“We owe a great deal to maniacs, but we can’t make good works if we only pander to them.” – Leiji Matsumoto
I love Captain Harlock. There’s no other functional word for the attachment that’s spanned over half my entire life at this point. I have deep appreciation and affection for all of Leiji Matsumoto’s works, but stories centered on Harlock and his crew are especially close to me. I first encountered Matsumoto’s work when I was 12, in the form of a bootleg VHS copy of My Youth in Arcadia bought at a flea market. A theater professor and mentor of mine once told me that she goes to see the same play, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, every five years of her life if not more often, to gauge where her heart is sitting by the point at which she starts to cry or feel exceptionally moved at this text that’s so important to her.
I rewatch My Youth in Arcadia. I don’t know how she’d feel about that.
My own youth thereafter was spent devouring and marinating in Matsumoto’s space opera fairy tale world, an endeavor wholly enabled by a very generous adult acquaintance and my mother’s raging shady flea market habit. I have seen or tried to see, read or tried to read, all of it available to me. I cannot pass it up. It’s too wound up in my guts not to totally grab me. It’s shaped me as a storyteller in ways that I’ve only now started to fully realize, it introduced me by sheer bulk exposure to concepts like iconography and heightened reality. The ultimate gesture of my trust in a friend’s taste is trying to introduce them to it.
I have failed at this more than three times and continue to try.
If I didn’t love this character and this world, I wouldn’t be writing this. There’s a chance, however little I like to consider it, that I wouldn’t be writing at all. I watched this movie, got fed up within ten minutes, returned to better educate myself on my hatred of it, and emerged utterly struck and prepared to gush about it because of all the love and weight I carry around for this story world.
And I don’t enjoy it all; nobody can or should like all of anything. Outside Legend is one of those ‘tried to see’ series because I keep convincing myself I might have the time for it, and I never do. My life inevitably feels too short for… whatever it does by the 90 minute mark, and I walk away.
That’s fine, by the way. When dealing with a collection of stories that hinge on commonalities as opposed to a shared continuity, you can take and leave what you want to an extent. I’ll talk more about that later on. For now, let’s just keep in mind that when it comes to Harlock one is not bound to liking, disliking, buying, or rejecting the whole of it. Artists, writers, directors, and actors have contributed a lot to the characters and world over the years. The appreciation of and contribution to the basic iconographic commonalities of Harlock’s world span decades, generations, and continents. Inevitably, though it’s a sad prospect, it will only continue if those who came up appreciating it contribute to it.
That’s part of why I love this movie, because it bears the hallmarks of a team who loves this world doing something interpretive and transformative with it. Shinji Aramaki, the director, states this explicitly:
“Well, if you look at the original work and compare it to my film, you’ll see that there are some rather significant changes. The thing is, Harlock is a story about fighting for freedom, right? But when Leiji Matsumoto wrote Harlock decades ago, the concept of fighting for freedom was very, very different than it is in the world today. The situation around the world has changed so much, and in Japan too – like with the Fukushima earthquake. I wanted to express the same sort of story to a very different time and generation.”
That willingness to not try and make the character and the world static between iterations in order to appease maniacs (of which I may be one) pleases me. That having been said, I don’t like the Harlock proposed by people who pan this movie the hardest. I don’t like him at all.
“After all, every character has to eat to live and is less than perfect, so that’s an everyday condition. Even if the setting is SF with exotic mecha, human beings are fundamentally the same. Therefore, I want to draw people who eat and sleep.” – Leiji Matsumoto
That Harlock is infallible and inhuman and static, more misanthropic and wantonly cruel than the image of Harlock the 2013 movie first shows us. The angriest reviews suggest that Harlock is not just unbreakable, but unbending, that the only probable solution to a spy aboard the Arcadia is a bullet between the eyes. This isn’t good storytelling to me, and it isn’t Harlock.
Harlock is willful and brave, but he’s merciful and credulous to the point that it makes trouble for him and less idealistic characters call him an idiot. And he’s not without flaw, which I think is what people actually hate seeing in this movie. They don’t hate that he’s cruel, or that he’s edgy, they hate that he’s ‘angsty.’ They hate that he makes mistakes and feels those mistakes gravely, and that those feelings drive him toward more mistakes.
I like characters who eat and sleep, so a Harlock who has to be fished out of the grave he’s dug for himself after having his worst qualities aggravated appeals to me. Because of that, because there’s not enough positive amateur blogging about movies in general, I have resolved to build it a little shrine of appreciation.
You can wait a couple days to get straight into the meat of the multi-part essay, or you can kill time right here and now reading my rundown of how Harlock’s kind of screwed up in the first place.
Oh, and a short preliminary warning before we begin, you know, protocol:
If you don’t want to be spoiled – for the movie, for anything before it, blanket statement, full-stop – exit now. I will not protect you.