The year is 2977 AD. Much of humanity has taken to the stars, leaving the population of Earth wallowing in apathy and indulgence. After a mysterious sphere-like object crashes into the planet, Professor Daiba, a leading scientist, pleads with government officials to rally against what he believes is an impending alien invasion. But even the threat of total annihilation isn’t enough for mankind’s leaders to take action.
As Professor Daiba and his son, Tadashi, continue to research the object, a woman clad in black sneaks into their lab. Before he can react, Professor Daiba is killed. The woman tries to strike Tadashi, but bursts into flames, shot. In the doorway, a shadowy figure tells Tadashi to meet him at the spaceport if he wishes to learn the truth about his father’s killer.
Sirens blare in the distance as Tadashi arrives at the spaceport, deserted save for one man. Enter Captain Harlock, space pirate, anti-hero, and all-around badass. Together with his ragtag crew aboard the battleship Arcadia, Harlock voyages across the galaxy, fighting not on humanity’s behalf, but for his personal convictions:
I live as a free man in the dark ocean of the universe, the sea without tomorrow, across which I’ll sail until my last breath. I live like a true man under my own banner: the banner of freedom.
Leiji Matsumoto’s Romantic Hero
Like Leiji Matsumoto’s many space operas, Space Pirate Captain Harlock 「宇宙海賊キャプテンハーロック」pays homage to a number of literary archetypes common to the genre, the most prominent being the Romantic hero.
[C]haracteristics of the Romantic hero include introspection, the triumph of the individual over the “restraints of theological and social conventions”, wanderlust, melancholy, misanthropy, alienation, and isolation. — Wikipedia
Captain Harlock, with his disheveled hair and scarred face, serves well as the series’ intrepid protagonist. Unlike the other complacent Earthlings, Harlock chooses to carve out his own destiny rather than follow Earth’s totalitarian leaders, human or otherwise. That said, despite his complicated attitude towards the planet and its people, he actively defends Earth against the invading Mazone.
While he has close relationships with those in his crew, Harlock rarely lets anyone see his vulnerable side. The only exception may be Miime, a humanoid alien whom Harlock saved after her home planet, Jura, was destroyed. The true nature of their relationship is never explicitly revealed, but it’s implied that Miime has some romantic inclinations toward the space pirate.
Man of Many Faces
If you’re familiar with Captain Harlock, then you’ve probably noticed versions of him popping up across Leiji Matsumoto’s media catalog. Following the example set by Osamu Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto adopted the use of the star system, where recurring characters appeared across a variety of titles.
The earliest version of Harlock appeared in Matsumoto’s Gun Frontier manga in 1972. Set in the Old West, this Harlock plays the gun-slinging sidekick to Tochiro Oyama, his canonical best friend. Unlike his other works, Gun Frontier employs a more comedic tone, depicting Tochiro and Harlock as the funny guy and straight man, respectively.
Originally, Matsumoto wanted to debut the sci-fi iteration of Harlock as a supporting character in the 1974 Space Battleship Yamato 「宇宙戦艦ヤマト」anime but was forced to cancel his plan due to production issues. Instead, Harlock made his first appearance in Matsumoto’s manga adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato in 1975.
After Space Battleship Yamato’s conclusion, Matsumoto, who retained the rights to the character, launched the standalone Space Pirate Captain Harlock manga in 1977. It’s this refined iteration of Harlock that most readers recognize (Tochiro is cast again too, this time as the Arcadia’s sentient computer system), though it wouldn’t be the last time Matsumoto would rehash Harlock’s story.
In 1978, the Space Pirate Captain Harlock anime aired on TV Asahi. Produced by Toei Animation and directed by the famous Rintaro, the anime adaptation ran for 42 episodes. Following the show’s success in 1982, Toei released the Arcadia of My Youth 「わが青春のアルカディア」feature film. Here, Matsumoto sheds more light on Harlock’s origins, beginning with his ancestral history to his eventual transformation from military officer to space pirate during the 30th Century.
The Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX 「わが青春のアルカディア·無限軌道SSX」 anime aired in 1982 and was meant to be a sequel to the Arcadia of My Youth film. Again, Matsumoto reworked Harlock’s canon, this time giving him a new foe to fight, the Illumidas. Tochiro is back as a human, not a computer. There’s also another Tadashi, though not the same Tadashi Daiba from the 1972 manga. Confused yet? Well, it keeps going.
In 1998, Matsumoto created another Harlock manga and subsequent OVA, Harlock Saga: Der Ring des Nibelungen 「ハーロック・サーガ ニーベルングの指環」. Based on Richard Wagner’s musical epic, The Ring of the Nibelung, this version pits Harlock and his crew against literal gods who aim to rebuild the universe. Unfortunately, this series has since been placed on an indefinite hiatus as of 1999.
Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey was released as an OVA in 2002. Serving as a direct sequel to the original 1978 anime, this “Herlock,” weird spelling intended, fell back into the original canon, with OG Tadashi Daiba making a comeback. Rintaro also returned as director, bringing in his famed studio MADHOUSE Inc. for production.
Captain Harlock would appear again in a 2013 CGI-animated film, named, you guessed it, Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Visually, the film is stunning, though the plot meanders in many places, leaving much to be desired (but that’s a post for another day). As of writing, this title is available on Netflix (US).
To celebrate his 60th anniversary debut as a mangaka, Matsumoto penned the latest Harlock manga, Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage 「キャプテンハーロック～次元航海～」 in 2014. Drawn by Kouichi Shimahoshi, Dimensional Voyage is another modern retelling of the original 1970s manga. Seven Seas Entertainment licensed the manga in 2017 for North American audiences.
Over the years, Captain Harlock has made cameo appearances in Leiji Matsumoto’s other space operas, including Queen Emeraldas, Galaxy Express 999, and Space Symphony Maetel.
Now that you’ve been bombarded with so much Harlock info, you might be a little lost on where to start your space pirate journey. Well, you’re in luck! Coming this May, Seven Seas Entertainment is set to release Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection, the first volume in a three-part series. This edition compiles the original 1977 Space Pirate Captain Harlock manga, complete with official English translations.
This post originally appeared on Hakutaku.