In the inky blackness of space there are those that seek freedom and adventure far from the control and laws of governments. They wish for the peace and simpler times among the goodness of nature. That is the call of the utopia of nature called by the Greeks as "Arcadia" and serves as a powerful concept for artists, thinkers, dreamers, and creators. This concept was applied to one of the most famous science fiction anime/manga character of all time: Captain Harlock. Brainchild of anime founding fathers Leiji Matsumoto, this character has been kicking around the anime/manga scene on both shores since the 1970's and it was in the 1982 animated film "The Arcadia of My Youth", that Harlock finally got a story that was worthy of his eye patch and laser-sword. In this installment of Future War Stories from the East, we will be examining one of my favorite anime films of all time and trying to support why I believe it is the finest work that Harlock as ever been a part of.
Who is this "Captain Harlock" and What the Hell is "Arcadia"?
Who is Captain Phantom F. Harlock The short answer? A badass space pirate and one of the most awesome early anime anti-heroes of all time. For many early Western fans of anime, he (and maybe GoGo 13) was the symbol of the uber-cool anime characters. Many of my friends that were into early anime, loved Harlock...but, we knew little about him and his adventures in the seas of stars at the helm of the Arcadia. When asked about the origins of Harlock, his creator Leiji Matsumoto said that he was based on his cool friend from school that did everything right, and Leiji said he felt like Tochiro. Harlock was first developed by Leiji back in junior high as a classic English pirate and went by the name of "Captain Kingston". He would first appear in 1956 and then in other manga until finally making the jump into anime in 1978 with his own series.
What is "The Arcadia of my Youth"?
(わが青春のアルカディア)” or “Arcadia of my Youth (AOMY)” and established an new continuity and backstory for the iconic space pirate Leiji Matsumoto created decades before and gave him a more compact and realistic universe to inhabit. Director by a well-respected anime veteran, Tomoharu Katsumata and with animation handled by Iwamitsu Ito and the story by Yōichi Onaka. Toei oversaw the production and release (of course) wtih Studio Nue handled the mechanical designs as well. These are good hands for Harlock to be and it showed on the final product as AOMY is finest Harlock-centered work ever. Some of things that make AOMY standout among the other works by Leiji Matsumoto for his “Leijiverse” is that is a story that tells the story of Harlock more completely and how he lost his eye. This film has been released several times in the US market with three different titles and for many US anime fans, this was our exposure to the wonder that is the space pirate Captain Harlock! Portions of the story that was seen in AOMY were explored in the manga "Stanley's Witch" from 1974 and 1976's Waga Seishun no Arcadia. Those elements were combined into the story of Earth losing a war with aliens and being occupied.
The Plot and Setting of AOMY
In the 2960’s, the Earth-founded “Solar Federation” finally lost their hard-fought war against the Illumidas Empire, a vast green-skinned alien race bent on conquest and enslavement. Once a world has been subjugated, the occupation forces take over, force the women into sex slavery, the men into pressed military serve fighting other races, and the world is stripped of its resources. However, it seems that the Solar Federation acted to late to stop Illumidas Empire. During the war against the Solar Federation, the Illumidas Empire used their subjugated Tokargans as the shocktroops to take Earth with Zoll as commander.
They launch a desperate mission to Tokarga via the Arcadia and finds that Tokarga is a wasteland that will be destroyed by the empire due to its lack of usefulness being fulfilled. While Harlock is away, Maya, and Emeraldas are captured and the Occupation forces are threating that they will be killed unless Harlock returns. Zoll leads a rescue mission and pays for it with his life. When Harlock returns, he uses the new power of the Arcadia to deal a bloody blow to the Illumidas, but not before being exiled by the Occupied Earth government. At the end, Harlock and company take to the sea of stars to seek out their own destiny.
The Historical Context of AOMY
The Twin Ships of AOMY: The Arcadia and the Deathshadow
Two ships have dominated the works associated with Harlock: the Arcadia and the Deathshadow. Throughout the titles featuring Harlock, the Arcadia has been his pirate-themed vessel and it does not look the same from title to title, with AOMY featuring the familiar green-painted, skull-and-crossbones themed Terran warship with enough skulls to make any Space Marine of the Imperium be right at home. It has been more blue-themed without the heavily reinforced bow complete with Skull-and-Crossbones as in Space Pirate. Some titles have that there are several Arcadias, but all say that Tochiro constructed this warship and at times, downloaded his consciences into it. During some of the works, the Arcadia has a mind of its own and will take control, much like the TARDIS. Some sites have called the two Arcadias: the shapenose and the skullnose.
