Leijiverse Discoveries

As a fan of Leiji Matsumoto’s work, I was pleased to discover a new manga from him plus an anime that I hadn’t seen before. The anime was the 2012 six-episode series Ozma which is available to stream at Crunchyroll. The manga is Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage.

Ozma tells a story of humanity struggling to survive on a future Earth that has become a desert world. Sam Coyne is a young crewman aboard the Bardanos, a ship of the sand that scavenges the world for useful items. While searching for Ozma, the mysterious sand whale, he rescues a girl named Maya, who is being chased by the Theseus Army and takes her back to his ship. Captain Bainas of the Bardanos puts Maya under her protection. As the story proceeds, we learn that there are two factions on this future Earth: the Ideal Children who are carefully genetically engineered and live for a long time by transferring their thoughts into new, grown bodies and the Natura, who propagate as most humans have over time. The Ideal Children were hunting Maya, while she, like Sam, was seeking Ozma.

My first reaction to Ozma was that it could be summed up as Leiji Matsumoto’s Dune. That turns out not to be exactly right, but there are a few similarities. The strongest elements of this anime are the cool retrofuture look of the show along with some of the Bardanos crew. I especially liked Captain Bainas, who reminded me of a more accessible Emeraldas, and Dr. Luna who seemed like a female Dr. Zero. Also, there are some great battle scenes between the Bardanos and the Theseus Army. My sense after getting to the end of this three-hour short series was that with some judicious cutting and little rewriting, this would make an awesome two-hour movie. In particular, the series needed to work on the character of Sam, show us more of his relationship with the Captain and with his childhood friend, Mimay. Also, the ending could be strengthened with a little more information.

On looking up more information, it’s a little unclear how much Leiji Matsumoto was actually involved in this anime. I gather it was based on an unpublished manga from the 1980s, but I haven’t found out whether he had much involvement in the development of the anime or not. Call this worth a watch if you’re a Matsumoto fan and have a little spare time.

On the other end of the Leijiverse spectrum is the manga Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage. When I first saw this announced, I didn’t expect much. It sounded like a simple retelling of the Mazone story from the 1978 Captain Harlock series done by a new artist. I pretty much planned to give this a pass, but a coffee coupon sent me in to my local Barnes and Noble store where I happened to see it on the shelf. A brief browse convinced me to buy the first issue and I’m glad I did.

The first thing I noticed was that Kouiti Shimaboshi’s art really did Leiji Matsumoto proud. The characters look like updated versions of the classic characters from the Leijiverse. What’s more, Matsumoto and Shimaboshi pulled the best elements from some forty years of the Harlock “canon” and combined them in this story. I recognized elements not only from the original, but Harlock Saga, Endless Odyssey, Queen Emeraldas, and even the Harlock: Space Pirate movie. In the original, the prime minister felt like a broad satire. In this, the character came off as a razor-sharp critique of modern politicians. I liked seeing Chief Ilita from Endless Odyssey as Harlock’s main military opponent. He always struck me as the most dangerous of Harlock’s foes, mostly because he actually was an honorable and competent man. So far, we haven’t seen any sign of Harlock’s adopted daughter Mayu, so it’ll be interesting to see if they work her into this story. My only complaint was that the volume proved to be quite short. I definitely will give volume 2 a look and will see where they go with this.

In this last week, I’ve thought a little about my own Captain Firebrandt and how much Captain Harlock may have influenced him. The first anime I saw featuring Captain Harlock was Galaxy Express 999 when it played on the SciFi channel somewhere circa 1993, about five years after I created Captain Firebrandt in 1988. I suspect Harlock’s appearance in Galaxy Express 999 is one thing that gave me the nudge to write a novel about Captain Firebrandt and explore the character more. After that point, the next time I saw Captain Harlock was in 2015, soon after watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and learning about Harlock’s relationship to the original series.

I think a Harlock/Firebrandt crossover story would be fun to do, but doubt it could happen any time soon, unless I did it as fan fiction for my own enjoyment. If you want to see the latest adventures of Captain Ellison Firebrandt, please consider supporting my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

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What’s Opera, Harlock?

Like many Americans of my age, my education in opera came from the wonderful 1957 Bugs Bunny short, “What’s Opera, Doc?” In the short, Bugs and Elmer Fudd satirize pieces from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen among other operas.

