harlocktop.jpg (7900 bytes)




Captain Harlock and the
Queen of 1000 Years

by Harmony Gold


Possibly the most literal title of any show ever. This series is, in fact, Captain Harlock and The Queen of 1000 Years. Two different Matsumoto anime shows with nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Two great tastes that taste utterly confusing together.

This series was produced and distributed by former Streamline exec Carl Macek, then of Harmony Gold, which was enjoying a mild and surprising success with Robotech. To hear Macek tell it, the origins of the show were as follows: he had been heading into the crapper when he met another HG exec on the way out, who asked him what other anime shows he thought were good. Macek said he liked Captain Harlock, the other dude said "Thanks; see ya," and a few weeks later informed Macek that Harmony Gold had just sold sixty-five episodes of Harlock to twelve stations around the country. Macek pointed out that there were, in fact, only forty-two episodes of the original Harlock series, and the company was suddenly forced to find a way to pad out the series. Toei was asking too high a price for the second series featuring Harlock, Endless Road SSX (which, combined with Space Pirate, still would've only totaled sixty-four episodes), and so the only option left was to acquire the forty-one episode Queen of 1000 Years series and try to combine the two. The production rate on the series was only two days per episode, resulting in a rather rushed pace that didn't have the luxury of looking too far ahead, and as such the series was a bit of a confusing mishmash that was in no way whatsoever Mr. Macek's fault.

Now even for the most trusting and credulous individual, this explanation seriously begs believability. That a company would sell a commodity on which they had not conducted even the most minimal and basic amount of research is, while not totally implausible, nevertheless certainly less likely than the alternate possibility that the company knew from the start how many episodes they would have with the Harlock series, knew also that they'd need at least sixty-five in order for the show to be desirable for syndication purposes, and intended to combine it with a second show all along, as they'd done with Robotech for the exact same reasons, and then failing to acquire the one other series actually containing Harlock, went to plan B and did an intercut job with an unrelated show by the same author. Macek is notorious, or was back in the days when he was still alive and people knew who he was, for either accepting or declining credit for a particular dub job based upon the receptivity of his then-current audience. Hence, for example, Streamline Pictures was either fully responsible for or completely unconnected with the initial dub of Akira depending whether or nor you appeared to like it. (Should you care, the inside word has it that Macek had no involvement in the Akira dub.)

Harmony Gold's Los Angeles headquarters.

Captain Harlock and the Queen of 1000 Years was not a particularly successful remake, in any sense. With Robotech, the changes to the overall stories of the three series comprising it were relatively minimal, owing to the sequential, generational approach taken with their fusing. In Harlock/Millennia, the two stories are supposed to be happening concurrently, resulting in numerous problems-not the least of which being the fact that it only took a new viewer a couple of episodes to notice that the characters were rigidly divided into two camps that never met. The fact that the protagonists of Harlock spent most of their time in space and the protagonists of Millennia spent most of their time on Earth was a minor saving grace, but it was also unavoidably noticeable that the two alien races that were simultaneously invading Earth, who were supposedly allies, also never met. The two series also featured sharply disparate levels of technological advancement, since Harlock was originally set in 2977, and Millennia in 1999. (A throwaway reference to "the eruption of Krakatoa 700 years ago" seems to place this series almost dead center in between those original setting dates.) Consequently, people in the show could consequently be seen riding in hovercars or Volkswagons, depending upon which characters were doing the driving. And the sharp-eyed viewer wouldn't have too much difficulty in discerning two different animation styles and two different directorial approaches as well, no matter how similar the character designs might have been.

Of course, the fact that the two casts never interacted didn't stop the show from claiming that they did, in fact, meet and chat on occasion. The ubiquitous narrator (a device which had been overused in Robotech and was heinously overused in this show) would often recap previous episodes by describing events that were nowhere to be seen in the episodes themselves, including Harlock meeting Queen Promecium/Yukino Yayoi (renamed "Olivia Snow" in the dub), apparently in the hope that the viewer had missed the last episode--which, given the scant distribution and promotion of this show, was pretty likely, in fact--or that they had been so confused by the tangled mess of narrative and nebulous dialogue that they wouldn't remember what the hell they'd seen and would accept the narrator's explanation as being as good as any.

