Harlock Saga - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Central Park Media
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 156
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Harlock Saga

Harlock Saga

By Chris Beveridge     May 08, 2001
Release Date: May 08, 2001

Harlock Saga
© Central Park Media

What They Say
What the universe needs now is a hero. A killer has stolen a legendary treasure, magical gold! Now, as the universe spirals into chaos, the ancient gods have awakened to avenge this theft. Noble space pirate Captain Harlock must restore the gold to its rightful heirs before humanity is caught in the crossfire and destroyed forever! This program includes all 6 episodes of the Harlock Saga.

The Review!
Though my familiarity with Harlock is fairly spotty and second hand, with the only thing I've actually previously seen being My Youth in Arcadia, I was very much looking forward to seeing this new six episode OVA series. Harlock's character and standing in the anime history books is quite impressive, and the fact that over twenty years later is still kicking around on the small screen is nothing to sneeze at.

For our primary review, we listened to this in its original language of Japanese. The show is a fairly typical stereo mix for an OVA series, with some nice directional moments across the front soundstage, but with the majority of dialogue moving around the center channel. The music and effects make good use of the left/right channels, especially with Wagner's music and the variations on the theme by the music director.

If there's one reason for the video getting only an A-, it's due to the line noise you'll see when the camera's pan over several shots throughout the show. If it wasn't for that, it'd rate higher. The transfer itself is spot on, with very solid black levels and excellent rich saturated colors. There were a couple of areas early on where some of the deep blue starry backgrounds looked a bit artifacty, but that's about it. There are a number of moments throughout the show where there's a lot of intentional softness by design, which will likely throw some people. Going from those scenes to a vividly clear sequence really showcases how varied of a style they were going for to give a certain feeling during certain scenes. Good stuff here.

This is a pretty straightforward looking package. Though the front cover is dark and brooding, it definitely works for the show and fans of Harlock will likely agree. The "creator of" tag, while noticeable enough, doesn't take up a lot of space and isn't hugely distracting. The back cover goes into the creative credits a bit more and has a brief summary of the show. The numerous features and supplements end up taking up a good portion of the back as well as some nicely interwoven animation shots along the bottom. The reverse side of the cover lists the chapters as well as the voice actors for both languages in black and white with some additional artwork.

The menus are fairly typical from what we've seen from CPM in the past but with a bit more clarity and definition. The overall feel works pretty well with the animation and music playing (along with some of the dub unfortunately). Selections are pretty much all from the top level making moving around easy, and even easier with the excellent access times between each submenu.

There's definitely a lot of extras here. First, on the DVD-Video side of things, we get parts of four interviews with various creative staff that provide some interesting tidbits (and presumably more in the full interviews on the DVD-ROM side). There's a 90 second video of character sketches which is also represented in static form on the DVD-ROM side. There's four textless videos, two for the two different openings and two for the two different closings. Then there's the rather fun and humorous Behind the Scenes segment about the dub recording. I've said it before, I practically refuse to watch dubs, but I get one hell of a kick out of watching these sessions. It's interesting to see the personalities of the people who do this and what they do when they're not dubbing anime. Kudos to CPM for moving into this direction.

There's also a fair number of DVD-ROM extras, but time was short and we were unable to take them fully into view before writing this review. The DVD-Video side of things is very nicely covered though.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Harlock is a show steeped in history. If you're an old veteran of it, you'll wonder at some of the inconsistencies here which have led many to believe it's an alternate timeline release. If you've never seen any Harlock, you'll just be plain confused. This series is by no means intended to educate the newbie Harlock fan on the Matsumoto universe.

Personally, I thought the entire show reminded me of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Yeah, Trek. The Harlock/Matsumoto universe, from what I've seen and read over the years, is a pretty straightforward yet layered science fiction show about oppression, rebellion and a small group of peoples bonding as a family while acting as less than traditional pirates of the space lanes. The good guys don't always win, the bad guys are indeed bad and there's a heck of a lot of blood spilt over time.

The other thing that Harlock is, is plain old classic cool. Especially to older fans with fond memories. Calls us mired in nostalgia, but the man just has style. You'll see it right away with the opening sequence. It'll give you an idea of the shows pacing at the same time. With the slow classical opera music and the slow movements from scene to scene, things just build. And then you see Harlock's cloak and weapon hanging, and them him putting them on. A quick turn and we see his face turning to look at the audience.

Harlock simply exudes cool.

