SPC Harlock 01-03: A Meditation on Harlock

I’m going to start watching and blogging Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Leiji Matsumoto’s iconic 1978 series.  I’ve decided to adopt the same format that I used for my Galaxy Express 999 posts, that is, I’ll do one post per every three episodes.  I’m not totally strict on this and if an episode, or a even a scene, requires from me a whole post I’ll go ahead and do that.  However, I can guarantee you I won’t let 3 episodes pass without a post!

mayu arcadia

I’ve never seen this series!!  But of course, as a big Leiji fan I know lots of things about the characters (though thankfully not so much of the plot itself).  In any case, I will NOT bring in spoilers from my experience with other shows in the Leijisphere unless they’ve been already exposed.  So if you’re watching the series or are thinking of watching it, don’t worry!  The only spoilers will be for the episodes already covered as we go along…

This particular post is going to be a bit unusual because it’s my first and I want to get into what Harlock means to me in general.  So this is going to be somewhat of a ramble; following posts will be more episodic…


What do we have here?

The leader of the world.

The world is full of idiots.  Everyone’s only interested in themselves.  The politicians watch horse races in parliament.  The Prime Minister is more interested in playing golf than in discussing matters of national security.  Earth in the year 2977 is clearly going to Hell in a handbasket, and the alien creatures willing to carry that basket are on their way…

classic clenched fist useless pose

Useless (notice the clenched fists)

We are introduced to a crew of pirates.  Kei Yuki, blond, nice, meh.  First Mate Yattaran, one of Leiji’s midgets, running around playing with his Imperial Japanese-era plastic models, mildly interesting.  Mimay, a harp-playing alien with a penchant for alcohol, mysterious.

Then there’s Tadashi Daiba, a shuttlecock being batted around in a ridiculous game by the two players Clueless and Useless.  And Harlock, sitting there and saying very, very little.  The space pirate captain [!] Harlock, pledged to protect a little girl named Mayu whose situation immediately makes us wonder: why the hell doesn’t he just take her somewhere else?  Why?  Why???



And then the question is: in this big cast of characters, who is it that we’re supposed to identify with?  If we were going to grid this cast onto a generic anime plan, the answer would be Tadashi Daiba.  He’s the newcomer, the outsider, who should [one hopes] grow to become a hero.  Plus he’s got this on his side: no one else seems able or willing to take the job.

The professor seems cool, but he’s the first casualty [ep 03, great death scene, BTW].  Yattaran is too comical to identify with, Mimay too alien and far more suited to be a wife.  Most other humans are shown to be idiots, so I guess this means it’s Daiba.  But he’s so flavorless, the poor guy.  It really does seem as Leiji wanted him to be our eyes and ears but nothing more…


Professor Daiba dies in a cool, cool way.

OK, so this leaves Harlock.  But seriously, how can you identify with Harlock???  We tend to identify with fictional characters that share at least some of our qualities.  That way, we can at least pretend to hope that we have a chance to do whatever awesome thing the character ends up accomplishing.  Harlock is put on such a high pedestal that this becomes really difficult.  (How can one ever reach Arcadia?)  There’s no way I could have the poise (my god, what poise!), the coolness, the gravitas!!!

And yet, there’s no one else.  It’s just us, standing beside Daiba, staring at this monster of a man.  I think this is what Leiji wants.  He doesn’t want Daiba to be too cool because then we’ll end up being Harlock’s apprentices, his emulators, and this isn’t what he wants.  He wants the impossible.  He wants us to identify with Harlock!

harlock eye

Why would Matsumoto want that?  Well, that question at least is simply answered: because he honestly feared 1977 was already well on its way to being 2977, and he thinks pirates will be needed.

The burden is partly on him, then, to keep Harlock on the pedestal while at the same time making him accessible to us in some form.  And so another burden will be on us to make this connection happen.  It’s a superhuman effort, literally, [just as is the case with Maetel] but I think it’s part of what makes the idea behind Matsumoto shows so alluring.  It’s also the reason why the crew of the Arcadia seems to be so free and independent: they’re all little Harlocks in their own way.

My guess is that if you finished watching the show and failed to empathize/connect with Harlock [as many folk do, from what I’ve heard] then what Leiji wanted and hoped for hasn’t been accomplished…  So while you watch this show remember you can’t just sit back and let Harlock fight off the weird Mazones all by himself!

~ by Haloed Bane on October 28, 2009.

14 Responses to “SPC Harlock 01-03: A Meditation on Harlock”

  1. My problem with Harlock is not so much my inability to identify with him as my inability to feel a sense of drama from a guy who seemingly cannot be stopped. It doesn’t matter what the Mazone throw at the guy — whether it’s via cleverness, deus ex machina (frequently), or sheer badassery, he will find a way out.

    For me, that really cuts down on the edge-of-your-seat thrills. So far the more interesting stories have focused on expanding characters, where Harlock takes a back seat. IMO he works better as a “presence” than a character.

    • I don’t disagree with your second paragraph, as I love Maetel shows, where indeed Harlock is a presence.

      On the first paragraph, though, the drama is back on Earth. Sure, Harlock can kick alien butt 24/7 but that’s not what he (or Leiji) ultimately wants: he wants people back on Earth to care about life and living again. You’ll find that his record on that battlefront is far less impressive.

      Think about it, he’s an exile from Earth, which he loves. That’s where the drama is.

    • Harlock is not that invincible in this series. Not always at least. I could give a few examples, but I’d spoil it for the people who don’t want to know what happens.

  2. Good stuff here… as with long-running ancient anime, I’d rather watch condensed versions or just read about them. The audacity here is charming, and the game of viewer identification is something I rather appreciate in a show.

    • It’s actually kind of surprising to me that there’s not a condensed movie version of the events of this series, as there is for Galaxy Express 999.

      Also, I guess little kids will just think it’s awesome if the good guy always kicks butt. I myself as a child didn’t enjoy enemies that were too strong..

  3. Great that you found a way to watch this series. My favorite Matsumoto creation as I’ve written in my review.

    • I remember seeing it. Is it spoiler-free??

      [Wait, wait. I did read it and comment on it!! Never mind]

      Now I’m really getting psyched for the show!

  4. […] of fate, this is one of the only Matsumoto series AK actually hasn’t seen yet, so he’s started blogging it in three-episode blocks. Both because I am eager to board any blogging ship led by AK and because I […]

  5. Daiba’s father defies gravity for 2 minutes. He takes forever to fall to the floor. With split screen too! 😀

    • Yeah, he’s that cool…even in death.

      • What is even cooler is that Mayu flys 😉 When I saw this for the first time in my convention, I started cracking up laughing and yelling at the screen “SHE’S FLYING!” and it took like three minutes of flying for the narrator to say it was winds lifting her up.

        (Hey did you get my email?)

        • Mayu’s so tiny she behaves like a feather!!!

          Re the mail, I’m gonna call you Santa Claus from now on!!!!!!

          • Okay, and remember when it come to the ep when Daiba goes loopy, it is one of the best eps ever.

            If I’m Santa Claus then your fricken Jesus Christ! Still awesome that you translate Leiji. Which I don’t thank you enough for. ^^

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