Space Pirate Captain Herlock, Vol. 1: The Legend Returns (2003)
Review by Dindrane

Created by Leiji Matsumoto
Written by Sadayuki Murai
Directed by Taro Rin


Dindrane's Anime Warnings:

Released by: Geneon/Pioneer
Region: 1
Rating: 13+
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Absolutely get it.

First of all, yes, "Herlock" is your beloved "Harlock;" it's merely a new, and possibly more accurate, way to transliterate the proper name. Space Pirate Captain Herlock: Endless Odyssey Outside Legend is a thirteen-part OAV series that returns the legendary Leiji Matsumoto to the helm of the series, as well as Rin Taro, who worked with Matsumoto twenty-fives years ago for the original Herlock saga.

The story begins with the capture of one of the last space pirates, which will supposedly herald a new age of peace for all people. Of course, we know that the pirates were often the good guys. Herlock, the most famous of all pirates, is still at large, and, as we soon see, living on the Planet of Rubbish Heaps. We also meet Herlock's friend Professor Daiba and Daiba's son Tadashi, a punk who ignores his father's words about what it really means to be a man. Yet when Tadashi returns home one day to find his father murdered by zombies, it's up to Herlock to save him and whisk him off on an adventure of knowledge, revenge, and the protection of Earth, the Promised Land.

This show is very interesting in that it deals subtly with multiple philosophical elements: what it means to be a man, forbidden knowledge, and the consequences of careless actions. The coming of age epic is blended with more violent elements, as we are confronted with issues of right and wrong and the costs of freedom. There are those film critics who argue that Matsumoto always creates the same thing, but it seems to me that entertaining space operas with moving themes and genuinely interesting characters is a pretty good "one trick" for any pony.

As always with a Matsumoto production, the characters are the making of the show. Captain Herlock is just such a marvelous, cool character, and add to that the young punk Tadashi who must become a real adult. Meant to be more thought-provoking than your average science-fiction show, the pacing is slower than what you might be expecting. Don't make the mistake of thinking this one is slow, however--it isn't. It's just "considered." There's still plenty of fight scenes and battles.

The audio and video quality are both solid. The show looks great, even to those who don't usually like Matsumoto's aesthetic, and perfectly suits the epic feeling of the show. The animators make good use of light and shadow, without being too heavy-handed with the obvious character metaphors. The atmospherics are just perfect; any cinematographer could learn a bit about establishing visual settings from this show.

The features list is brief: we get only the original Japanese opening for the first episode, which is interesting enough but not earth-shattering. A series as important and loved as anything Herlock should have rated something more special, like perhaps a retrospective, a timeline, or even just an art gallery.

Basically, if you are a Herlock fan of old, then you'll be thrilled with this new installment in his biography. If you're new to Herlock/Harlock, then snap this up and see what all the brouhaha is about. Fans of pirates and space-faring science fiction will be particularly charmed by this one, as will anyone who enjoys a good, meaty coming-of-age tale where the prototypical anti-hero is just what the doctor ordered.

Discuss the review in the Gabfest!

Greetings to our visitors from the IMDB, OFCS, and Rotten Tomatoes!
Stick around and have some coffee!