Today, I have completed watching the forty-two episode long Space Pirate Captain Harlock. I can recommend few series to my dear readers as heartily. If you check my Top Fifty Anime Series list, you’ll see that I placed this classic in sixth place–below Wolf’s Rain and above Mardock Scramble. (Soukou no Strain has sadly dropped off the list, leaving Gokudo precariously in last place.) Nothing shakes up a top fifty list like watching acknowledged classics! I heartily recommend Anime Classics Zettai! by Brian Camp and Julie Davis, which fairly represents the best anime OVAs, movies, and series until the year 2007. Who knows? You might find yourself a new favorite.
Briefly, let me explain why Captain Harlock so deeply appeals to me. My dear readers likely know that Japan’s martial arts tradition stands as my first introduction to Japanese culture. I used to study Judo and Aikido and devoured books by and about Morihei Ueshiba, Gichin Funakoshi, Nitobe Inazo, and Miyamoto Musashi. These books express the warrior-philosopher ethos known as Bushido. In recent years, Japan has become much more cosmopolitan, and many anime refer to Bushido comically or treat it as old fashioned or obsolete.
On the other hand, Captain Harlock, besides containing many Christian motifs, is Bushido to the core. To mention one facet of this code, the characters of Captain Harlock constantly focus on death. Captain Harlock himself claims–to the fury of Queen Lafresia–that finding a good place to die is his chief motivation in life. One cannot help but recall the corrupted form of Bushido practiced by Japanese soldiers in World War II in the fanaticism of the Mazone, which is juxtaposed to way Harlock and his allies exemplify the code of the samurai’s highest ideals. The Mazone often commit suicide when they fail a single mission, because of their loss of face. On the other hand, the protagonists keep fighting to the bitter end despite their reverses and the overwhelming odds against them. Harlock’s allies only choose death when they can no longer live honorably or for the sake of the greater good. The Mazone lose dignity and individuality in their fanaticism, while the protagonists retain their human dignity even in death.
Speaking of individuality, all the heroes–and even Queen Lafresia and certain of her subjects–are rather complex. Even crewmen who escape our notice have awesome backstories! By the end of the series, the viewer comes to sympathize with the Mazone–at least, the ones whose personalities have not been totally effaced. After episode seven, surprises and interesting tales follow one another in quick succession.
The only drawbacks to this show are its antiquated animation (if you’re not a fan of the 70’s style) and how slow the opening episodes move. Otherwise, I doubt that Space Pirate Captain Harlock will disappoint.