the original Harlock story.

      I thought the CG-animation was stunning, but I agree that the facial expressions let it down somewhat.

      Yeah, and that’s a shame they couldn’t do more with the faces.

  2. Matt says:

    I don’t know if you ever got around to watching the original Harlock anime (of which there is much, including two series, a movie and guest appearances in two other films, not counting the numerous turn-of-the-millennium mini-series), but if so, you know by now that the writers made no effort to cram 42 episodes of plot into the film-they ignored it outright and invented a new one. This is actually not unusual, as Harlock stories tend to have no real connection to each other, and often flat-out contradict each other, but what was incredibly disappointing was the way in which the film treated its characters, who bear no similarity, other than in appearance, to the originals. Harlock is simply a man, not an unkillable immortal with psychopathic behavior. You’re right, at least in my case: I’ve no reason to watch this film again, other than to write my own review at some point.

    Tochiro is, by the way, the creator of the Arcadia, whose consciousness haunts it like a ghost after his death. The film glossed over this central piece of Harlock mythos in about a minute of screen time.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I don’t know if you ever got around to watching the original Harlock anime

      Not yet, but it is on my list. I really do want to watch it.

      Thanks for the info here. ^_^

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