The less mathematically challenged reader has probably already deduced another serious problem: the fact that forty-two episodes plus forty-one episodes equals eighty-three episodes, not sixty-five. (Note: Technically, QM had forty-two episodes in its run, but one was a clip show that just recapped the first half of the series and would provide no new footage.) Consequently, the two series' episodes were not only intercut, but their actual total content was drastically reduced, and many episodes were dropped entirely from both shows. This is most problematic for Queen of 1000 Years, for while the Harlock half of the story reached its finale at the show's terminus, there were still some five or so episodes worth of content in Millennia still left to go by the end, and as a result, that half of the story simply stops dead in its tracks right in the middle of the action, with no real explanation as to why, apparently, that the giant LaMetallian battleship on its way to Earth isn't worth worrying about and doesn't merit being dealt with before the wrap-up.

On the other hand, it's notable that while the Queen of 1000 Years episodes ran pretty much in the correct order, the Harlock episodes were shuffled all to hither and yon in the middle. Clearly wanting a convenient reason as to why Harlock never appears around the Earth during the Queen of 1000 Years parts of the story, the plotline involving the kidnapping of Mayu by the Mazone, which ran seven episodes in the original, was stretched to around thirty in the Americanized version. For nearly fifty percent of the show, Harlock is supposedly searching through the Horsehead Nebula, the obvious appearances of the planets Jupiter and Saturn (and even a bit of Earth) notwithstanding. Needless to say, this part of the series could get rather tiresome.

In addition, the editors took great pains to remove certain characters entirely, including the Arcadia's cook and Yayoi's adoptive parents, due to their stylized "potatohead" designs. The fact that both the Arcadia's Dr. Zero and Millennia's Professor Amamori ("Dr. Corman") were drawn the exact same way and had enormous amounts of screen time didn't seem to matter in the strange new form of logic Harmony Gold had concocted.
Mangling the original author's name: time-honored sign of respect.
Trying to decipher the continuity within this show could possibly be worse than trying to understand continuity between all the anime shows featuring Harlock combined. Those stories, at least, weren't meant to be taken as a whole. This one obviously is, and yet fights against clarity more valiantly than any story I've ever heard or had nightmares about. The interpolation itself aside, neither show bears any similarity to its original version. Robotech at least relied a great deal on the original scripts, but Harlock/Millennia was written by simply watching the episodes with the sound off and making shit up, by Macek's own admission. Consequently, Harlock is no longer really a pirate; the Earth government has supposedly "trumped-up" charges of piracy against him, and the fact that his ship and clothing are festooned with Jolly Rogers is simply a huge coincidence. Queen Millennia herself is no longer even the queen, but a princess waiting to ascend to the throne. The planet LaMetalle (pointlessly renamed "Millennia") no longer orbits past Earth once every thousand years, but instead bounces around the galaxy like a cosmic pinball, knocking other planets out of orbit and taking their places. Harlock now has psychic powers (no, I'm not making that up), and Professor Amamori is no longer Hajime's uncle, merely a family friend. Why did they bother with changes like these, which had nothing to do with blending the two shows? Beats the hell out of me.

The writers were clearly none too familiar with the anime they were writing to, and the fact that some story points were ultimately clarified quite obviously by the visuals meant that they often wrote themselves into painful messes. Queen of a 1000 Years' Millennium Thief, or "Boss of a Thousand Thieves" turns out to be a good guy, and the fact that the American writers spent two-thirds of the series making her out to be despicable and plotting to kill the heroes for no stated reason means that they had no real way of escaping the corner they'd painted themselves into once her identity came out, and ended up, once more, simply ignoring the whole snafu and presumably hoping no one thought too hard about it. Similarly, the Mazone spy Shizuka Namino ("Lilith") is repeatedly said to be a human traitor (no motive ever given) and not a Mazone at all, despite the fact that upon her death she bursts into blue flame just like every Mazone before her, a scene which they didn't even bother to trim out.