It turns out, Bugs and Elmer aren’t the only characters from animation to take on Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In 1999, Leiji Matsumoto made an adaptation of Das Rheingold featuring Captain Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia called Harlock Saga. In this case, they don’t sing, but act out a loose, science fictional adaptation of the opera. I gather Matsumoto took the idea further in print and there are manga adaptations of Die Walküre and Siegfried as well as Der Rheingold.

In a way, bringing a character like Harlock into an opera closes a loop of sorts. Of course, Captain Harlock is a classic “space opera” character. So, what does “space opera” have to do with plain ol’ opera? To answer that, one has to go back to the original genre opera—the “horse opera.” The term “horse opera” goes all the way back to wild west shows of the nineteenth century. In that case, there’s a good chance that the term was a reference to the big spectacle that those shows represented.

By the time we get to the early twentieth century, the term “horse opera” began to be applied to movies we’d just call Westerns today. In fact, early Western star William Hart was called “the Caruso of the horse opera” in 1917. The term then migrated to western stories broadcast on the radio. When romance stories started on the radio, many sponsored by soap companies, they picked up the moniker “soap opera.” The term “space opera” started being applied to science fiction stories soon after that.

Today, when we speak of space opera, we tend to think of science fiction stories told on a grand scale, featuring larger-than-life characters, engaging in epic quests. In that sense, space opera is much the same kind of spectacle as, well, opera.

Lest one speak poorly of cartoons, I’ll note that “What’s Opera, Doc” and Harlock Saga have inspired my wife and I to finally watch Der Ring des Niberlungen. It’s definitely big and epic like a space opera. It’s also got its share of illicit romance, not unlike a soap opera. Of course, there’s the great music. Hours and hours of it. Der Ring des Niberlungen runs to some fifteen hours.

While I’m on the subject of space opera, today marks the relaunch of my space opera saga, now christened “The Space Pirates’ Legacy.” Click on the button below to visit my Patreon page and see the awesome cover Laura Givens created for the first book in the series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. If you become a Patron (and you can do so for just $1 a month), you’ll be able to read the book’s first story today. It first appeared in the collection Space Pirates, but I’ve given it a thorough edit to better line up with later stories in the book. My goal is that patrons will get to read at least one new story a month. If I get enough patrons, I’ll make sure they all get a copy of the complete book upon release. Click the button and get all the details right now.

Time for Yourself

This past week I finished the first complete draft of The Brazen Shark. I phrase that as “first complete” because I’m the kind of writer who does a lot of revision as I go, so it’s not exactly a “rough draft” or a true “first draft.” In fact almost everything but the last chapter has been through some level of revision. However you count it, reaching the end of new manuscript is something of a milestone, so I took a little time for myself this week. I’m a fan of anime and I love to build models. Recently, I found a model of Captain Harlock’s ship, the Arcadia on eBay. I spent a couple days this last week building the model, shown next to the Starship Enterprise.

Arcadia and Enterprise

As an aside, I show these two side-by-side because they are, according to their manufacturers, almost to scale with each other. So, if you ever wondered how big Captain Harlock’s ship was compared to Captain Kirk’s, you now have a pretty good idea. I also find myself wondering what might have happened if Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi had encountered Captain Harlock and Mimay in that cantina in Mos Eisley instead of Han and Chewbacca.

Returning to the topic at hand, the point I want to make is that I think it’s important for writers to take some time and just play. Now your play and mine may be different. I like building models. You might like playing golf or a favorite musical instrument. You might like gardening or watching movies. It doesn’t really matter what you do, these things give your mind a necessary respite before moving on to the next project.

I have a short story I need to write and I have at least one, possibly two more revision passes to go on the novel before I turn it in. However, if I went straight into those things, I know I wouldn’t be effective. I’d slog through and I might get the job done, but I wouldn’t be happy with it.

I also recognize that there’s a lot of pressure to spend time on social media, market your books, write new stuff, and possibly have a day job. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like anyone is going to give you the time you need to have a break. In short, no one is going to give you that time. You’re going to have to have the discipline to make that time. In much the same way that your recreation may be very different from mine, the time you take may be very different. I took a couple day block after several intensive work days. Others might take an hour a day. Still others might plan half a day a week. Different strategies work for different people. Find a strategy that works for you.

I will note that after a couple of quiet days not thinking about writing, I almost couldn’t stop ideas flowing on that short story I need to write. That’s what I’ll be working on later today. Then, with that little bit of space, I’ll definitely be ready to tackle those revisions, which means, hopefully, book 3 of the Clockwork Legion will be available to you soon! In the meantime, the first two novels, Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves are available right now. Just follow the links to learn more.

