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My Youth in Arcadia/
Endless Road SSX

My Youth in Arcadia (or Arcadia of My Youth; it's been translated both ways) is not only a defining chapter in the ongoing saga of Captain Harlock, nor is it merely a really great film. It is, in effect, a big ole' chalkboard eraser of a flick that basically wipes the slate clean as far as the story goes. Here we are presented with a brand new version of the legend of the good Captain's origins which butts heads with just about everything we thought we knew.

If Harlock was "born an outlaw," as he states in Space Pirate, it hasn't stopped him from earning a respectable living as a member of earth's Solar Federation fleet as captain of the battleship Deathshadow. (He and his ship are already adorned with skulls, making one wonder whether he was a career military officer, or if he and his ship joined the fleet as a result of the war. We only ever get a brief glimpse of any other Solar Federation ships for comparison, but ultimately it's not a terribly important point.) He now meets Tochiro Oyama for the first time in a bar when both are adults, as opposed to having been lifelong friends (as was the case in the original series). He does, on the other hand, appear to already know Emeraldas from prior, unspecified encounters. And the earth is in a truly sorry state, existing under occupation by the Illumidas forces as the story begins, a far cry from the spoiled, prosperous world of Space Pirate.

I must note at this point, with much amusement, that the Arcadia Roman Album contains a timeline of events that incorporates that film, the Galaxy Express 999 theatrical features, and Space Pirate into a single chain. Does it work any better than any of the fan-made timelines floating about? No, it bloody well doesn't.

According to this timeline, the events depicted in My Youth in Arcadia are the beginning of the Harlock story as far as what has actually been animated is concerned. A few earlier points are mentioned, such as his first meeting with Emeraldas, and through her, Maeter (who is described as being the same person as Yukino Yayoi from Queen Millennia, another story point which would be revised in newer releases). Following Arcadia, we are told that Tochiro begins traveling in the Deathshadow with a mysterious individual, Harlock whoops ass on the Illumidas and then learns of the Mazone, the Deathshadow crashes on Heavy Meldar, Harlock rescues Mimay from Jura, and La Mimay leaves at the same time--all of these points being followed by a giggle-inducing parenthetical disclaimer of "details uncertain." After this, Doctor Zero, Yattaran, Maji, and Kei Yuki join the crew, and Harlock meets Tetsuro's father Faust (as seen in Adieu, Galaxy Express 999). Then come the events of the first 999 film, followed by the second, and finally the Space Pirate series as the wrap-up. Of course, this doesn't explain the two different origins of the Arcadia, or the two different deaths of Tochiro, except by basically ignoring the flashbacks in the original series. There are also two Zolls of Tokarga in this timeline, the total destruction and magical reappearance of planet Heavy Meldar, and the presence of Mayu, who seems to pop into the world despite the fact that her birth is never seen in the events of Arcadia or Galaxy Express 999, during which her father dies. Plus, we must hand it to the subterfuge of the Mazone. Not only has their huge occupying force gone unnoticed by humankind throughout the centuries, but it has apparently gone unnoticed by the Illumidas occupation force, as well. And we must conclude that Emeraldas, still seen fighting the good fight in Adieu, Galaxy Express 999, didn't consider the Mazone invasion to be worth getting involved in.

This demonstrably doesn't work in the slightest, but it would seem that Endless Road SSX was supposed to clear up some of this. However, while it did clarify a few points, notably the defeat of the Illumidas and the Deathshadow's crash upon Heavy Meldar, it vainly tried to fix a few other problems and made some even worse: we are given a third death scene for Tochiro (similar to, but still incompatible with, the 999 version), a new backstory for Kei Yuki (along with a new father), and an Emeraldas who clearly never gives birth to anyone--she and Tochiro don't even get as far as a first kiss. The series as described in the Arcadia Roman Album would have featured Faust and Maeter, but Faust never appears, and Maeter is only ever seen on a computer readout in the first episode in silhouette, bearing the codename "Shadow X." As SSX only ran for half its originally projected length, it's possible that these story points would've eventually appeared had the series continued, but as it is, the show somewhat hastily wraps up at 22 episodes and never gets beyond a few slight references to Galaxy Express (i.e. the presence of the occasional machine person). Tochiro never travels in the Deathshadow with or without any "mysterious individual," the Mimay/La Mimay issue is never resolved, and Harlock takes aboard a completely different doctor, named Ban (the same name as Maeter's father. Could this be he? Is that even remotely logical?).

As a sequel to Arcadia, SSX works just fine, though the recap of the film seen in episode one changes the dialogue so that Harlock, not Tochiro, names the ship "Arcadia." Perfect continuity is plainly not allowed. As a series unto itself, SSX is good enough, though it can't match the virtual perfection that was Space Pirate Captain Harlock. The truncated length hurts it, and the mood is much lighter than that of the older series, or the film, for that matter. Still, there are some great moments in SSX, including the duel with the Deathshadow in the excellent "Snowfall in the Sea of Stars," which not only reconciles the Deathshadow's fate with that seen in 999, but shows us the vulnerable side of Harlock as never before; the likes of his near-nervous breakdown in "Snowfall" have not been witnessed previously or since. The dramatic tension in the pivotal "Deliverance of Emeraldas" is some of the best in all the Harlock canon, as Harlock and Tochiro come to blows over the issue of rescuing the female pirate from a virtually inescapable trap, and Tochiro's swan song in episode 21 is not only heartbreaking, but also one of the best-directed episodes of any show ever. The real problem is the final episode's breakneck pace; there really should have been two episodes, if not three, to contain as many events as are squeezed into the one 25-minute finale episode. Still, it's a damn good series, and quite expensive-looking for its time, though the stock footage begins to be irksome after a time. Had it been allowed to run its full length, we might have been in for one of the best anime series ever--though I'd still put it in that category, just a few rungs lower.

As an addendum, let me mention that this series is also sometimes known as Endless Orbit SSX or Eternal Orbit SSX. While these are legitimate translations of the original Japanese title "Mugen Kido SSX," the actual referent of the name is a pair of parallel-running gas trails that snake off into deep space (strongly resembling a road), which Harlock must follow during a crisis when the Arcadia is badly damaged and Tochiro lies in the infirmary. His half-conscious friend tells Harlock to "follow the endless road," and thus come to safety (and ultimately the mobile repair dock Mobile Fortress SSX). It's clear from this that "orbit" isn't the intended meaning, as Tochiro clearly isn't implying that they should fly in a big circle. And, in fact, they don't.

Following SSX, it would be another fifteen years before Harlock saw any new adventures. Something of a Matsumoto renaissance struck during the final years of the second millennium, with new series or mini-series such as Cosmo Warrior Zero and Endless Odyssey: The Outside Legend bringing the enigmatic space pirate back to the screen and a new generation of fans, but Endless Road SSX marked the end of the classic period. It really hasn't been the same since.

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