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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

[Previous entry: "Graphic novel review: Beg the Question"] [Main Index] [Next entry: "Anime review: Mermaid Forest, Vol. 2 "Bitter Flesh""]

10/26/2005 Archived Entry: "Revessay: Arcadia of my Middle Age"

Arcadia of my Middle Age
Some thoughts on Space Pirate Captain Harlock

A Revessay by Ginger Mayerson

Ginger Mayerson: Alex Row is very sexy. ... Where did this character come from? What was the inspiration for Alex Row?

Range Murata: The director and writer asked me to model him after Captain Harlock, who is from an earlier anime series. He's a character that goes by himself, a loner. Captain Harlock is that character, and they asked me to make Alex Row Captain Harlock-ish. Same kind of black clothes.
An Interview with Range Murata, July 3, 2005

Famous last words: What's Captain Harlock?

Disclaimer: Eventually I'll send "Arcadia of my Youth" and "Space Pirate Captain Herlock, The Endless Odyssey, Outside Legend" from the completely wonderful people at AnimEigo and Geneon, to the completely wonderful Kelly Taylor for a real review. She's a very serious person. Years ago, she used to watch undubbed and unsubtitled versions of bootlegged Harlock and then wait for translations to be posted to the BBS. I mean, wow! Anyway, she's the one who noticed that AnimEigo had "Arcadia of my Youth" and then I noticed Herlock at Geneon, and then I watched those DVDs and this essay-like thing you're about to read (unless you've surfed off) is what happened next. Although they both start with letter "e," this is more of an exorcism than an essay. That being said, all that's left to say is: Proceed at your own risk.

It's always interesting to me how I approach a review. Sometimes I confuse it with a confessional essay. However, the confessional stuff is below, here's the review. (Note: as promised there will be a more thorough review from Kelly Taylor, but I don't feel Geneon and AnimEigo should have to wait that long, so here's mine.) Spoilers galore.

"Arcadia of my Youth" (1988) is lovely, young Captain Harlock is lovely, everyone in it, except for the bad guys, is lovely. The plot is operatic and so moves slowly; there are a few places where the action stops and the characters talk about what's going on. It's a leisurely 130 minutes of good anime. Not "Ghost in the Shell 2," but almost nothing is.

Phantom F. Harlock VXII (that's a very rough estimate based on Phantom F. Harlock, Jr. being in the Luftwaffe) is piloting his huge ship, the Deathshadow, home alone with the last of Earth's refugees from the Illumidus Occupation. He crashes his ship, no one is injured, and turns down a lucrative offer to collaborate. He meets Zoll, a Tokargan in the service of the Occupation forces, and another alien, La Mime. He goes looking for his girlfriend, Maya, but she's the head of the resistance and the voice of Radio Free Arcadia, and because the occupation government is also looking for her, she is somewhat difficult to find. Anyway, Harlock is understandably depressed by everything, and goes to get a bite to eat. He feels sorry for a former ship's mechanic dressed as a beggar (you can tell by his uniform under his beggar's rags). The mechanic feels sorry for him and gives him a bottle of sake. On his way out, some Illumidus thugs start to beat up the smaller mechanic. Harlock gets in the fight and this makes him feel much better. The mechanic's name is Tochiro and they wander off together to drink the sake and talk about how bad the Occupation is. Zoll arrests them and brings them in for a "gene memory" scan. Turns out their ancestors knew each other a thousand years ago in WWII. Then Zoll lets them go, and in his report to the Occupation forces, clears them of any rebellion. Then the head of the Illumidus Occupation Force, Excellency Zeda, offers Harlock a job taking Earthmen to Tokarga to destroy it because that planet has served its purpose. Harlock knows Earth is next and refuses. While this is going on, Tochiro, has followed a huge ship to where it's made an emergency landing. This is Emeraldas' ship, she's a free trader, neither friend nor foe to anyone, she has the Jolly Roger on her clothes and on a barrette in hair. Her ship is called the Queen Emeraldas. Tochiro is very handy and starts fixing her ship. Meanwhile, Harlock finds Maya, unfortunately at the same time as the police do and he gets very shot up. This is where he loses his right eye. Anyway, he staggers to Emeraldas' ship and, after Tochiro patches him up and Maya has made a broadcast imploring "someone" to leave before they die, Harlock asks Emeraldas if he can steal her ship. She says okay. But they are interrupted by Zoll, La Mime and some other Tokargans who've learned, through La Mime (who works for Excellency Zeda) that their home planet is to be destroyed. They want the Queen Emeraldas to go rescue Tokargara. There's lots of arguing about this and it's decided that Harlock, Tochiro, La Mime, and one of the Tokargans will go to Tokarga in the ship Tochiro has been building in the sewers. Emeraldas takes off in her ship to create a diversion for Harlock. Maya sends Harlock a mysterious suitcase. Harlock, Tochiro, etc, get to Tochiro's ship, the Arcadia, that he's been building for years in the sewers, waiting for the right captain to come along. They spend some time standing in front of the ship, discussing this. The Arcadia's maiden voyage is pretty spectacular, I must say. Harlock opens Maya's suitcase and finds a huge Jolly Roger flag and a complete pirate outfit, including boots. He looks very sexy in this outfit. In the meantime, not only Maya but also Emeraldas have been captured and are going to be executed if Harlock does not return to Earth. Harlock doesn't return, but Zoll rescues Maya and Emeraldas, who are wounded in the rescue. Maya wasn't doing so well in the first place; she'd been shot and was sick with some kind of lung thing. Zoll is shot in the back and killed in the rescue. Harlock and the Arcadia go to Tokarga, but they're too late to rescue anyone but Zoll's little sister and a handful of Tokargan youths. On their way back to Earth, they have to fly through the Prominence Streams of Fire, which is where the Queen Emeraldas was so badly damaged, and because the Streams also feed on life force, they kill Zoll's little sister and, because she was the last Tokagan female, the Tokagan males leap into the inferno to save the ship. So they get back to Earth, find out Zoll is dead, Emeraldas carries the dying Maya to Harlock, Maya dies in his arms, and they all leave in the Arcadia, and Emeraldas in her ship, but not before Excellency Zeda challenges Harlock to a duel. So the Arcadia and Excellency Zeda's ship duel and Harlock wins. There is a very dramatic burial in space (accompanied by Samuel Barber's "Serenade for Strings" [or is it Dvorak?]) of Maya, Zoll and Zoll's sister, and that's the end.