The show has a fairly straightforward plot. Someone with a grudge seeks out the Rhein gold that's hidden on an isolated planet. The gold is protected by three priestesses who also guard an organ that plays some powerful music. The grudge seeker, named Alberich, requires this unique piece of gold and needs to turn it into a ring. Why? So he can conquer the galaxy. That's all it takes these days.

Stumbling into all of this while investigating a ghost city asteroid, Emeraldas and Tochiro find their old comrade Meeme playing an organ in the city, though apparently it's a hologram of some sort. They learn where she is and head off to save her and the gold. Alas, they're too late, and the gold has already been swiped by Alberich and the planet is now in its death-throes. But our heroes know where to go, as one of their older comrades from their youth is the only one likely to turn such a gold ingot into a ring. So it's off to Earth they go.

Alberich continues to be ahead of them and easily plays the deceased Dr. Daiba's son, Tadashi, into creating the ring. Once complete, he leaves him for dead and heads off into space to build his vast fleet that will vanquish his ancient enemy. And much like on Rhein, Tochiro shows up late an adds Tadashi to the crew and they go off to meet up with Harlock and to help Meeme get the ring back.

Meeme reveals that Alberich is actually her brother and the grudge is with the gods and the god of gods at Valhalla. Alberich and Meeme are actually in the neighborhood of 650 million years old while these gods are between 30-40 billion years old. Alberich intends to wipe the gods from the universe to pay them back for exiling his people so many years ago. Unless Harlock can stop him.

It's Star Trek V. Maybe a bit less campy. It's done up as a very serious and dramatic story, especially with it being a variant on Wagner's opera about the Ring. It's not the same, but there are some good similarities and some decent changes from that. But what I have to wonder is, does this kind of story really belong in the Harlock universe? Gods? The god of gods in Valhalla is Wotan, a fairly ugly looking fellow who has a tendency to throw his wine glasses around (look carefully, wine is spilled in nearly every episode by someone, though Wotan does it the most). He's always surrounded by Fricka, who helps him plot ways to stop Alberich and who willingly gives up fellow goddess Freya to certain servants to achieve their goals.

And, as usual, their introduction to humanity means they disregard them and then bemoan the consequence of it. Even after the goddess Elda warns them not to.

The problem comes in that if these gods are between 30-40 billion years old, and have the knowledge of the entire universe at their disposal as they claim, why are they so blindingly stupid at times? Every chance to actually do something to defeat Alberich or to deal with their servants or others completely and utterly fails. If it wasn't for the fact that their death would cause the end of existence, there's little worth to these guys.

And depending on how you like your shows, the pacing of this series is either going to be a huge plus or a huge minus. Fans of the Legend of Galactic Heroes will enjoy the slow pacing the builds up to the final (and really, the only major) battle of the series that's fairly quickly resolved. Those who prefer a constant flow of action mixed in with the storytelling are going to be sorely disappointed. Being a fan of the slower pacing and just watching the utter coolness of Harlock, I found all the sections that had absolutely nothing to do with the gods enjoyable. When the gods were onscreen, my wife and I started coming up with drinking games for the series.

One thing I was particularly worried about after seeing the first couple of episodes of Queen Emerladas was what level of computer animation would be used in this OVA series. Thankfully it's nothing as bas as QE's ship, with the Arcadia being the main use of the CG here for only a few scenes. It doesn't look good when it's there since it's so out of place, but the majority of the show is more traditionally animated and looks wonderful.

Harlock's a good character and the cast is solid. With Kouichi "Spike Spiegel" Yamadera taking on the role of both Harlock and Tochiro, there's some great subtlety at work in his performance. The all too brief appearance of Emeraldas always brings a smile to my face and seeing the classic Matsumoto character designs in action again was great. All the elements were there, and I understand that this story is something of Matsumoto's childhood dream to animate, but it's just not one of his better efforts. There's enough to sway me in a positive direction, but I'm not sure this one is going to play out well for the general audience.

CPM's put together a great disc that should please a lot of Harlock fans. Solid video, great extras and a nice overall package and presentation.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Behind the Scenes (Making of the English Dub),Text Interview with Leiji Matsumoto (the directo) music director and Harlock's voice actor,World of Harlock Introduction,Textless Openings/Endings (4),Character Sketches Video,DVD-ROM Features: Art Gallery (including Japanese packaging) Character Sketches Cast Scripts Reviews and extended text interviews

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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