Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection, Vol. 3

By Leiji Matsumoto. Released in Japan as “Uchuu Kaizoku Captain Harlock” by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Play Comic. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson. Adapted by Snati Whitesides.

In many respects this is Daiba’s story more than Harlock’s, and we’ve been following his journey and not really going back to show how Harlock got started, got the crew together, etc. That said, just because we started with Daiba doesn’t mean we get a satisfying ending for him – or anyone. A lot of Matsumoto series, I’ve found, tend to best be described as “a cutout of a larger, more epic tale”, even when they’re being epic tales themselves. And so this volume wraps up with not much having changed, except that we’ve possibly found the Mazon are more similar to humanity than anyone expected – except, of course, the reader. The Arcadia, with its main cast all intact, set sail to further adventures and battles, which we, as a reader will not see, because Matsumoto wrapped up the manga at this point, probably so he could concentrate more on Galaxy Express 999.

A lot of the back half of this volume is concerned with the life and death of Tochiro, who frequently appears posthumously in the Harlockverse (he was in Queen Emeraldas as well) but rarely shows up in the flesh. His death looms over everyone, and is handled with such reverence and dignity that when a rogue Mazon tries to attack Arcadia while they’re at his gravesite, the Queen literally throws her off the ship, where she falls to her death, because let’s face it, these are pirate ships more than spaceships. It’s a bit ridiculous, but fits with the overall mood of the book, which is brooding, somber, and oh so serious. Aside from the occasional stab at humor, such as everyone’s collections falling over in a battle, or Kei getting fall down drunk at one point, the laughs of the last two books are mostly gone. (There is a short Harlock/Emeraldas story added after the main events here, which is meant to show them as almost Rule 63 versions of each other. I didn’t enjoy it much, but it DOES have humor.)

As for Daiba, well, he’s trying hard to grow and learn everything as fast as possible, and that’s not going very well, though he is rather clever. Harlock seems to be grooming him as a sort of heir at times. He also helps to discover the Mazon’s involvement with the Ancient Pyramids, as the Wagnerian myth takes a slight detour and also shows off the Mazon as sort of dandelion spores that will gradually infect everything in the galaxy. Not the world’s most original plot, but that’s fine, as you’re reading a story about space pirates, so originality is not why you’re here. The dialogue continues to be ripe, even with the seriousness, and I think it may actually work even better if you read it aloud in a stentorian voice, sort of like William Daniels as Captain Harlock.

The modern-day reboot of the series, Dimensional Voyage, is still going strong, and adding a bit more depth and characterization that isn’t in this original. But if you want the definitive mood for Harlock, it’s hard to beat this three-volume set, which is dramatic and stentorian to the last. A classic slice of manga history.

Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection, Vol. 2

By Leiji Matsumoto. Released in Japan as “Uchuu Kaizoku Captain Harlock” by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Play Comic. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson. Adapted by Snati Whitesides.

This second omnibus of Captain Harlock settles down a bit, with a lot less goofy comedy but also without the tragedy that I was expecting. What we end up getting are a series of scenes/arcs of the Arcadia and its crew going after the Mazon in deep space, and having adventures. It reminds you that manga titles back in the day were far more concerned about any casual reader being able to pick up and follow along even after missing the previous seven months. There’s not a lot of intercontinuity here. That said, it’s certainly not dull; once you get your head around the Harlock pacing and remind yourself that these characters don’t speak, they declaim, you can see why Captain Harlock is still a beloved character today, even as he spends the entire book talking with his computer or getting upset about (seemingly) being saved by his hated enemies.

