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In a post-apocalyptic wasteland known as the Planet of the Rubbish Heaps, punk kid Tadashi comes home to discover his father lying dead beneath a gang of possessed corpses. Captain Herlock, savior of the stars, rescued Tadashi from sharing his father's fate, offering him the chance to become a ‘real man’ aboard his starship, the Arcadia.
Leiji Matsumoto is a lot like caviar. His style is distinguished, reviled by some, beloved by others, and above all else, an acquired taste. His signature creation, Captain Herlock (so named by this Geneon release; he was always ‘Harlock’ before this), has shown up in nearly all of his various TV series, OVAs and films over the past few decades. Some complain that Matsumoto simply repeats himself again and again. All he ever seems to produce are variations on the same formula: space operas with majestic characters and unique intergalactic transports. Captain Herlock, the latest Matsumoto release and the newest story featuring his most beloved and visible character, won't do anything to sway you if you're tired of Matsumoto's style. Fans of his work and those appreciative of good science fiction, on the other hand, will find a lot to like here.
The story this time was penned by Sadayuki Murai, responsible for Japanese filmmaking auteur Satoshi Kon's last two films, Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. The man can write; there's no doubt about that. The story here is mature, well-written, multi-textured and engrossing. It isn't anything that will have you on the edge of your seat, but discerning adults sick and tired of the hour long cookie-cutter sci-fi that floods American television (I'm looking in your direction, Stargate SG-1 and Andromeda) will revel in the relatively unique storytelling. The pacing is just shy of being “slow”. We're given plot revelations and character development at a reasonable clip. The show is never boring, but it isn't an action-packed sci-fi explosion fest. It is, at once, grandiose and quiet, visually bombastic and understated at the same time.
The characters are really what sell this show. Captain Herlock has that certain something; he's been around since the 1970s, and his presence onscreen feels epic and respectable. He's a man of little words and big action, and while the “stone cold badass” archetype can be distancing to an easily-alienated audience, Murai achieves a much-needed balance with Herlock, making him a personable and identifiable figure of legend. The show's punk kid character, Tadashi, provides an interesting personality for Herlock to bounce off of, and keeps the show moving right along. We know that Herlock as a character isn't going to change, so it's required that some character in this thing goes on a personal and physical journey in order to provide an audience identification character. It's a formula that works very well and is handled with care in this series.
Matsumoto's works typically ooze atmosphere and boast high-quality production values. Captain Herlock is no different. The animation is brilliant, cutting very few corners and displaying beautiful character animation. The character designs, based on Matsumoto's original and adapted by ace designer Nobuteru Yuuki, are brought to life with stunning detail. The world Herlock inhabits is a lush, colorful place, with deep and vibrant colors. Special attention must be paid to the backgrounds, which are some of the most impressive paintings you'll see outside of a Ghibli painting. We are struck by a series of unique locations that eschew the clichés used by the generic backdrops present in so many other science fiction series. In anime terms, this thing is a Cadillac with all the options; you won't find a better-looking OVA out there.
The dub is pleasantly subdued, without being sedate. There isn't anything too over-the-top or melodramatic in this series, so it's a good thing the English voice cast was guided towards a more understated performance. Herlock is nigh-monotone, but the voice certainly fits. The women are somewhat generic, but the performances they give are well-read and competent. There's nary a bad line reading to be found in this dub. A few background characters stumble over their lines, but that's to be expected.
As a resurrected franchise, Captain Herlock succeeds using retro characters in a culture landscape that seems to shun everything that isn't brand-spanking new. There seems to be a need now, more than ever before, for Matsumoto's original and imaginative storytelling sensibilities. His character designs are instantly recognizable and, hopefully, Captain Herlock will introduce a whole new generation of anime fans to his genius.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Beautiful animation, great story, cool characters.
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