It has been a long time since I watched any Captain Harlock media, but the recent announcement of Super Robot Wars T, featuring Harlock SSX: My Youth in Arcadia, drove me to give the series another go. I love its aesthetic, and it is iconic enough to be notably parodied in various things (perhaps most broadly by the latter half of Goldran featuring Walter disguised as a bad parody of Harlock piloting a giant robot shark), but I did not recall particularly gelling with the original series, dated as it is, when I first watched it.
Watching a lot of Macross has made me really reconsider how I would tell a first contact story. I think it is now quite possible to write a very optimistic story on the subject that is not about conquest or subjugation (or even assimilation), but which offers the promise of peace and understanding.
As a result, I wrote this – about the meeting of two starship captains who don’t know exactly how one is supposed to discuss terms with an empire of unknown size and strength, but don’t want to be the one to fire the first shot.
Reading up on the upcoming Captain Harlock film, and thinking back over Giant Robo, an OVA I dearly love, drove me to try and write my own homage both to Leiji’s ostracised, misunderstood hero in a future beyond caring and Imagawa’s preoccupation with principles, expectation and duty set against science and scientific ethics. These are huge themes, the very substantial content that makes their respective series – the original Harlock, the excellent My Youth in Arcadia, and the similarly introspective Yamato 2199 on the one hand and the demolition of hubris that is Giant Robo on the other – so enduring.
Trying to write this made it clear I cannot match the narrative highs of either Robo or Yamato 2199. On the other hand, the imaginative impetus these inspirations give did I think create a story that serves as my response to pieces of popular culture that I rate very highly.
Note: The opening speech of this story is in equal parts derived from President John Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium in 1962 (used to great effect in Public Service Broadcasting‘s 2015 album The Race for Space), and Professor Vogler’s “Beautiful Night” speech from Giant Robo.
A fairly common theme in science-fiction – both in animé and outside of it – is the reduction, in the future, of war to a game or some kind of challenge of skill with minimal human cost. It is a kind of compromise between anti-war themes and a desire for action – replacing the mass-combat elements of a war story with personal rivalries and hero-centric combat, while also preserving the thematic ideas inherent in a nation-scale conflict. If anything it is a narrative progression of the most desirable and relatable aspects of a war story while also keeping the tone inherently light and innocuous; the idea that with the increased possibilities of future technology, grand-scale crises and problems can be reduced to amiable disagreements resolved between dedicated champions is an interesting one.
Science-fiction animé featuring first contact with alien races, when the focus is on war, often takes a quite particular stance which at first sight seems nationalistic and imperialist. A war for the survival of a species necessitates strong leadership and heroism in the face of impossible odds, and no sacrifice is too great to further the overall cause. This is particularly clear in stories such as Space Battleship Yamato or any super-robot animé, where the rank-and-file soldiers – and even world governments – are happy to throw lives away to buy time for the protagonists to in some way meet their destiny and save the world. Yamato begins in this way, with mankind’s last stand against the Gamilans, and then extrapolates this (more so in 2199, the remake series) into a kind of post-apocalyptic resistance scenario after this is not enough to win.
The currently-airing OVA-like remake of Space Battleship Yamato is now 10 episodes into its run and now has had the opportunity to build more of its plot and setting – in my previous article on the series I talked about how it built on the original’s ideas with a more consistent tone and style, and fully embraced the WW2-era patriotism that ultimately is at the concept’s root. As the series has progressed, it has developed this idea of nationalism and a powerful figurehead being set against a faceless horde by making the enemy more developed; in this way, the broadening of the story’s scale makes it more personal as now there is scope for rivalries between the two sides and notable leaders from both.
The second in this series of short looks at interesting things found during 2012 focuses on what, for most of its run, was a very retro styled science-fiction series undone at the conclusion by a move into the modern day’s genre traditions that was thematically fitting but rather poorly executed. The series was Moretsu Space Pirates, which from its opening titles looked to offer exciting space warfare and high adventure, a more action-packed homage to the classic space opera anime of Matsumoto Leiji.