Lots of plot, but there's lots of film for it to slosh around in. I'm not sure what the WWII flashback accomplishes, other to make Tochiro look good and show off how hot Harlock Jr. is in a tight aviator uniform (I mean, he IS hot). Well, maybe it's worth it for that. But, for me, it did nothing to advance the plot or develop the characters. When the "gene memory scan" is over, Harlock and Tochiro are still the same messed up guys they were earlier in the day. Maybe a little more bonded, but not especially.

I'm somewhat amazed that Tochiro could build a giant spaceship in the sewers of wherever they are. But we don't know how the Phantom of the Opera got that pipe organ into the Paris sewers either. I also wonder how he kept his uniform so nice while living as a beggar. Miracle fabric? It is the year 3000 and something. So, I'd hope that in a thousand years medicine would have progressed enough that Harlock's eye could have been completely regenerated in an office visit. I mean, where is Dr. McCoy when you really need him?

I call the science in "Arcadia of my Youth" middle of the road futurism. Some things seem sophisticated, other are not. It's not Steampunk or Cyberpunk, because it predates them by many years, and it's not even particularly dystopian. There is an element of dystopia-driven xenophobia because the Earth has been conquered and is occupied by a stronger alien race. In an interview, the creator Matsumoto Leiji said that Harlock had been around in his head since 1949. I believe Japan was still occupied by American forces in 1949, so Matsumoto Leiji was a teenager when all this was going on.

Male friendship and manly conduct are serious business for Harlock. In the WWII flashback, Harlock Jr. sacrifices himself to save Tochiro. In the year 3000, Harlock XVII returns to Earth to keep his promise to Zoll to do what he could for Tokarga. In the Streams of Fire, the Tokargan men commit mass suicide to save the Arcadia and the non-Tokargans on it. Even the women are gallant and heroic. Our heroes are constantly facing down the possibility of being ground down by circumstances and behaving in dishonorable ways. Even though Zoll has collaborated, he becomes himself again when he rebels. Once he rebels, he's okay for the five or ten minutes before he's killed. Everyone else is so deeply true to themselves that capitulation never occurs to any of them as a viable alternative to, well, death. However, only Maya dies; Harlock, Tochiro, La Mime, and Emeraldas all survive and have many more adventures. However, I only have "Endless Odyssey" for the next series of Harlockian, or Herlockian adventures.

That said, I really love this overblown, melodramatic, wonderful anime and will buy a copy for myself after I send this one to Kelly.

In the 13 episode OAV series, "Space Pirate Captain Herlock. The Endless Odyssey. Outside Legend" (2004) we find Herlock XVII in his forties, breaking his crew out of a maximum security prison and racing off to fight an ancient monster. Much much muchness happens, but in the end, he wins. Great stuff, I loved it.

