Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Japan 2014)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/15/15
Director: Shinji Aramaki

Leiji Matsumoto's Captain Harlock makes it to the big screen in this fantastic looking big budget CGI spectacle. Harlock is the cursed and immortal captain of the invincible spaceship Arcadia. With humankind on the brink of extinction, he and his crew attempt to return to Earth, which has been classified as an off-limits sanctuary by the politically manipulative Gaia Coalition. Both Harlock and the Coalition have secrets and hidden agendas which threaten to destroy the universe, and they spend the entire film trying to outwit and outgun each other. Both sides are clearly wrong, which makes it difficult to choose one faction over the other. Even the main character (a moody boy named Logan) can't decide, and his allegiance changes every time new lies are exposed.

The animation is stunning and director Shinji Aramaki is in his element with the high-tech mecha and steampunk aesthetic, but overall I found the film dull and uninteresting. The plot and characters aren't particularly engaging, and the bleeding heart sensibilities felt too much like "Final Fantasy" material to me. I probably would have really enjoyed this film if I were fifteen years old, and I can easily imagine young girls swooning over the dark and brooding Harlock and his outrageous moves. Perhaps that's what turned me off. It feels like it's trying too hard to be cool and full of angst, while at the same time trying to keep a clean, kid-friendly attitude. The animated "Resident Evil" movies are similarly guilty of trying to present adult material through goofy caricatures and inappropriately sanitized filters.

Harlock himself is the ultimate emo anti-hero, cursed with immortality, rugged good looks, perfect hair, impeccable fashion sense, and a flair for dramatic posturing. He constantly broods in the shadows, and his torment and self-loathing are limitless. His followers look up to him as a god, blindly following his nihilistic agenda to overthrow the corrupt government and free humanity from its tyranny and lies. It's definitely a testosterone fueled adolescent fantasy, and has very little female presence. There are only three female characters in the cast, and it's interesting that they have more traditional anime styling, while the male characters tend to be more photorealistic. Kei is effectively Harlock's first mate, and while she's a fierce fighter with a feisty attitude, she only gets a couple of scenes to show off her stuff. Mimay is a mysterious alien being who powers the Arcadia, and she's probably the most intriguing and aesthetically interesting character in the film.

The film is predictable to a fault and almost laughably melodramatic, but even with all of the overacting, everything still seems to come across as bland and insincere. Maybe I'm just getting too old to enjoy adolescent fantasy films, but even so, they shouldn't insult my intelligence. Or maybe the medium is to blame? As computer animation approaches new levels of photorealism, perhaps I'm subconsciously expecting the resulting worlds and characters to become more realistic as well? Regardless, if you're any sort of sci-fi anime buff, it's definitely worth checking out.