Harlock: Space Pirate – Review

“HARLOCK SPACE PIRATE”

Or “Space Pirate Captain Harlock” as it is known in its native Japan and in the United States. Now I’ve heard of this character, despite the fact he hasn’t been been as well distributed in a lot of the western world as a lot of people would have liked, however if you are from Japan you will know this character, he has been around since the 70’s and has had multiple incarnations. I don’t claim to have seen all the adaptations of Captain Harlock, in fact I am fairly new to the character, but I have seen his cameo appearances in Galaxy Express 999 and a few episodes of the Captain Harlock Endless Odyssey Anime, although I will confess that I haven’t seen the full series at the time of writing this review. I will get round to it in the end! Toei Animation would claim that you don’t need to know about the character to enjoy this film. This film is designed to be a re-boot that will bring the character back to relevancy and was released in Japan in 2013 before being distributed to several animation festivals with its English Dub. The film did receive some cinematic releases over here, in fact on 22 April there were some screenings of the films in Picture House Cinemas, though the only ones I could find were in London and I wasn’t about to travel all the way to London to see a film that was being released on DVD a week later. There was also one name that really drew me to this and I was really excited about this film because the Director was Shinji Aramaki, director of Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood on of my all time favourite Anime Series.

The plot starts in full swing with the intergalactic government known as the Gaia Sanction declaring Earth a sacred planet and forbidding humanity to return and has declared Captain Harlock of the Space Pirate Ship Arcadia its number one enemy. Several years later Harlock is joined by a new recruit, Logan who is part of a Gaia Sanction Undercover Operation to take down Harlock from the inside and remove the explosive charges that Harlock has placed on several planets to break an entity known as the Universe clock that will cause time to go backwards and end the war that caused the humanity separation from Earth. However, Logan soon discovers through his travels that not everyone is completely honest on what they know and there is more to the Earth and the situation than meets the eye. The plot itself is a very typical Space Opera and definitely suits Captain Harlock and his cast of characters, but if you are worried that this is a re-boot for fans only, don’t be mistaken, I definitely believe that this is one that a lot of people can get into and this is coming from someone that hasn’t seen a lot of Captain Harlock’s material, so I was purely judging the entire film on its own merits. The plot is very good and delivers an excellent story, the downside is, it’s kind of slow, which is a problem in a series which I am currently watching and is not much better here. This could be a problem for some people, but if you are someone who is patient enough it’s worth working your way through.

Shinji Aramaki is kind of known for doing these sort of stories that have a slow and steady pace to them which is fairly evident in the fact a good example of this is that that Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is about 15 episodes longer than its previous incarnation Full Metal Alchemist, but despite the fact the plot does move at a brisk pace he hasn’t slowed it down to the extent that it’s un-watchable and you are just waiting for things to happen. The writers also cleverly knew not to throw their eggs in one basket . The film doesn’t start on too much of an action note, and instead builds atmosphere and character, so that when the action does start we are led to care about it. The film also doesn’t overdo Harlock, in fact he doesn’t really do much for the first 20 minutes of the film, but the film also expertly builds him up for the bad-ass character that he is. We all know this is the Anime equivalent of what happens when you mix Han Solo with Jack Sparrow and give him Wolverines personality and by restraining him early on, it builds up our expectation for what we are going to see and the pay off really works. What’s great about these characters is they don’t appear too complex, at least at first, only select characters get more development. This isn’t too much to their detriment, and if they went any further with it, the film would have a case of having too many characters with too much development, which is a problem with a lot of ensemble piece films. However, this one knows which characters we care the most about and focuses on them. Now despite Harlock’s name being in the title of the film, this isn’t really his film, it’s Logan’s story and he gets the most development. He can be annoying at times and his constantly switching sides may get on a few people’s nerves, but I feel at the end of the film he came out having changed the most, for the better. His brother Ezra is also an excellent villain, he is sympathetic enough that we can relate to why he does what he does and he doesn’t appear to be a completely one note villain, and despite the fact that he does have a few moments that could resemble him being a complete and total douche, you do get a sense that he is basically a human being and acting out of what he believes is the best. The other members of the crew that gain a role are also very likeable people and a joy to be around, in fact I’m actually quite glad there was a large amount of these people. It’s a common Anime Trope to have only 4 or 5 members on your Spaceship, I was glad to see that this was a large crew. You’re not going to take down half the Galaxy with a few people in this Universe!! Harlock himself, is as bad ass as ever and anytime he is on screen the testosterone levels instantly go up. The only major problem with the plot is that the dialogue is occasionally quite hammy and falls into a lot of Anime Tropes, but I like Anime so I’m not going to be bothered by those tropes, that being said a lot of this might be a bit too simplistic for some people.

