Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Uchuu Kaizoku Captain Harlock 宇宙海賊キャプテンハーロック) is the newest version of Leiji Matsumoto's (Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999) popular character. As with previous versions, this CGi-animated adventure takes place in the future and focuses on Harlock, a military man turned pirate, who fights against corrupt political power. Does the corruption lie only in powerful coalition he fights against?
*** Note: Spoilers Ahead ***
A narration starts the film, telling the audience of a people who have expanded in population, far beyond the ability of Earth to sustain. The human population has gone interstellar and found homes among the stars. This expansion however, was largely unsuccessful and the desire to return to Earth has humans coming back home in droves. Because of fears of destroying Earth's ecology, the powerful Gaia Coalition forbids this and the deadly Homecoming War has the returning ex-patriates discovering how impossible this dream is.
The main story begins a hundred years after the war with a single ship's rebellion against the massive coalition. This is no ordinary ship though, it's the legendary Arcadia, captained by the infamous Harlock. We meet one of the main characters, Yama (Logan in the translation for some reason), on an outpost planet. The crew of the Arcadia don't get any awards for kindness as they will take on only one person as a new crew member if they can provide the correct word. The rest are left to fall to their death. Yama chooses "Freedom" and is let onboard.
This serves as the viewers' introduction to the world of Harlock. We get to see the mysterious ship and see the crew (including the beautiful and tough Nami and the last-of-her-race alien Mimay) through Yama's eyes. We also find out the Arcadia is no oridinary ship, running on alien technology and dark matter.
Soon after he joins, Yama is put through his first test of fire as the Arcadia runs into a part of the coalition fleet. During a boarding fight, we find out that it's no coincidence that Yama joined the pirate crew, it was part of a coalition plan set about by Yama's high-ranking brother Ezra.
The plot gets complicated as it unwinds. Harlock wants to "unlock the nodes of time", bringing things back to how they were before. Through several chases and space battles, Harlock sets up devices to get this done. Along the way, Yama's loyalties sway because of revelations about both the mechanations of the coalition and the truth about Harlock. The journey eventually takes the Arcadia back to Earth's solar system to find out the truth about the Earth; it isn't really a paradise and Harlock is not exactly innocent in action or motivation.
I saw this film as a part of the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF). The film was presented in 3D (which was not advertised) with Japanese language and English and Italian (I think) subtitles. The 3D was done well but did hamper the presentation a little, making the subtitles sometimes hard to read. Even if it was in 2D though, the subtitles would likely be difficult to adjust to, as the subtitles were presented with the Italian right above the English, making things confusing and distracting especially when the words were the same in both languages. The film was originally released in Japan on September 7, 2013.
The animation itself was well done for the most part, and beautiful at some times. The style was similar to what you'd see in videogames, though with more detail and generally more fluid. A bit less like his previous CGI productions (Appleseed and Appleseed Ex Machina), director Shinji Aramaki has this feature looking more like the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children CGI anime, though with colors and lighting that are richer and deeper. However, much of the Arcadia's interiors were very dark and monochromatic, making things difficult to make out at times. The characters did not look that much like their more traditionally animated selves, having more human, yet stylized, features. Also regarding the characters, not all of them were created equal. Harlock was well animated and had nice texture and lighting in most scenes, but Ezra often looked too stiff (not because he was disabled) and more plasticky than he should have. Mimay and Yama mostly looked good, but the coalition folks appeared to be done with lesser quality. Nami was sort of a mix of both depending on the scene. The Arcadia also looked like it ran into H.R. Giger, but is still recognizable as itself. Speaking of ships, the space battles were very nicely done, epic and exciting.
The story is even more of a mixed bag than the animation. The technojargon can get pretty hard to follow, even for science fiction fans, and the character motivations are at times, questionable. It's hard to fully like many of the main characters in the story. Both Harlock and Ezra (and several others) have deep flaws.
If you are willing to sit through some of the muddled plot points and want to see some pretty visuals, Space Pirate Captain Harlock might be worth a watch. Just don't expect to not scratch your head during the film.