The Original Arcadia of my Youth
Leiji Matsumoto’s anime film Arcadia of my Youth has become well known and loved since it came out in 1982. Less known is the fact that one of the seeds of this project is a 50-page manga story of the same name that first appeared in 1976 and was eventually released as the first chapter in a compilation by the same name.
The story itself is a WWII tale that ended up becoming the 12-minute segment in the film in which Harlock and Tochiroh view their memories and discover their ancestors had met during that conflict. 50 pages is a lot to be compressed into 12 minutes, and so several details have been omitted. I want to discuss some of these differences.
First off, the framing of the story is totally different in each version. In the movie, the alien Illumidas invaders have a memory reading machine that can detect that the pirate Harlock and the engineer Tochiroh have ancestors who met in the past. We see the tale unfold through that memory reader, and it ends as Tochiroh rushes to safety in neutral Switzerland and Harlock goes to meet the Resistance fighters who will probably kill him.
The original version, on the other hand, begins with an old, blind Harlock in his homeland of Heiligenstadt in the year 1976. He is about to die and wishes to see his friend Daiba (the name’s different, but the character’s exactly the same as Tochiroh Ooyama) once more before he does. Coincidentally, Daiba’s son arrives with the news that his father died in 1975, 30 years after the War. His father’s dying wish was for Daiba Jr. to find Harlock and return him the Revi optical sight around which the whole tale revolves.
Harlock is very shaken by the news, and this triggers a flashback in which we get essentially the same story told in the 1982 film. One big difference that makes the manga version so tragic is that we get to see what happens to Harlock in his encounter with the Resistance fighters. They are nice enough to spare his life but they stab his eyes and make him blind. In that sense, then, the return of the Revi after 31 years has a deeper significance–his eyes have returned.
The other fundamental difference revolves around certain omissions and additions in the movie to modify Harlock’s and Daiba/Tochiroh’s views toward the War itself. The much debated statement by Harlock that he’s fighting with the Third Reich “in order to pay rent” is totally absent in the manga. Also several comments in the film about the stupidity of the war are missing.
The film also omits a lot of the anti-Allied sentiment of the original story. While flying the skies, Harlock spots some Spitfires and criticizes them for their short range. Then he muses that they are “like foxes borrowing the tiger’s authority”. The gist of the proverb in this context is that the only reason the weak Brits have been able to advance into the German heartland is riding on the coattails of America. This didn’t make it to the screen!
When American tanks take over the airfield that Harlock had just taken off from (forcing him to land on the Autobahn as is seen in the movie) the first thing that the American soldiers do upon confirming their success is asking for whiskey to be brought!
The first conversation between Harlock and Daiba/Tochiroh is extremely interesting too. Daiba tells the German that he is on a technology exchange program. Harlock immediately quips: we don’t have to learn anything from the Japanese, it’s you who need to learn from us.
Daiba grins and assures Harlock that if the Luftwaffe had been flying Japanese planes in the Battle of Britain they wouldn’t have had to give up on that crucial conflict and the outcome of the whole war would have been totally different. I imagine he means the Mitsubishi Zeros, which came out in the same year as the battle (1940). It’s an intriguing suggestion…
I don’t think these remarks makes the original story any nastier, if anything, they add to its realism. After all, a German pilot, however independent-minded he might have been, would still have these notions with him. Then again, I do like the movie’s added statements that link the pirate philosophy with Harlock’s mindset and his aloofness from the aims of the war effort coupled with an intense personal commitment to doing his best.
So when all is said and done I really like both versions. On top of which, you have to like the fact that they are so compatible in their framework: it’d be easy for Tochiroh’s son to visit the old Phantom F. Harlock II and a thousand years later for the two descendants to meet on an Illumidas-controlled Earth.