This older Herlock is colder and somewhat sadder than his younger version in "Arcadia of my Youth," which I suppose is how things go in the space pirate business. He never laughs in this story, and you have to really look closely to see him smile. He doesn't move around very much either, but I think that's stylistic (the animation is static-ish, except for when they do something as amazing as when Kei Yuki throws a knife and her whole body is in motion, mmmmm). This Herlock is also more detached, but still committed to manly honor and manly behavior. He actually goes on and on about it, which is odd because he's usually the strong, silent type in this story. He says, "Anyone who wants to be a man, board my ship." I'm not sure how this applies to the three women on his ship, but there you have it.

There are battles, shoot-outs, interdimensional travel, space truckers, bad guys are redeemed, wimpy teens grow up, and some lovely lovely visuals and great music.

So I have named this essay "Arcadia of My Middle Age" because after 40, a woman can, without apology or affectation, enjoy the hell out of the very dishy skinny buccaneer, Harlock, in all his spellings and incarnations, and write about it without giving a damn what anyone thinks about it. If that's not a happy, peaceful place, then I don't know what is.

***

Things I read in preparation (but do not blame) for this essay:

Captain Harlock
(Alternate spelling: Captain Herlock)
High-Adventure-Romance in the Inky Black Void
http://www.mit.edu/people/rei/MANGA/Harlock.html

Arcadia of My Youth (review)
http://www.dvdvisionjapan.com/arcadia.htm

Captain Harlock Archives
http://www.cornponeflicks.org/harlock/harlockmain.html

Individualism and Collectivism in Disney and Anime Drawing Styles, by Aimee Rusli.
http://aimee5.deviantart.com/art/Thesis-2005-Disney-vs-Anime-121880673

Atomic Imagery in Animated Japanese Science Fiction, by Brian D. Fuller
http://www.brianfuller.org/writing/atomic_imagery.html or pdf at http://www.brianfuller.org/vitae/fulleratomic.pdf

***

These are my wacky notes, when I thought this was a very different kind of essay. Enjoy!

I.

My first encounter with the skinny buccaneer was with the 13-part series, "Space Pirate Captain Herlock. The Endless Odyssey. Outside Legend." I don't know why it has so much title, but it does. This is also an alternate spelling of Harlock. Or Harlock is an alternate spelling of Herlock; either. This actually simplifies things: when I use Harlock, it's for "Arcadia of my Youth" and all things relating to the character, whichever way the name is spelled. When I use Herlock, it's specifically for "Space Pirate Captain Herlock. The Endless Odyssey. Outside Legend" (SPCHTEOOL).

II.

According to Range Murata, Alex Row from "Last Exile" is based on Captain Harlock. Having obsessed on Harlock even more than "Last Exile" (note: "Last Exile" obsessing was for the interview with RM), I can now see where the characters converge and diverge.

Similarities between Harlock (or Herlock) and Alex Row:

Fashion: Basic black and flowing capes.

Ship's names: Arcadia and Silvana (silvan is a variant spelling of sylvan).

Hair: massive and all over their faces. Although Harlock is doing a better job with the volumizing brush, they both have great hair, boy band hair even.

Animation Studios: Madhouse and Gonzo (not that it matters, but still...)

Similar differences:

Guns:
Alex - some kind of walking cane pistol.
Harlock - a more a macho saber-pistol, with a Jolly Roger logo on the knuckle-bow (or knuckle guard [I had to call American Swords in Costa Mesa to find this out because I couldn't believe it didn't have some fancy French name like garde d'articulation du doigt, but it's all a voyage of discovery and so all good, really]) and a scabbard. Harlock has the JR embossed on everything.

Motivation:
Alex Row's rage stems from what he considers a personal failing: that he lived and everyone else died. Alex has a severe case of survivor guilt. He's very repressed.
Harlock's rage stems from his planet (Earth) being raped by the Illumidus occupation. Harlock has a severe case of survivor rage-for-revenge that he acts on. Harlock represses nothing and therefore has no issues. By the time we get to Herlock and SPCHTEOOL, he seems to be completely over the Illumidus occupation, so I'm not sure what's keeping him going. He even says, "I don't have a place either, that's why I wander like this, without a purpose." However, he does snap right out of it when it's time to save the Universe.

Goals:
Alex wants to destroy Exile and change the world.
Harlock does whatever he decides is honorable and manly to do. Full stop. If that happens to involve keeping a promise to a friend, and by extension, saving the universe, that's what he does. Herlock saves the universe for his own personal reasons, not because it's the right thing to do. He feels it's just the right thing for him to do.

Crews:
I think the Silvana is supposed to be a pirate-esque ship, but they all wear uniforms and sort of work for the Empire.
All of Harlock's people are pirates, most of them have the Jolly Roger embossed on something they're wearing, but pretty much they wear whatever they want. Many wear midriff shirts; Kei Yuki wears a hot pink, skin-tight catsuit and a gun.