A relatively forgiving person might be willing to overlook examples of such bad continuity over long stretches of time, but the fact remains that this show was incapable of keeping the facts straight from one minute to the next at times. When a colleague of "Dr. Corman" is found to be mortally wounded, the surrounding dialogue continues to alternately refer to the dying man as "Dr. Jacobs" or "Dr. Jordan." Later, another party refers to the deceased scientist as "Dr. Corman," and just to make sure things stay as muddy as possible, Corman claims first to know and then not to know the meaning of the word "LaMetalle," uttered by Dr. Whatshisname just before he died, which Corman didn't personally hear but later claims he did. And over everything else hovered the narrator, whose job often seemed primarily concerned with convincing the viewer that what their own eyes were telling them was untrue, and that something else entirely was happening: thus we are informed that Harlock's asteroid base accidentally crashes into a Mazone planetoid for no good reason, whilst our peepers and logic circuits are screaming out that it's the two planets in the binary system we've been seeing the whole damn time that are being deliberately driven towards each other as part of a trap. The fact that Harlock's base still shows up in later episodes doesn't help explain anything either, nor is there any discernable point to this clumsier-than-a-drunk-centipede rewrite, unless the screenwriters were paid extra for obfuscation.

Heretical as it may sound, this show really needed more editing if it was ever going to work. A good editor could've contrived new scenes showing the Arcadia battling LaMetalle ships, or transmitting messages to Corman's observatory, or anything to place the two plotlines closer together. Both series, for example, feature ancient, stone cities on Venus, which could've yielded some possibilities for an editor worth his salt. Instead, the Venus-centered Harlock episodes were dropped entirely, and in the Millennia episode Venus is said to be LaMetalle, even though LaMetalle looks absolutely nothing like this in any other episode.

As with Robotech, Harmony Gold decided to chuck the original music for their own, but while they did write a considerable amount, much of it was simplistic and repetitive, and all of it was synthesized, which simply couldn't compare with the full orchestra that performed the Japanese score. One must also wonder at the decision to have Harlock and Mimay play completely different pieces of music simultaneously, instead of accompanying parts. Harmony Gold is, in theory, primarily a music company after all, and should be familiar with the notion of, well, harmony.

Was there anything good about this show at all? Yes, there were a few things. First of all, the fact remains that even badly butchered Matsumoto was still worlds better than the animated fare that was being dished out in the states at the time. Unlike the two approaches tried by ZIV before them, the HG version was neither wooden nor played for laughs. Some of the dialogue was decent, and did boast a good number of big words like "plenipotentiary," which one tends not to hear in kids' programming. Both the voice actors for Harlock and Yayoi did pretty good jobs and had voices well suited for their roles, and many of the supporting characters had reasonably good voices, as well. And there was a then-unprecendented amount of violence left intact, with the Mazone still burning and screaming upon their deaths and human characters being allowed to show blood. Of course, there was also much in the way of hammy acting, corny dialogue, miscast parts, and a vast preponderence of needlessly added dialogue, with offscreen talking and thought filters milked out the proverbial ass. And somehow the screenwriters managed, unforgivably, to give Kei Yuki no personality whatsoever (not to mention cutting her origin episode, one of the very best in the series). We also got Reba West as Mayu (now "Maya" once again), who came off just as whiny as West had previously made Robotech's Lynn Minmay. Plus as a bonus, all the cat scenes in the episode recounting Dr. Zero's acquisition of his pet are now gone, making one wonder what sort of anti-feline vendetta seemed to follow Harlock from dubber to dubber. You can't win 'em all. Or really even very many of them.

This series didn't get nearly as much exposure as did Robotech, and had none of that show's merchandizing tie-ins, so it wasn't ultimately seen in very many areas. While Robotech eventually became available on VHS and now DVD and Blu-Ray as well, there's about a snowball's chance in hell that Captain Harlock and the Queen of 1000 Years will ever surface again outside of an '80s-era anime fan's old trading list. However, if you're still interested in seeing this program for any reason other than morbid curiosity after hearing of its barely numerable foibles, you're one of an extremely tiny and unbelievably tolerant minority.

back to Harlock by ZIV Internationalback to index of english Harlockforward to Vengeance of the Space Pirate