The cover art has the Mazon Queen, who spends most of this volume standing in her place of power and trying to get more inside information on Harlock and company. At one point a Mazon pilot, who seems to be not quite as fanatical as the others, boards the ship and speaks briefly to the crew, finding them “united in body and heart”, much to the horror of the seemingly heartless Mazon Queen, who in reality is about as cold and ruthless as the Cybermen in Doctor Who’s 80s period, which is to say not at all. A lot of the conflict in Harlock tends to be glossed as “men” (Harlock and his crew) vs. “women” (the all-female Mazon), and we get to see the men be the ones who are stronger because of their emotions and bonds, while the cool, heartless women are doomed to never understand. Harlock’s crew does have two women in it, of course, and possibly my favorite sequence of the book was seeing Kei pretending to be in trouble and letting herself get rescued by Daiba to satisfy his grumpy male ego. This is laid out explicitly so that the reader gets it. That said, I’d feel better about Matsumoto’s handling of women if he didn’t draw most of them looking the same.

At one point the Arcadia is almost destroyed by a gravity planet, and is rescued at the last second. Harlock thinks it was the Mazon who did it, and is suitably angry and humiliated – it’s not just Daiba, Harlock too has an ego that is easily bruised. The Mazon Queen, though, is also wondering who it was that saved Harlock, because it didn’t seem to be them either. As a result, there is a tiny bit of forward plot motion in this volume that is otherwise a series of static paintings. I think there’s one more omnibus of this series, and I’m interested to see if it wraps up nicely and neatly, or if its ending is open. In the meantime, if you like classic manga, you should give this a read.

Added bonus for Doctor Who fans: the Sontaran fighter who makes an appearance. (OK, he’s not meant to be Sontaran, but come on, look at him.)

Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection, Vol. 1

By Leiji Matsumoto. Released in Japan as “Uchuu Kaizoku Captain Harlock” by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Play Comic. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson.

I had reviewed the first volume of the modern-day remake of this series, Dimensonal Voyage, and I worried that reading the original afterwards might be a bit of a letdown if they covered the same ground. No need to worry there. The more recent series seems to be far more concerned about the planet Earth and what’s happening back there, whereas the original Captain Harlock can’t wait to head out into the depths of space. Which makes sense, because as with the other classic Matsumoto series we’ve seen, Queen Emeraldas, the author is less interested in creating a manga story than in creating a manga mood. Harlock is a Wagnerian opera, complete with the repetitive, sonorous narration that makes the whole series sound like a collection of leitmotifs. As such, there is a general theme of “war against the eerily beautiful and yet eeeeeeevil women’, but for the most part you are here for the spectacle. And what good spectacle it is.

To an extent, the story of Harlock is actually the story of Tadashi Daiba, a young boy whose scientist father is gratuitously killed off to jumpstart the plot. Earth is currently under the rule of a useless, narcissistic leader (so nothing at all like our current timeline), and Tadashi is longing to get revenge on the beautiful women “who burn like paper” that killed his father. Enter Harlock, who arrives with his crew and backstory already in place – albeit the backstory is teased out to us bit by bit, and the only time we see Emeraldas she’s an evil doppelganger. Instead we have Harlock’s eccentric crew, which are composed entirely of Matsumoto’s two basic types: short, squat men and gorgeous long-haired blondes. With Tadashi now on the crew, they head out into space to try to find out the secret of the Mazon, and see if they can discover a reason for their war against the Earth… or if it’s just pre-destined after all.

As with a lot of manga from this time period, readers should be prepared for a lot of silly comedy interspersed with Harlock’s stoic nobility. His first mate Yattaran is the primary source of this, caring about putting together models of battleships and nothing else, to the point where the running gag starts to get tiresome, but thankfully not past that point. There’s also an alcoholic doctor, which might seem a bit familiar to fans of Space Battleship Yamato. As for his two female crew members, sadly they’re just as serious-minded as Harlock, though at least Yuki gets in the occasional snarky line. As for Mimay, it’s rare to meet a character who screams “I am going to die tragically somewhere in the next volume” more than she does, and every single line she says just underlines that point.

The plot is slight, and the art is very 1970s. That said, this is the sort of manga that’s not meant to be read so much as sipped. If you keep that in mind, Harlock turns into an excellent purchase, showing off a creator at the height of his powers.