This Week in Anime - Just Who is Captain Harlock?

4 months ago 45

Has a manlier man every roamed the seven seas of space? Board the aptly named Arcadia of My Youth and get ready to embark on an adventure full of space witches, space wars, space chivalry, and a sword with lasers (no not THAT one)!

This movie is currently streaming on RetroCrush, Tubi TV, and Amazon Prime Video

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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Micchy, one of the few bright spots of this year has been that for once, older anime are getting streaming deals to potentially reach newer audience. Why just a few months ago, if I, for instance, wanted to finally figure out what the hell a Captain Harlock is, I'd either have to blind buy Blu-rays or, well:

I'm fairly sure the 42 episodes of the first (?) series have been on Crunchyroll for a good decade, but then you run into the problem of not having enough time to watch it with all the shiny new stuff coming out all the time. Luckily this year has provided us with plenty of that too!

You're telling me. This season I also finally figured out what the hell an Inuyasha is too. But today we're hitting up the origin story of one of Leiji Matsumoto's most iconic characters, Captain Harlock.

Not to be confused with this guy, who opens the movie with like 7 straight minutes of telling us his name and monologuing about a mountain.

The relevance of Phantom F. Harlock's mountain thirst won't be obvious until way later in the movie, but you'd be forgiven for momentarily confusing him with his great-great-whatever grandson. Not a whole lot of guys out there with both a big poofy cravat and a scar across his cheek!

That confusion aside, it's a bold choice for Arcadia of My Youth to open up with the most cinematically wistful rendition of Old Man Yells At Cloud ever put to film.

It does set the tone for what's to follow: a futuristic yet nostalgic ode to a kind of masculinity centered on freedom and honor. The Harlocks are principled adventurers no matter the era, whether on Earth or in space, flying planes or punching spandex-wearing aliens.

The only thing they like more than Freedom is talking to themselves about Freedom. Like I swear a solid 30% of this movie is just characters poetically ruminating in voiceover about its own themes.

Oh, they go on about the themes, alright.

The movie's not subtle about what it's about, basically. It has 2 things on its mind: The War, and how cool and manly and stoic Captain Harlock is.

And it's very good at showing those two things! Like I'm not bothered by the machismo this movie exudes, but oh boy does it love to return to the strength of man (and sometimes woman, but mostly man).

For the most part I'm with you, and considering this is a movie from the 80's it's far from the only space opera slathered in feelings about manliness. And even if it can get a little uh, on the nose about it:

It's nowhere near as groan inducing as some of its contemporaries. There's no sequence of Doug Focker talking about how real men shouldn't care about women's feelings like in Do You Remember Love?

Yeah, as far as tributes to masculinity go, Arcadia of My Youth is one of the more benign ones. Even if I do think it's a bit much that, for instance, Harlock and Toshiro feel a connection because their families crossed paths earlier in their (paternal) family lines. Again, I don't even have anything against the movie's priorities, it's just painfully obvious that the whole thing's soaked in bro juice.

Oh that's my favorite part! Because it's facilitated by the goofiest sci-fi concept in the whole show. Who knew Assassin's Creed stole all its ideas from Harlock?

One one hand, it is another facet of the movie's near-obsession with male virility, but on the other hand it did make me think about how 1 in 200 of the men on Earth share a Y chromosome because Genghis Khan did a bunch of sex and murder over his life, so if we're talking proximity to useless trivia Arcadia of My Youth is pretty high up there.

I'm just hear for weird, silly sci-fi ideas, honestly. These days space anime is so codified you almost never get out-there designs, and thankfully Leiji Matsumoto loves some extra as hell spaceships. Like hell yeah, glue a pirate ship to the bottom of a zeppelin and call it a spacecraft, dude.

You can tell that space colonizer dude is evil because he's not wildly cheering at Emeraldas' ship.

Oh I for one love the pirate-knight legacy the Harlock family's got going on. It's like Matsumoto couldn't decide whether he wanted to play with his pirate toys or his knight toys so he just shoved them together and made them BOTH.

Granted Harlock is further along the Knight axis of that political compass. "Pirate" comes from the fact he's an outlaw who refuses to serve the alien army that's conquered Earth rather than any sacking of merchant ships or whatever. Though he sure leans into that aesthetic with everything he's got.

Hand it to Toshiro's family for the foresight to put a jolly roger on the battleship they spent decades covertly building.

Hey, sometimes you just know you're going to fall in the company of a space pirate who happens to be the direct descendant of the guy who saved your family tree back in World War II. Life is just like that sometimes.

Speaking of The War, I think I might just have gotten the impression Arcadia has some thoughts on occupied nations.