Command style:
Alex never operates anything on the Silvana. He gives orders occasionally, but usually his First Officer does that. Also, the bridge crew disobeys a direct order from Alex at one point and he doesn't kill anyone. I think he should have, but that's just my opinion.
Harlock is more active; he actually steers the Arcadia from time to time, fires the guns, and give orders that his crew follows. Herlock's first officer, Yattaran, isn't even on the bridge except when he's explaining the Big Bang, amping up the weapons systems, or firing the amped-up guns.

First Officers:
Alex's Sophia Forrester on the Silvana is petite, beautiful and a princess in disguise. Later she's Empress. She's in love with Alex.
Herlock's Yattaran is short, fat, brilliant, and has a thing for building model tanks and airplanes. He hardly notices Herlock; they never speak directly to each other in 13 episodes.

Ships:
The Silvana is huge, but the interiors are cramped. I don't know how they weren't all over each other on that cramped bridge. The cabins are tiny, too; Dio Eraclea says at one point: "I like your cabin, it's so squalid," or words to that effect.
The Arcadia has a huge, cathedral-like bridge. Many of the ships and interiors in SPCHTEOOL are huge and wonderful spaces.

Technology:
"Last Exile" - Steampunk.
Harlock - MOR Futuristic.
Technology takes a back seat to adventure in both the "Last Exile" and the Harlock universes.

Children:
There are too many kids doing too many things for too long in "Last Exile."
The one kid in "Arcadia of my Youth" dies after five minutes of screen time. The little girl in SPCHTEOOL might be an archetype manifesting as psychic hallucination in the imaginary dimension to which Noo has kidnapped the Earth, or she's there to push the plot along. Doesn't matter; she's only on screen for about five minutes total, and she might or might not even exist, so I don't care what she is.

Looks:
Alex Row is prettier.
Harlock is lovely; and Herlock, um, compellingly distinguished. Or something.
(In one of those odd convergences that happen far too often in my life, I'm also writing about Jonah Hex, another tough guy with a heart of gold and a facial disfigurement. [Did I mention I have a thing for Snake Plisskin, too?] Yes, I mean disfigurement; let's not be coy: a scar here and there is character, a huge scar across the face and losing an eye is disfigurement.)

III.

Harlock and Friends:
Male friendship is a many facetted and splendid thing, and that's partly why certain segments of the fanboy world are so freaked out by certain segments of the fangirl world. I mean, guys, I understand, sort of, but please realize that women have coped with an ocean of lesbian-porn-for-men for decades; you can learn to live with yaoi and gay-porn-for-women. Face it, fanboys, masculinity and civilization will survive, if not thrive in the spirit of peace, prosperity and tolerance for taste and actions of consenting adults. Let's see, where was I?

Male friendship is romanticized and exalted in the Harlock universe. Much of what drives Harlock is keeping faith with his friends, whether they're living or not. This kind of friendship seems completely de-sexualized to me, so I see no place in the Harlock universe for Kei Enjoyji and Ranmaru Samejima of "Kizuna" ever.

However, there is a flashback, of sorts, in "Arcadia of my Youth" to Harlock Jr. in WWII (a fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe), and, you know, I could see Harlock Jr. knowing his fellow fighter pilot, Rosen Kavalier, and possibly meeting Rosen's boyfriend, Pfirsich Rommel (the Desert Peach) at least once. For some reason that doesn't seem terribly outrageous to me.

IV.

Harlock and Sex:
Nah. I see no one in these DVDs he'd be intimate with. He's in love with Maya in "Arcadia of my Youth," but she's head of the resistance, so he can never find her. I don't see Meemeh with Herlock either. Not that it's really her fault; Herlock is so cold and honorable, there's no room in him for mere sex. And Herlock is so thin, he must look horrible in the nude.

V.

Music:
The music for "Arcadia of my Youth" was wonderfully heroic and somewhat corny. Very well played and the sound on AnimEigo's DVD was fantastic. I do have to say that I groaned out loud when I heard "Serenade for Stings" near the ending. Please God, can we write some new sad/heroic music and let "Serenade for Strings" rest in peace? I mean, I like Samuel Barber and that piece, but just off the top of my head it's been in "Platoon," "El Norte," and now, in "Arcadia of my Youth," enough already. Japan has some of the best composers in the world; let's use their original work and leave "Serenade for Stings" alone for a generation at least. Did you hear "Serenade for Strings" in "Ran"? No, of course not.

I liked the music better in SPCHTEOOL. Tighter orchestrations, less sappy, and some wicked good steel-pedal guitar in just the right places. Okay, it had "Movie of the Week" sounding moments, but overall, it was wonderfully appropriate for the story.

***

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