Captain Harlock’s Endless Orbit

One of my Father’s Day gifts this year contained the DVD of the one Captain Harlock TV series I have not yet seen in its entirety, Endless Orbit SSX, from 1982. Also in the box was the first volume of Leiji Matsumoto’s original Captain Harlock manga from 1977. This was a wonderfully appropriate gift on several levels.

Of course, I’ve been a fan of the good captain since I first encountered him around 1991 in the movie Galaxy Express 999. The imagery of a space pirate who visited Western frontier looking planets no doubt helped drive some of my thinking when I started work on my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, around that time. Now, I’m hard at work on the novel’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition. A final proofread is underway and the book is being laid out, so I’ve been finding myself thinking about some of the themes and influences.

Many of my favorite space operas, the adventures of Captain Harlock included, have a certain family-like atmosphere. There’s a distinct sense of a band of siblings working toward a common goal, whether it be the exploration of a world, freeing Earth from tyranny, or solving some mystery in deep space. Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, despite his stated dislike of children, often feels like a wise father figure. In the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock series, the captain is almost a literal father, looking after the daughter of his best friend who had died before the series began.

One thing that becomes clear as you watch the various Captain Harlock series is that there is no continuity from one series or movie to the next. That said, I prefer to think of the various Harlock series as stories about Harlock in assorted parallel universes, or perhaps running along alternate timelines. I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlock meddles in his own timeline given the Time Castle in Galaxy Express 999 and Harlock’s plot to reset the entire cosmic clock in the 2013 CGI Space Pirate Captain Harlock Movie.

The only exception to the notion that there’s no continuity between movies and series is that the series Endless Orbit SSX is a direct sequel to the movie Arcadia of my Youth. The movie and series tell about Harlock’s attempts to save Earth from an invasion of aliens called the Illumidas. In what I have watched so far, Harlock is still not a literal father, but he does rapidly become a father figure to Tadashi Monono and Revi Bentselle. Revi is the little girl on the box and first appears as a stranded passenger on a ship Harlock raids. Tadashi is a teenage boy who decides to collect a bounty on Harlock, but when he learns Harlock is the good guy, joins the crew of the Space Pirate Battlehship Arcadia as the cook.

The Captain Harlock manga has so far not introduced Harlock’s adopted daughter, Mayu, who appeared in the TV series, but again, Harlock rapidly becomes a father figure to an orphaned teen, Tadashi Daiba. In the manga, as with the original TV series, Harlock is working to keep aliens called the Mazon from invading the Earth.

In my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, Captain Ellison Firebrandt has a daughter who grows up and leaves home. He also becomes a sort of elder statesman, advising the colonists who settle the planet after him. Harlock earns the loyalty of his crew and friends because he won’t abandon them, no matter what. Even though Earth shuns him as a pirate, he will fight to save the Earth. Firebrandt is much the same. One of the challenges in the new edition of my novel is that I wrote a prequel, which introduced readers to more of Firebrandt’s crew. Once I stranded my captain, I had to find ways to show him continuing to fight for the crew, despite being stranded and despite the fact that he grew to love the world he’d found himself stranded on. I think I’ve finally managed that and still tell the story I’d imagined nearly twenty-five years ago. At this point, I believe I’m less than a month away from releasing the new edition. I’ll announce that here. Otherwise, you can get a copy of the ebook upon release by supporting my Patreon campaign: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

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.