Movie Review – Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2013)

Posted on by Dave

David Mayne

Directed By: Shinji Aramaki
Screenplay By: Harutoshi Fukui, Kiyoto Takeuchi
Original Language: Japanese (English Dub/Sub Available)

“…the closest you’ll get to Star Wars, Pirates of The Caribbean, and Star Fox having a kid.”

Originally started as a late 1970’s Manga series, Space Pirate Captain Harlock has since been revitalized to western audiences through its newest incantation, a CG marvel that not only stuns visually, but tells a fantastic story of betrayal and redemption. While not quite the space-opera-epic that it’s creators had maybe hoped it would be, Space Pirate Captain Harlock does too many thing right to be dismissed as a pretty-looking airhead, and the idea of an eventual sequel or spinoff-series should be enough to entice all you sci-fi/manga/space fans to begin drooling now.

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In the future, mankind has developed the means to travel faster than light, thus allowing them to branch out across the galaxy, populating thousands of  planets. While a great idea, most planets, unlike Earth, eventually fail to sustain their new human inhabitants, forcing many of these new “civilizations” to flee their new worlds and return to Earth. The problem: Earth cannot possibly accommodate the billions of people who now want to return to her soil, and thus, a new branch of government on Earth called The Gaia Sanction was created to prevent Earth from being overtaken and overpopulated by the now-droves of returning refugees. An epic war ensues, with a genius military commander, Captain Harlock, helming one of the main destroyer ships tasked with protecting Earth. Sometime during the war, Harlock manages to save an ancient, dying race of aliens known as the Nibelung. For helping them, the Nibelung share their knowledge of an extremely powerful substance called dark matter with Captain Harlock, who subsequently uses it to create a mighty fleet of dreadnoughts called The Deathshadow Martyr Fleet (gotta love it), which operate on the power of the dark matter. Harlock then goes on to win the war for Earth, while the Gaia Sanction pulls a shady backroom deal to allow an elite-class-only group of refugees to return to Earth, going against Harlock’s very mandate as protector of the planet. Turning his ship against the rest of the fleet, Harlock destroyed everything in his path, and in his rage, attacked the Earth itself, laying armageddon-level destruction upon the planet through the power of the dark matter, thus turning Earth into a barren, inhospitable wasteland. In the process, Harlock, his crew, and his ship are also transformed by the dark matter into a ghastly and twisted version of its former self, an almost ghost-ship of sorts, doomed to travel the galaxy  for eternity, to plunder and pillage with the captain at its steampunked helm.

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Space Pirate Captain Harlock picks up over 100 years later, as the Gaia Sanction is still on the hunt for the notorious Captain Harlock in an attempt to finally bring him to “justice” for his assault on Earth. In an attempt to infiltrate Harlock’s ranks, Gaia sends a young spy aboard Harlock’s ship to gather intelligence and ultimately kill Harlock himself. What follows is an action-packed yarn of wild space battles, political intrigue, and a worthy story that scratches much deeper than some other manga-inspired flicks out there.

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Let’s get to the elephant in the room, Space Pirate Captain Harlock looks amazing, especially in hi-def/bluray. Looking more like fantastic CG cut scenes from a next-gen game vs. something Pixar might crank out covered in a generous slathering of Randy Newman, Space Pirate Captain Harlock succeeds in offering forth a cutting-edge display of ultra-crisp textures and lighting effects coupled with liquidy-smooth frame rates and none of that “rubber-band-bendy-man” stuff (think Spider-Man).

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While the action is tense and the visuals are sure to stun, the voice cast is the real winning side of Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Both the original Japanese and the re-dubbed English version are available to viewers, both on Netflix and the Blu-Ray versions. While your first run-through with this flick should be the Japanese one (if for no other reason than the lip-synching), it’s not the end of the world if you go the English dub route. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that Space Pirate Captain Harlock featured such a well-thought out and professionally done English dub that was neither cheesy (for the most part) or annoying. While I usually cringe at the English dub efforts offered in most Japanese anime/manga, Space Pirate Captain Harlock raised the bar and made watching through in English a pleasure.

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In general, I’ve always loved Tetsuya Takahashi, and his contribution to gaming is not only monumental, but legendary. Having worked on such games as Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, it was a complete surprise to me when I learned he was doing the score for this film. A very tight and tense score, Takahashi also throws in elements of the days-gone-by swashbuckling epics, often tipping its cap to a few well-known franchises. Coupled with the stylish and oft-piratey visuals, epic space battles, and the occasional sword and gun play, Space Pirate Captain Harlock is the closest you’ll get to Star Wars, Pirates of The Caribbean, and Star Fox having a kid.

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Although the story, at times, veered-off in the direction of general-manga-wtf, Space Pirate Captain Harlock keeps its stuff together just enough to put a meaningful and cohesive story behind it’s gorgeously good-looks! I highly recommend this film to the following Amigos:

  • Star Wars fans
  • Pirates of The Caribbean fans
  • EVE Online and Freelancer gamers
  • Final Fantasy/Xenogears Saga fans

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Not since 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within have I really cared for the CG-movie genre, especially since I prefer actual animation ala-GI Joe (call me old-fashioned); but with Space Pirate Captain Harlock, I was instantly carried away by its sweeping themes, decent voice acting, and lush visuals. Not so-surprisingly, Space Pirate Captain Harlock didn’t do too hot in its native Japan, which is understandable since it doesn’t go the full-monty manga/anime route, keeping its themes and visuals much more grounded. I don’t want to say that the filmmakers made Space Pirate Captain Harlock  for western audiences, but then again, it would explain why it failed in the land of the rising sun. The Japanese-born ‘Legend of Zelda series, seen by most to be a western-style RPG, is also second to the much more popular Final Fantasy series in Japan as well, perhaps an indicator that tastes vary as much with games as they do with movies. Space Pirate Captain Harlock did however do quite well internationally, earning over 21 million worldwide, even though it’s production cost around 30 million. Now that this gem is entering the Netflix realm and a special edition Blu Ray is available online, Space Pirate Captain Harlock will introduce itself to all new audiences!

Four point five

2 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Nathan Hammack August 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm -

    Kara (my Wife) and I just watched this last night and it was pretty awesome. To be honest we were kinda expecting a Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within kind of experience… and we were not let down. It was pretty great actually which is why we were surprised. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was such a BAD dub and the quality of the animation was lame… but this was so much better in comparison.

    • Dave August 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm -

      Absolutely! Agreed on the dubs in FF, just weren’t up to snuff! This by comparison is night and day.

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