Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage
Earth, the cradle of mankind, has become corrupt, leaving it on its last legs both environmentally and socially. Seeing this deterioration, a race of warrior women known as the Mazons decide that the time is ripe for an invasion of the sacred planet, and their goal is to wipe out humankind if need be. The government of Earth doesn't seem to care about the impending threat, and the only one who stands ready to defend the planet is Harlock, captain of the pirate ship Arcadia. The Gaia Coalition, whose ranks Harlock once belonged to, are more invested in stopping their former comrade, which leaves those who would face the Mazons to go to Harlock's side. Is the pirate flag truly the final barrier between Earth and its destruction?
It's a fair question to debate which of Leiji Matsumoto's space-faring characters is the most renowned. Is it Emeraldas? Maetel? Or is it Harlock, pirate captain of the space vessel Arcadia? Whatever your preference, Harlock is the one to star in the sixtieth anniversary production for Matsumoto's works, as Dimensional Voyage is a retelling of the original Harlock manga from 1978. There are enough stylistic differences and a few plot points that vary from the original to make this interesting for fans who read the first series, but this perhaps stands stronger as an introduction for new readers to one of the most influential science fiction manga of the twentieth century.
When the story begins, space has long been colonized, which came with the discovery of other alien races. Earth is on the decline in both its structural integrity and overall quality of life. Particularly timely for 2018, the planet is governed by a megalomaniac who is more interested in playing golf at a series of new clubs he builds than keeping the people safe, and he disregards all of the warnings that the Mazons, a race of warrior women, are coming to attack. This makes the military fairly useless – without the proper orders and only ships crewed by the bare minimum, the Gaia Coalition's forces barely stand a chance without outside help. This leaves Harlock, the space pirate who once was a member of the Coalition, as their only viable hope.
What makes Matsumoto's stories stand out from similar space opera fare is the scope of his stories, and Dimensional Voyage is no exception. Several plot threads both past and present unfurl simultaneously, and Matsumoto packs in enough historical references to make things feel as natural as possible despite the futuristic settomg. For example, the Mazons are clearly a reference to the mythical warrior women of the ancient world, while Harlock's pirate creed has a firm basis in the history of actual pirates. That he was a military man before striking out under the black flag is in line with pirate history, as many left restrictive naval jobs to sail “free,” and there's a tacit understanding of privateering (piracy with a government sponsorship) that comes with Harlock's offer of help. That said, there is a lot of romanticism wrapped around Harlock's brand of piracy, with lots of drinking, declarations of freedom, and a swanky base complete with a private beach. Harlock's crew seems to mirror the words attributed to Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts by Captain Charles Johnson in his 1724 text on pirates: “… a merry life and a short one shall be my motto.” (Similarly, the Arcadia seems to follow Roberts' rules, one of the rare lists of pirate articles to survive.) Perhaps this explains why there are so few women on Harlock's crew, as they were a rarity on old pirate vessels.
Unfortunately, the lack of female characters beyond the Mazons is an issue with the books. Of the three most prominent women, only one, the president's secretary Namino, gets a name in the first volume, with Kei and space elf Mimay not being named until the third book. Mimay's endless repetition of being a woman who has given everything to Harlock also gets old quickly, and there's a familiar distinction between the good women (Mimay, Kei, and later Mayu) being selfless and nurturing, while bad women are warlike and sneaky (the Mazons, Namino). Not only does this model feel outdated, but it also robs the female cast of potential character development. These dated choices may have worked for audiences in 1978, but in 2018, they feel like a distraction from a more ambitious plot.
While Matsumoto is the author of this retelling, he is not the illustrator, which makes for an interesting aesthetic. Kouiti Shimaboshi was discovered and mentored by Matsumoto, and it's clear that he's mimicking Matsumoto's style, largely with success. There's less sense of the grandeur of space than in Matsumoto's art, but that might also be because of the small trim size of the books. All of the characters are immediately recognizable, and there's a slightly more refined look to Shimaboshi's faces, though the more cartoony characters are near-exact replicas of their creator's work, and the lanky bodies also remain particularly faithful to Matsumoto's style. Clothing hangs more tightly to those bodies in Shimaboshi's rendition, which makes the zippered crotch of Harlock's space leotard look kind of bizarre, and some pants are so tight that I worry about the reproductive abilities of most of the male cast, but for the most part a quick glance wouldn't reveal too many artistic differences between versions, which is nice.
Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage is largely a solid retelling of the classic story. Some aspects of it could have stood more updating and there's not quite as much visual scope as the original artwork, but it retains enough of what made the classic work to communicate an interesting space opera. While parts of it will feel melodramatic to readers unfamiliar with Matsumoto's work (and these stand out more given the other updates), it's still a science fiction saga worth checking out – and it will be interesting to compare it to the original when Seven Seas releases that version.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Timeless and relevant story, interesting historical details that ground the plot, artist does a fine job capturing Matsumoto's style