Saturday, April 18, 2015

Space Pirate Captain Harlock Anime Movie Review

Harlock: Space Pirate
Uchu Kaizoku Kyaputen Harokku
Movie - 115 minutes
$20.99 (2015)
ISBN 037117040391
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Shinji Aramaki
Studio - Toei Animation

Synopsis: In the far future humankind has spread throughout the galaxy and number 500 billion souls.  None of the worlds colonized by humans ever lived up to the standard of Earth and a mass migration back to the home planet sparked a devastating conflict called the "Homecoming War".  The Gaia Coalition, the human universal government, now holds the planet as sacred and forbidden for anyone to set foot on.  A group of space pirates headed by Captain Harlock refuse to leave the Earth alone and fight to regain it for access by the greater humanity.
Logan is the latest recruit to join the Arcadia
Harlock captains the elusive vessel the Arcadia, known as a Deathshadow-Class ship, with his crew of space pirates.  They fight the Gaia Coalition at every chance and have garnered a mythical reputation after a full 100 years as rogues.  How is it possible that Harlock has captained the Arcadia for 100 years without aging?  Is the pirate ship a supernatural force in space?
The Arcadia is a seemingly unbeatable ship powered by dark matter engines
The main crew of the Arcadia are:
  •  Kei Yuuki - beautiful and fierce female space pirate
  • Yullian ("Yattaran") - tough-talking first mate who wields a powerful hammer during melee combat
  • Mimay - member of the mysterious Nibelung alien race and expert at controlling the dark matter engines of the Arcadia
  • Logan ("Yama") - the Arcadia's newest recruit, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Harlock (merely coincidental?), and understands the Captain's pursuit of interstellar freedom
The main crew of the Arcadia (from left) - Yullian, Mimay, Harlock,
Logan, and Kei
The Gaia Coalition have unleashed a task force to take down the Arcadia once and for all.  It's led by a man named Ezra who is wheelchair-bound.  What is Ezra's shocking link to Logan and who is Nami?  Harlock's plans are to retake the Earth, but why is he collecting massive detonators and placing them at key points in the galaxy?  The famed space pirate is much more than he seems and his mission far more sinister.  Will Logan fall under Harlock's spell and embrace the pirate's lifestyle?  Can the Earth survive another conflict?  Get ready for epic space battle as you've never seen it!
The Gaia Coalition's forces led by Isola hunt Harlock and his pirates
Pros: Beautiful full CG rendering with incredible detail, killer character designs which look retro-futuristic, exciting space battles with guns blazing, some really cool scenes and interactions, a lot of the mystery behind Harlock is presented (his link to the Arcadia), Harlock actually gets into the action and shows his stuff (instead of just sitting around), Japanese voice acting is top notch
Harlock captains from the bridge with Mimay by his side
Cons: CG character animation is incredibly stiff and unrealistic, plot is all over the place and kinda bad, character allegiances seem to switch back and forth pretty quickly, space pirates in their shiny battle suits are invincible one minute and then cannon fodder the next, Harlock never really has a personality and overall character development of the cast is weak, major wrench thrown into Harlock's motivations and backstory, they kept the cartoon-looking 'Mister Bird' (Tori-San), English dub is not great, subtitles take some liberties with names and meanings
Yullian offers some comedy relief to balance the stoic Harlock
Mike Tells It Straight: This film is based on the manga Space Pirate Captain Harlock by famed creator Leiji Matsumoto (Space Battleship Yamato aka Starblazers, Galaxy Express 999, many more).  There was a 1970s anime television series (42 episodes) based on the manga and currently available with English subtitles.  This film originally shared the same title and I think it was changed for the domestic release to avoid copyright issues (a different company owns the licensing rights to the television series) or to at least differentiate it for the Western audience.  It's a visually stunning CG film with amazing textures and an exciting story.  Obviously a labor of love for the creators and contains serious artistic effort.
Kei is as tough as she is beautiful
Beautiful visuals aside I found the story to be rather haphazard.  The crew of the Arcadia don armored suits and are seemingly invincible when they board another vessel for hand-to-hand combat.  Then later in the series they get their asses handed to them in a similar situation.  It's inconsistent and there were several other instances which had me scratching my head (like the Gaia Coalition's 'grand cannon').  There's a major plot twist involving Harlock which really throws a wrench into his established character.  Either genius by the writers/director (for making this an original work) or abject suicide by alienating the established fan-base.  The body movements for the character animation weren't fluid (wrists are horribly awkward) which is a common problem with CG works (reminded me of the Final Fantasy CG movies).
Harlock unleashes his true power against the Gaia Coalition
One thing I liked in this film is the connection between Harlock and the Arcadia.  Both seem downright supernatural at times and each had some great action sequences to reinforce their otherworldly might.  Harlock is rarely seen in actual combat and it was refreshing (usually he's a chair jockey on the Arcadia's bridge).  The film is faithful to Matsumoto's work with classic scenes (Logan and Harlock with guns locked on each other).  The space battles were great and I really liked the plasma cannon fire lancing through the black void.  The Arcadia's dark matter effect (black smoke emanating from the ship) was pretty spooky and looked neat.
Mimay offers her advice to Harlock as he questions his motives
I'm not usually a fan of CG films (much prefer hand-drawn animation mixed with CG backgrounds/effects), but Harlock showcases the latest Japan has to offer.  It wasn't a critical success and garnered a lot of negative reviews from critics.  It cost $30 million and didn't make it back at the box office - that's a critical failure.  I'm kind of surprised it didn't do as well in Japan considering the fan-base, but there's hope the film will make it's budget with the DVD release.  Still a big disappointment after all the hype surrounding its release.
Kei talks to Harlock 
Love it or hate it, this film is a big budget version of Harlock.  It's visually stunning and has some great action sequences.  For these alone it's probably worth a watch.  The plot is filled with holes like swiss cheese, but what did you expect?  I could definitely see hardcore Harlock fans getting offended by some of the plot twists in the film.  Overall it's a passable sci-fi movie and has some cool space battles.
Logan and Harlock have a familiar standoff

TO BUY and Recommendations: