15 August 2004 | ChungMo
Great return to form for Harlock
One of the biggest problems I've had with the various Harlock incarnations over the past 25+ years is how little Matsumoto is concerned with story consistency. Not within the particular movie or series itself, but how that particular series relates to the others. The original Harlock (or Herlock depending on the translation in Japan) series was a masterpiece of sci-fi television that unfortunately has not been seen properly in the US. The strong characters, Matsumoto's philosophy and Rintaro's unique direction combined to create a very special 42 episode series. Over the years, Harlock has come back in various forms but none matched the strengths of the original TV series. The limited series, "Gun Frontier" which is about Harlock's distant ancestor in the Old West, did come close.
Now Matsumoto, Rintaro have come back together to reignite the Harlock legend and they do so with modest success.
Anyway my first complaint is that, although the new series is set after the 1978 series story ends, the young man, Daiba, who is a main character in that series, is reintroduced as never having met Harlock before. There are several clear references to the original series and to the time frame. I'm sorry that Rintaro didn't insist on keeping the new series consistent with the 1978 series but it's possible that he felt that no one really remembers the old show. It's extremely difficult to find reissues of the 1978 series on DVD in Japan, forget about here in the US. I know it's just a story but it's like having Mr. Spock introduced in one of the Star Trek movies as never having been on the Enterprise before. Once I got beyond that problem the new series worked well.
One of the assets of the '78 series was the great music by Seiji Yokoyama. The new series has some impressive orchestral music and some very effective slide guitar solos but frequently it seems the composer, Takayuki Hattori, was either ignoring the action on the screen or he created the music before the show was completed and the music was thrown in slapdash. Whatever the reason, it is disturbing when the music is very out of place with the scene.
One thing that can't be faulted is the great art direction and Rintaro's command of his craft. The choice of European motifs to represent universal evil from before the big bang is curious but it works.
The Harlock universe is unique in anime. The philosophy of the show comes more from the world of Zatoichi or even the Prisoner television series. It's not for everyone and while there's a good amount of action and suspense, the time spent debating the values of a "true man" and "true friendship" will probably turn a good number of by-the-book anime fans off.
A great philosophical sci-fi series, recommended.