Thursday, September 17, 2009

Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years

I DID IT!! I've finally completed something I've always wanted to do since 1986. I've finally watched all 65 episodes of Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years!

Well okay, I've actually only watched 63 episodes... it turns out I'm missing episodes 50 & 51. But hey, this is as close as I'm ever gonna get, so I feel happy.

Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years was a project by Carl Macek and Harmony Gold, the folks who brought me Robotech, the show that changed my life.

I saw in an issue of Starlog that Harmony Gold had released another anime series, Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years. The show was in limited release but was expected to have a wider push in 1987.

At the 1986 Creation Robotech Convention I got to see Carl Macek, and he explained the show's backstory something like this: After the success of Robotech, a Harmony Gold employee "who as a result of this is no longer with the company" asked him what other anime was cool. Macek shrugged and said, "I like Captain Harlock." So this employee then got on the phone and proceeded to sell 65 episodes of Captain Harlock to TV stations around the country.

HG was now stuck with honoring these sales, so they were forced to aquire the rights to the Japanese show Space Pirate Captain Harlock. The only problem is, that show only ran 42 episodes. To fill it out, they needed another show like they did with Robotech. Macek said at the con that he wanted to use the follow-up series Harlock SSX and the My Youth in Arcadia Harlock movie, but the rights owners were demanding too much money for it. Being between a rock and a hard place, Harmony Gold went with Queen Millenia, an unrelated show that used the same character designer, Leiji Matsumoto.

Macek said he hated the project, and just dreaded going in to work every day to deal with it.

Well, the show's "wider push" never came. (Just like the other HG products I was waiting on at the time: Robotech: The Movie and Robotech II: The Sentinels. I think people really don't appreciate how lucky we are that Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles actually got released.) But a friend of mine got a hold of the first 8 episodes from someone in Texas. I ate them up and eagerly wanted to see more.

I wasn't able to actually get any more episodes until over ten years later. Joy and I were in Chicago running our booth for Joy's Japanimation at AnimeCentral. I had a fansub trade list I carried around with me, and I was lucky enough to run into a fan who said he had all 65 episodes! We quickly arranged the trades, and good to his word, he provided me with the rest of the series.

(Well, except for those two missing episodes that is, but I suspect that the Chicago station skipped them so it wasn't his fault. His last tape repeats the first two episodes, and the voice over on the end credits talks about their new line-up starting on Monday. So I don't think it was his fault.)

I wanted to get back into watching them, but by that point I was too busy working with anime to actually watch any of it. Then I had to leave the store and I was so sour on anime I didn't want to have anything to do with it.

But that was years ago now, and shows like the aforementioned Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, Macross Frontier and Cosmo Warrior Zero have helped me lose my resentment towards anime. So when I started copying all my VHS tapes to DVD and I reached the Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years tapes, I decided I was going to actually sit down and watch them as I copied them.

So, as to the show itself: Is it any good?

For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Oh sure, it's an unfaithful translation. But you know what? I don't care. It's still got some good storytelling to it, especially when compared with what else was airing in 1986. Like Robotech, the show doesn't pull its punches-- a lot of violent death scenes are left in, main characters are killed, there's live childbirth scenes (not once, but twice). And the story can get very complex as they try to weave the two worlds of Harlock and Queen Millennia together.

That weaving is where the show tends to fall apart. A lot of the connections work well (Harlock's enemies the Mazone are working for Millenia, etc.) but other times they're inconsistant. A band of refugees are first called captured humans from Earth, then in the next episode they're now called refugees from Millennia. Things like that-- a lot of inconsistancies that could have been ironed out with closer script editing.

For me, this show was like coming home. Hearing all those old Harmony Gold / Intersound voice actors again, the music (some of which was reused in The Sentinels, and one of Robotech's "dramatic stings" was used a lot in this show), coming back to watch a new episode every day all summer long... this show reminded me of why I fell in love with anime in the first place.

Okay, anime. Welcome back. All is forgiven.


greatplaidmoose said...

You can almost hear Jake and Leader Deslok arguing in your head can't you? lol

chillock said...

Cool, do you know where I could watch it. I can't seem to find it on the internet.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Before his death, Carl Macek told Anime News Network in a podcast interview how his favorite part of working on this series was leaving in the child birth and nudity that nobody has ever went up to him and asked him about later on. He was hoping people would be all over him for that rather than for the 'editing' of both shows together.