Harlock, Firebrandt, and Reynolds

During the holidays, while watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 with my daughter, the subject of another anime icon came up—Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Harlock My daughter found some on-line references to the title character. Although I knew about him and had long ago seen him in the Galaxy Express 999 movie, my knowledge of the show was limited. After returning to college, she discovered that the original 1978 Captain Harlock series is at crunchyroll.com.

In the meantime, I had a deadline approaching for a short story. The idea that I developed seemed perfect for my own space pirate captain, Ellison Firebrandt. I spent a chunk of the last two weeks working on the story. Once I had a draft I liked, I set the story aside, as is standard practice for me before submitting it. During that time, I decided to watch a few episodes of Space Pirate Captain Harlock. The series was created by Leiji Matsumoto, the artist behind the original Space Battleship Yamato. In fact, Harlock was originally created to be a character in Yamato, but Matsumoto decided he didn’t want to give up creative control of the character, so reserved him for other projects.

As it turns out, Harlock and Firebrandt have a lot in common. Both will fight to protect Earth, even if both are often frustrated by what Earth has become. Firebrandt Both are seen as criminals, even though they are each guided by a moral compass. Both value their freedom and the freedom of those who serve under them. Many of the human colonies beyond Earth are wild, untamed places which sometimes have a distinct wild west feel.

This brings me to something else that’s a bit uncanny. While watching the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock, I discovered the sequel/remake series Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey. Just to note, the good captain’s name is translated both as Harlock and Herlock, though it seems always to be pronounced like the former. MalReynoldsFirefly Endless Odyssey ran in 2002 and 2003, the same time as another series about space outlaws ran in the United States—Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Captain Malcolm Reynolds shares many noble and not-so-noble characteristics with Firebrandt and Harlock. Earth doesn’t really factor into the Firefly universe, but Reynolds does stand up for what he believes is right even though it routinely puts him on the wrong side of the law. Although he doesn’t call himself a pirate, he isn’t afraid to commit crime to make a living.

Endless Odyssey is a great, short series. I found the English-dubbed version on YouTube. It reminded me of Firefly many times, even down to the lonely guitar riffs. It was also very different, sometimes having an underground comic vibe. At times it even reminded me of the magazine and movie, Heavy Metal.

I gather there is little to no continuity among the different Harlock TV series. Harlock and his pirate crew are almost operatic figures, telling whatever story they need to. In fact, they were even called upon to retell the story of the opera Das Rheingold in Harlock Saga. I haven’t seen this series, but it’s definitely on my to-watch list. I suppose I see Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, Suki, and the crew of the Legacy in much the same way. They are reliable standbys and I can call upon them whenever I need to tell a good yarn. I just have to imagine what trouble they’ve gotten up to now. I do try to maintain some continuity, but especially among the short stories, I can’t promise that I haven’t shuffled it, at least a little.

Seeing that it’s Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but mention the romantic connections with these space pirates. Firefly’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds has his flirtatious relationship with the companion, Inara. Captain Ellison Firebrandt loves Suki Mori, a computer teacher he rescued from the dangerous world Prospero. Captain Harlock seems more aloof, though he clearly shared a bromance of sorts with his dear friend Tochiro. I also find myself wondering if his relationship with his blue-skinned adviser, Miime, is entirely platonic.

Speaking of “bromance” and much as I hate the term to describe a strong friendship between non-lovers, all three of these pirate stories have one of those. I’ve already mentioned the one in the Captain Harlock series. Firebrandt has a bromance with his first mate Roberts and it’s hard to describe Malcolm Reynolds’s relationship with Zoe Washburn as anything other than a bromance, despite their gender difference.

I’ve given you links to explore more about Captain Harlock. Fortunately, Browncoats have helped to assure that Firefly is readily available. If you’d like explore more about Captain Firebrandt, here’s a sampling of books in print where you can read his adventures:

And of course, when my latest Captain Firebrandt story sells, I’ll be sure to tell you about it right here. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Image notes: Captain Harlock image from Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey copyright Madhouse, Inc. Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly copyright 20th Century Fox. Each image used under the fair use doctrine of US Copyright law in this article discussing the relevant series. Illustration of Captain Ellison Firebrandt by Laura Givens from the cover of The Pirates of Sufiro by David Lee Summers.