Well, its stance on occupying soldiers is pretty clear. The utmost hospitality, right?

Shout out to the interstellar food fight. Just a brilliant detail to include.

Never underestimate the offensive power of food. You could catch a pretty nasty virus from it! Or a bacterial infection, as it were.

For real, with a literal WWII flashback it's not exactly hard to draw parallels between Arcadia's alien occupation and the real world, which makes the whole thing feel weightier than a more generic space war scenario would have.

Note: that metaphor actually translates to "rebel against appeasement or help wipe out the OTHER planet our conquerors turned into a servant class."

Understandably, Harlock isn't too keen on being a tool of oppression.

Harlock says class Class Solidarity. With alcohol if at all possible.

For real though, as an American my exposure to war narratives in media is suffused in the perspective of Greatest Generation salutes and endless recreations of D-Day, so seeing even an abstracted perspective from the other side makes this whole movie really engaging, even as its characters are mostly iconically designed mouthpieces for the movie's thesis.

I won't dwell on the irony that the second Harlock in this movie is a German pilot during WWII, since I'm sure the conversation's been driven into the ground already, but it is fascinating that Space Harlock takes the perspective of the oppressed even as he prioritizes personal honor above most else.

That part is certainly an interesting choice, made all the stranger by the soft backpedaling that segment does by insisting that Harlock's ancestor wasn't a Nazi or even interested in the war, he's just...flying a war plane to get by, I guess? Don't worry these guys are just optimists deep down, everyone.

In a way Harlock makes up for his ancestor by living free the way he couldn't. The whole Nazi thing doesn't really get mentioned, but he does atone for WWII Harlock's crime (?) of living under another's directive. I guess?

The movie kinda sidesteps any real grounded politics, to be honest. Its message is mostly about the inherent right to dignity and respect, and how occupation and colonization takes that away from people. Oh and genocide. Movie's not too keen on that either.

It is pretty into thick eyebrows though. I can respect that.

I kinda wish it had respect for women having different haircuts. Of the 4 ladies in this thing 3 of them seem to have been born in a galaxy without scissors.

It was only a matter of time for the little sister. Poor girl died before her hair had the chance to overtake her.

Ah yes, the the dead little sister, whose tragic death precedes maybe the most awkward dramatic turn in the whole movie.

Like I get what you're going for, Arcadia, but maybe have a couple minutes of screentime between "dead little girl" and "damn now none of us can get her pregnant."

Yyyyyeah that part. I get that these men are lamenting the definitive end of their family lines/race, but it's suuuuuper weird that they're saying this about a literal child. They don't even consider the symbolic end of childhood and innocence before jumping straight to "okay but babies??"

It also gets a rather unceremonious conclusion, as it mainly just feeds into a sequence where Harlock has to maneuver his spaceship through a big ring of space fire to...symbolically accomplish the dream his ancestor died trying to get when he flew over a mountain?

Sometimes you just gotta take on the female specter of chaos to set your family's legacy right, I guess?

And to be fair that whole scene is about as metal as you'd expect from the description "Space Pirate takes on The Witch of Space."

It's a cool scene! But the way it's resolved with the Tokargans' ritual suicide echoes the mythologized masculinity of the samurai a bit strongly for my liking. Like that's the thing with the whole movie, it's neat and cool but has this undeniable 'bro' vibe that I don't entirely gel with.

It also happens entirely off screen, which is just awkward, and takes away a lot of the gravitas, especially since we barely knew any of the characters. Though I still thank the weirdest bit is the final spaceship duel where Harlock and the enemy general have a "Gentleman's Duel" where they each kill dozen-to-hundreds of each other's subordinates.

Like cool bonding moment guys but I'm not sure Ensign Ricky down on Deck 4 was quite as invested in your honorable bromance.

One-on-one means one ship firing laser cannons into another, right? No? Though I am amused that Harlock brings a space rapier to the fight. Not sure when he'd ever need to use it but sure, you do you dude.

It's a space rapier that ALSO shoots lasers. Which I guess means Harlock predicted Final Fantasy VIII too.

Now THAT'S forward thinking. The rest of the movie, meanwhile, is distinctly dated - not necessarily in a bad way, but it's definitely a product of its time. A classic doesn't have to be perfectly timeless to be interesting, and that's about where Arcadia of My Youth falls.

Yeah, Arcadia doesn't really work for me in terms of character or narrative, I do at least find it really interesting as such a pointed (or blunt) take on its subject. Even if I don't entirely groove with its ideas, it puts its opinions forward so full-throatedly I respect it.

And besides, sometimes you just want to see a pirate spaceship crash out of the ground. Leiji Matsumoto knows what the good stuff is.

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