Now Harlock’s story lines are known to blindside people with some extra deeper meaning and there is definitely an element to that here, however I’m not sure it completely reaches the same degree it has in the past. This is still an excellent Sci-Fi plot and people will really get a kick out of it, and it has this extra deeper meaning especially around the characters of Logan, Ezra and Nami, who gets one of the biggest reveals of the entire film, but not the biggest, and while the twists and turns of the film may come in a bit too thick and fast, they all shake up the plot brilliantly and this is one story I would definitely return to at some point. The film also delivers some well-told themes of freedom, seeking freedom and what it means to be free even if it is kind of vaguely defined

Now acting wise there are no major celebrities in this one. This is purely veteran Anime Voice actors and they all do their job very well. I watched the English Dub for this review, and if I’m honest you might want to view this one in its original Japanese, mainly because the lip syncing doesn’t fully match up as well with this one. But it’s not too distracting, especially in the latter portion of the film and its English dub cast is still pretty damn good. In the title role of Captain Harlock we have David Matranga who hasn’t played this role before but is definitely well suited to it and I wouldn’t mind seeing him return to the role in a future production, he definitely delivers the gruff nature of Captain Harlock’s character. He does, at times, kind of sound like his character from Wolf Children. I really liked Adam Gibbs as Logan, he suits the role pretty well and definitely can take some of the material to reach the level necessary to make his character enjoyable to watch. I definitely liked Emily Neves as Mimay and her voice really suits the human yet in-human design of the character. Jessica Boone gives and excellent performance as Kei, even if she is a bit under-used, which is a shame because she could honestly deliver some of the best power house moments of the film She especially can really sell the film’s themes of freedom and what it means to be free. Fans of Full Alchemist Brotherhood will be happy to see Rob Mungle back as Yulian in this film and while he can be a bit annoying at times you’re definitely going to remember this guys performance, he really will sell it when necessary, even if his character probably has the biggest amount of lip syncing issues!! Mike Yager really delivers Ezra’s character brilliantly and I would like to see him play a villain again in future Anime productions. Rebekah Stevens does an excellent job as Nami. Fans of Kids on the Slope will recognise her instantly because she played Ritsuko in that production and her voice is almost exactly the same. Overall a brilliant cast once again, although if you are asking me about any of the other characters I couldn’t find any other information on the English Dub Cast other that those cast members, so, really it’s probably just a few people they have hired in to do additional voices.

Moving on the film’s aesthetics and for the purpose of this review I saw this film in Blu Ray having purchased the special edition Steelbook of this film and also for this review I saw the film in its 3D version and if you have the ability to see this film in 3D PLEASE DO SO. This film is excellent in that format and it takes full advantage of it all the time. The film itself is a CG3D Anime production, similar to Final Fantasy the Spirits Within and Advent Children to name a few examples and un-like those two examples these characters movements and flow is excellent, even outside of the action sequences. The 3D effect really adds a sense of height and depth, which, when you are dealing with space and a lot of areas that are high up or appearing from the sky is really going to benefit, but apart from that there are other aspects of the 3D that work very well. Characters appear in the foreground and background brilliantly, the space battles have an extra dimension to them. This film never lets you forget that you are watching a 3D production, however, I will say it’s not entirely essential, to see this film! If you don’t have the ability to see it in 3D, don’t pass it up on that basis because the film still looks gorgeous and this animation is excellent and for those who do have the ability, this is the sort of animation style that makes 3D worth it. The animation itself, bought these characters into 3D computer generation expertly and they really do feel like full on fleshed out versions of their 2D hand drawn counterparts. Despite the radical change in style, there was never a time when I didn’t feel like I was watching something to do with Captain Harlock. This animation won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it really struck a chord with me and I think a lot of the space shots will really strike a chord with Sci-Fi fans.

As for the action scenes, they once again are expertly done. The space battles are tense and action packed and don’t feel too sluggish like some space battles have in some Sci-Fi films that have really annoyed me. The actual fight scenes and gun battles are expertly choreographed and once again work with the animation brilliantly especially if you are viewing the film in 3D. It’s also amazing that they had so many of these high speed sequences without any compromise to the animation. It’s aesthetically one of the best looking films I have reviewed for the site. It’s absolutely brilliantly done and I think at occasion you will be admiring the effects of it too much and may miss important lines of dialogue.

Does Harlock Space Pirate have any issues? Yes of course it does. The motives of the villains towards the end of the film feel really stupid and feel like they would incriminate them even further than they already have been and the film’s early pacing feels a bit off and I’m not sure these characters will appeal completely to everyone, but for me personally these are definitely negatives that aren’t gonna bother me too much. Harlock Space Pirate is absolutely fantastic. I had an absolute ball with it and it was just the film I needed on the back of seeing ‘Unfriended.’ It”s an excellent Space Opera that deals with freedom and duty and does them expertly. It’s a story that will captivate a lot of people and an excellent re-boot to the franchise. The animation is gorgeous, the 3D effect is excellent and makes me wish I had seen it in a Cinema, and the Actors do their job brilliantly. While the ending doesn’t leave the film completely open to a sequel I would definitely not object to going further with this re-booted franchise because this was an excellent Sci-Fi film and Space Opera that I would gladly like to see further expanded. If you like Anime this is one to add to your collection.

So what are your thoughts on Harlock Space Pirate if you have seen it? Also what are your thoughts on Captain Harlock as a character in a franchise? Please leave your comments if you have any. Remember you do not need an account, nor be from a specific area. Just put down your opinion below. Also you can answer my question for this week in the comments.

“What is your favourite Anime movie based on an Anime Series?”

I would love to hear your thoughts on this one, because when I tried to think of my choice, I had a lot to pick from and I would love to hear some of your ideas on this subject.

We we are moving on from one re-boot to another. On 22 May I review the highly anticipated Mad Max Fury Road.

Thanks for reading my review, I really enjoy writing these and I hope you enjoy reading them.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia6th July 2022
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