Review: Harlock: Space Pirate (2013)

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The Nordic premiere of Harlock: Space Pirate at the last Stockholm International Film Festival packed a full house. This futuristic, intergalactic pirate caper, set around the turn of the 3rd millennium, finds the infamous and (thought-to-be) immortal Captain Harlock (Shun Oguri) commandeering the mysterious spaceship Arcadia, the last of its kind and powered by dark matter — a self-generating energy based substance that comes in pretty handy in spaceship battle damage predicaments.

Earth has been declared a sanctuary in this distant future by the ruling cronies of the Gaia Coalition but the overpopulation of its space colonies have caused a scramble for mass re-immigration back to the planet, causing a civil war of sorts known as the Homecoming War, to ensue. Among those fighting for the right to return ‘home’ are Captain Harlock and his rogue crew of space pirates, including Kei Yuki (Miyuki Sawashiro), Harlock’s right-hand woman — a lean, mean fighting machine decked out in a thong-as-outerwear space suit dominatrix ensemble — and Miimé (Yu Aoi), a dark-matter-possessing extra-terrestrial being who serves as the Captain’s advisor and resident spaceship alien healer.

Harlock ScreenAlong the way, they pick up the eager and brash young recruit named Logan (Haruma Miura), who comes with his own back-story central to the film’s narrative, and an equally androgynous looking but younger version of Harlock, thereby playing the predictable role as his antagonist and counter-conscience.

This long awaited new anime film by the director of Appleseed fame does indeed deliver in spades in terms of its state-of-the-art 3D technologies. As with the Appleseed films, the visual graphics of Harlock: Space Pirate are impressively executed, with lifelike motion-capture movements and amazing atmospheric production design to boot, ranging from the dark and metallic interiors of the Arcadia to the contrast of the light and airy glass buildings of the capital city reminiscent of Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada. With cinematography by the legendary Toei Animation studio, Aramaki has clearly capitalized on the improved and
advanced CGI technology in the 6 years since his last directorial venture in this arena.


Also worthy of note is the costume design, in what appears to be a creative mix of richly detailed leather and metal outfits combining the bombardier look with a swashbuckling flair and cool space/robotic suits thrown in for good measure.

As anime eye-candy, this film will leave you sated, but if you are looking for a good, thought-provoking flick, then much less so. That the storyline is clichéd is perhaps to be expected in a manga film, but at 2 hours, the plot offers nothing new in the well-worn sci-fi/anime genre, and the script attempts to make up for the lack of tension by offering up too many sub-plots that further disrupt the film’s momentum and twists that require cliff notes to make sense of.

As the curiously phallic, skull-headed Arcadia zooms ominously into view onscreen for, like, the fifth time, after at least two space battles have taken place in which sci-fi space technologies such as ‘entering the IN-Skip’ (akin to hyperdrive) and the ‘Jovian Accelerator’ have been unleashed and the miraculous escapes of the Arcadia continue despite being outnumbered; you’ll begin to feel your vested interest in the film waning and the desire for the film’s end (and not mention the pressure on your bladder) increasing.

Even the mid-film, gratuitous, zero-gravity nude shower scene, no doubt aimed at pandering to fanboy fancy, managed to elicit only tired sighs from the audience. Having said that, though, Aramaki’s Harlock is still definitely a worthy entry in the journal of manga cinema, and fans of computer animation and special effects would likely be entertained.

6 space skulls out of 10.
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