The first warship used by Harlock in AOMY was the Admiral class battleship Deathshadow that one of the primary heavy warships used by the Solar Federation against the invading Illumidas forces. Designed with an iconic horned forward section and a powerful DE cannon in the nose, the Deathshadow could have been a powerful compact 286 meter long warship. It is hinted in the comic that the Solar Federation had been asleep at the wheel when Illumidas showed up and they had only older or even badly designed warship to field against the invaders. Harlock helmed the Deathshadow and fought in the key battle of the Castlemain Star Cluster Sector where Harlock’s ship damaged Zoll’s warship. Some of this concept is hinted at in the SSX show with the character of Mr. Zone and the in the American Eternity Comics with the revenge-driven character of Alexander Nevich. Both had a backstory of being involved with Solar Federation ship designed and have a vendetta against Harlock for destroying their career. In the American comic, Nevich uses a refitted and rearmed Deathshadow to purse Harlock. During the OVA, the Deathshadow end comes when Harlock rams the battlecruiser into the runaway to damage it in a way that prevents the aliens from using it after his milk run mission. Some sources claim that Tochiro took parts off of the Deathshadow to finish off the skull-nose Arcadia.
The "Captain Harlock Problem"
Then in the Harlock Saga, it is heavily based on the Der Ring des Nibelungen by Wagner and it is heavily boring. Once again, cool character, bad setting and story. He does appear in the Galaxy Express 999, but in appearances that only serve to say, “hey, here’s Captain Harlock, bitches!”. However, in the case of the subject of this article, Arcadia of my Youth, Captain Harlock works within the world established by the OVA and it was, in the minds of most fans and reviewers, the most successful Harlock-centered title in his history. Another major issue is the chaos of the so-called “Leijiverse”. Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock are, in some ways, tied together with maybe some of the Space Cruiser Yamato series thrown as well…or maybe not. That is the issue, sometimes the series are linked, sometimes there not, and most of the time; there are plot-holes the size of Texas because the Leijiverse spans from the 1970’s onward and AOMY does not fit well into the other Harlock titles, screwing up the Leijiverse events more. Sigh.
Why is AOMY considered Military Sci-Fi?
The Arcadia of my Youth TV Series: Endless Orbit SSX
The American Comicbook
The Arcadia of My Youth in the West
For me, this was the Captain Harlock title that I loved most and nothing sense has replaced that since. This is also how it was with others of my generation. They discovered the excellent AOMY smeared by the “Just For Kids: label and terrible edit. For years, that was only AOMY dubbed copy in the mainstream market. Original copies of the Japanese AOMY were being sold by importers that was often in the original Japanese. There was a second release in 1995 on VHS that was fully restored to the original 130-minute film that was titled “My Youth in Arcadia” by Best Film and Video company. This title was of MYIA instead of AOMY would be an alternate title used by fans, including myself, for years. There is much debate about which title is the correct one. However, most sources use the “Arcadia of my Youth”. It would not be until April of 1995 that AnimEigo would release a proper 130-minute version of AOMY on LaserDisc and would sell for $59.99 originally. Much like the VHS releases, the DVD would run the gambit. The best DVD for years was the AnimEigo DVD from 2003 that was titled Arcadia of My Youth. There is a 2005 pirated DVD copy sold in the dark corners of the internet and stores by East West Entertainment LLC with the worse cover-art ever. After the license lapsed, Discotek Media would release the most current copies of AOMY in May of 2017 in both DVD and Blu-Ray formats.
The Impact and Legacy of AOMY
Some Trivia Associated with AOMY
• The “99” seen on Harlock’s collar of his Solar Federation military uniform is a reference to an older Leiji Matsumoto manga story of Submarine Super 99.
• At the opening of the film there is a quotation from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that serves as a center to the film and its use of the word “Arcadia”. When others researched were the quote comes from, they cannot connect to Goethe.
• Sigma Enterprises released a terrible arcade game based on their own “New York, New York” game with the basic artistic elements laid over to connect it to AOMY.
• While this 1982 film has a great deal of the characters and machinery from other older Captain Harlock centered works, it plays around with their previous relationships. Now, Harlock and the free-space trader Emeraldas are old friends and Harlock just meets Tochiro for the first time in the bar.
• During the opening of the film, we see a flashback to Phantom F. Harlock attempting to pilot a bi-plane over the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea just after the First World War. During this, the ghost witch of the mountains blocks his path. The mountains in the film are nothing like the real Owen Stanley mountain range and there is no witch of these mountains. There is a ghost mountain that was so named in World War II, but not for those reasons and there is some glowing due to some phosphorescent moss.
• During the controversial portion of the film that shows, Phantom F. Harlock II flying for the fucking Nazis in a ME-109 fighter (“just to pay the bills”) has a bonding moment with the WWII-Tochiro about the Revi C-12D gunsight. Leiji Matsumoto actually owns the gunsight used as an animation reference.
• For many of us old-school fans of anime, this film has three titles: Vengeance of the Space Pirate, My Youth in Arcadia, and The Arcadia of my Youth.
Next Time on FWS...