ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Spaceship Yamato, season 4 … aka Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s most famous work is basically him improving his Yamato formula even further, which is a nice thing. Yamato itself was improving in each season but the problem was I didn’t care at all about its heroes as much as I did for Dessler the recurring villain, and the comic relief robot Analyzer, who got shelved after the first season. Simply said, the protagonists were too goody and perfect for the average viewer to identify with for long, while the setting itself was too simplistic to care. So ok, bad aliens attack good Earth, perfect Yamato crew goes to fetch some super weapon by some far away planet to fight back… three times. Although the cast was getting greyer and livelier as the seasons went by, the story never had much variation so you ended up bored after awhile.
So here comes Harlock to boost the interest again by making Earth a place full of lazy, selfish, bored, gutless, bureaucratic capitalists, rotting away in the hollow pleasures of technology, without ever having improved their manners or mentality to hate, mock, and be afraid of anything different. The protagonist is in fact a space pirate, who pretty much got fed up with all this pointless conformitism, boards his most awesome scull themed spaceship and goes to live free as a bird in the vast regions of space.
At this point one already feels a much more exciting setting and characters than in Yamato. Or hell, than any other anime that preceded Harlock. For the first time in a mainstream series, Earth is not presented as an earthly paradise, full of perfect people, endless green forests and ecology friendly advanced cities. It is in fact presented as this shithole, full of idiots, living like ants in industrialized cities full of smog and grey colors. And the protagonist is finally not some who tries to protect the status quo from aliens who want to take over Earth and turn it to some hellish place. Because, duh, it already is.
Not that there aren’t any aliens in the series. Hell no, they keep invading Earth and every time they conquer it quite easily because the Earth military is useless. I mean, they always were useless in all anime but here you actually get to see them snoring, yawning, eating sausages and running around like scared chickens. Also, some of the aliens are actually somewhat sympathetic and even excuse their invasion to Earth as “we want to protect nature before you ruin everything” or something as understandable as “hey, you are a bunch of gutless idiots and we have superior technology so we have all the reason to conquer you.”
So here comes the familiar part where Harlock comes to the rescue and shows what a complicating figure he is. On one hand he despises the modern way of life on his planet and keeps looting cargo ships. On the other hand he protects the Earth because he knows there are lots of good people amongst those idiots; some of which are even family. Down to it, he does what pleases him and not because he simply has the duty to protect his planet from aliens and make no questions about it. Which is very cool.
I must point out that Harlock is not the first “liberal” character in anime, whose only goal is living the way he likes. Many years prior to him there already was Lupin the Third, featuring a thief after lots of money and pretty women, while making an ass out of the useless police. The main difference is that anime was a superficial comedic adventure while this is a dramatic space opera, aiming to transmit moral messages and question your own beliefs in the comforts of modern lifestyle. In a way, it is still a hot topic even today. Which quality wise, it makes it better. And this is practically why I never reviewed Lupin; it’s nothing else but the first show with a liberal character and zany adventure and with zero overall plot or further analysis. I wouldn’t have anything to write about other than that; unlike of Harlock, with its multi-façade of situations.
As my next point in the analysis, I would like to address how technology ends up playing too much of an important role, which kinda overshadows any attempt at social criticism. I mean, the aliens have better technology and thus take over Earth and Harlock wins because his guns are bigger than the aliens. Plus his spaceship is made from a metal stronger than half a meter of reinforced Adamantium +5, which makes all battles one sided and thus boring. Jeez, this part is as stupid as in Yamato; it was also a ship that could never be destroyed. So yeah, they had animation restrictions and in order to reuse the same footage over and over they had to keep the spaceships look intact all the time. That still makes you feel like the battles are unfair. Hell, Harlock pretty much owns more dues ex hidden super attacks that his ship is simply not able to store them all.
And sure, the same thing can be said about any other sci-fi or mecha show as well; the good robots or spaceships would only shake with a hundred nukes while enemy ships would blow up with a single energy beam. But as I said in an earlier review, the more complicating a story is, the more justification it needs in order to be excused. There was no internal struggle in classical mecha shows like Mazinger or Getta Robo. The heroes were right, the villains were wrong; the outcome was clear. It didn’t have to go further than that but in the case of Harlock’s greyer world, this is actually a point of notice.
What I mean is that although on paper the ideology of the series is very intriguing, especially at the time it was made, it still lacks complete realism and practical justification. Harlock is not right because his anarchic way of life is better than Earth’s or the aliens’. He just has infinite hit points and lands critical hits with 99% probability. Thank you very much; we should be glad he doesn’t feel like raping women or blowing up planets for fun.
Another thing that is constant in all of Leiji’s works is the grim atmosphere of the world. Everything looks so dark and dead and hopeless, but the heroes keep fighting for a better future, which is also the main grip of his works. I on the other hand was never fond of all this depressing, gloomy, tearful settings, despite the fact I admit they are more interesting than the average retro mecha. It just feels like I’m supposed to feel bad about my style of life, when in fact I was just 12 the first time I watched the series and my world was still full of joy and rainbows. But I understand that the worldview of the series is a lot closer to the Japanese people, whose country was devastated during WW2 and their way of life was drastically changed from traditional agriculture to this grim capitalistic industry of today. So ok, I guess it appeals a lot more to them than to me, who found the whole fuss back then to be too melodramatic for no reason. I was just expecting for some good action to come along and all I got was these one-sided skirmishes. So yeah, of course I didn’t like it when I was just 12.
My image of Leiji’s works has improved now but that still does not excuse those dreadful character designs of his. I mean why does he always draw old people and cats so horribly bad? Are they supposed to be comical or sympathetic this way? I hated them! I couldn’t even stare at them! Harlock and his personal harem look great with those eye patches and war scars and funky hairstyles. And then next to him come these lame simplistic caricatures and make you wonder if they even belong to the same species. I have read how this is an optical trick to point out how strong his importance and ideals are, while all the rest are just pointless extra meant to fade by comparison. Well ok, I still don’t like it.
Overall, this is a great improvement over Yamato and any other setting in anime up to then but it still has lots of things to facepalm at. The battles are still not exciting since the ships are indestructible and the overall story despite its more complicating nature is not really worth so many episodes per season. There was still room for improvement…
BTW, the current holder of this sort of story is One Piece. It also has pirates who also want to live a free life, also fight against the authorities, and always end up protecting the world from megalomaniacs. Plus, old people and cats don’t look horrible and the setting is not making you all emo inside.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (interesting)
Character Figures 1/2 (the main ones look great, the rest are terribad)
Backgrounds 2/2 (interesting)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (too much idealism but fits the mood of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (sad but fit the mood of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (mostly episodic)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (cool)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of the episodic pacing)
Memorability 4/4 (coolest space pirate ever)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
It would be awesome if it lasted half as much and had more plot but I liked it even as it is.