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.