Animated: Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Resident anime junkie, Michelle, tackles the 2013 version of Captain Harlock.

"Do you dig my bad ass cape?"
As far as quality goes, film adaptations based on anime and manga are usually a mixed bag. You either get something awesome like Death Note or a garbage movie like Dragonball Evolution. Space Pirate Captain Harlock falls somewhere in the middle; it has moments of excellence, but those are few and far between and overshadowed by a prevailing miasma of mediocrity. It’s especially disappointing because the anime and manga series it’s based on is a classic and quite highly regarded.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock was directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) and is a CG animated film. I hadn’t watched a CG film from Japan since the excellent Final Fantasy: Advent Children, so I was very excited to see what gains had been made in the medium since then. Unfortunately, most of the CG is adequate at best with the animation of the characters looking particularly stiff and robot-like. When they are showing shots of space or ship battles it looks pretty good but that is a very small portion of the film. 
Most of the time we are stuck watching the main characters talk to each other or watching flashbacks; all of which have the quality of a cut scene from a video game. They tried to remain faithful to the character designs of manga writer/illustrator Leiji Matsumoto (which have a distinct 1970’s era look) but they just don’t translate well from 2D to 3D. With the exception of Captain Harlock himself, who looks bad-ass, everyone looks odd and disproportionate. 

"We ARE the members of the
Lollipop Guild. Got a problem
with it?"
The story, for lack of a better term, is a hot mess.  Most Japanese anime series and films tend to have convoluted stories but Space Pirate Captain Harlock is so overly complicated and complex that it brings the entire film down. An inordinate amount of time is spent listening to characters explain what the hell is going on and even then most of it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The anime explored deeper themes, such as man’s propensity towards violence and what it meant to have true freedom. All this is lost in the confusing labyrinth of the CG film’s ridiculous plot and it really drags down the pacing and the final impact. It feels much longer than its runtime which is never a good thing.

Tetsuya Takahashi’s rousing and bombastic musical score is the best thing about this film. It’s exactly the type of music that a sweeping space opera should have. I really wish it had been attached to a much better movie; it’s good enough to warrant a purchase of the soundtrack. Alas, a good soundtrack does not a good film make, and it can’t save this one. While Space Pirate Captain Harlock isn’t a terrible film by any means, it’s not a good film either. It’s worth a rental at best and only if you are a diehard fan of the manga or anime.

-Michelle Kisner