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.

Captain Harlock, Space Pirate: Dimensional Voyage, Vol. 1

By Leiji Matsumoto and Kouiti Shimaboshi. Released in Japan as “Captain Harlock – Jigen Koukai” by Akita Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Champion Red. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson.

When I’d heard that Seven Seas had licensed this 21st century Harlock reboot, I said that if they really wanted to impress folks they would go get the original manga from the 70s – which they proceeded to do, and that should be out in 2018 or so. That said, that doesn’t make this any less interesting. I’m not sure how much input Matsumoto actually had on the finished project, but it certainly feels just like it should. It’s a retelling of the original series, featuring Harlock’s fight to protect what he values most, as well as picking up a new crewmember whose father was killed. We see an Earth that has fallen, if not into ruin, then at least into disrepair, as the only people who gave a damn have long since left for space, leaving behind the corrupt and uncaring, mostly. And, of course, we have the florid dialogue, which may be the chief highlight.

I haven’t yet read the original, so I’m not sure how much of this is just a straight up remake of the original and how much is updated content. I did like the beginning of the story, which seems to be framed by a sympathetic reporter as she interviews people about what they think of Harlock. This not only shows off the varied and different opinions that they have, and introduces a large majority of the cast, but it also lulls us into thinking that she may be the viewpoint character – nope, it’s a fakeout. But quite well done, and reminds us that the enemies we’re facing here are the Mazon, a race of female humanoids who seek to destroy Harlock. They’re not getting very far in that regard. After this we meet the actual viewpoint character, Tadashi Daiba, who may look familiar to anyone who’s seen a Matsumoto manga – diverse character types is not his specialty, thought Tadashi does at least manage to be taller than some of the others we’ve seen.

I’d previously reviewed the two volumes of Queen Emeraldas, and noted that it felt like reading a manga adaptation of a Wagner opera. There’s some similarity here, but it also definitely has the feeling of a 21st century work, rather than something from two generations ago. I’d say this is more of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with big gestures and dramatic confrontations galore. Every like is declaimed rather than spoken, as if each of the characters knows that they are part of an ongoing lyrical poem that will only end in destruction. This is not to say that this is 100% depressing – Harlock’s crew are a bunch of goofballs, with the exception of the stoic second mate, and Harlock explains to Tadashi why they’re goofballs much of the time in a very good scene.

The art looks fine – I imagine Matsumoto tests out potential artists to see how well they draw his “ugly” characters, though the odd bone structure of some of Harlock’s crew gave me pause. If you’re a Matsumoto fan, this should make you pretty happy. And if you want to find out what the fuss is about Harlock, this is a good start.