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Space Pirate Captain Harlock subtitled by KIKU-TV

This was the first exposure non-Japanese speakers would get to the Captain Harlock series. KIKU-TV in Hawaii broadcast the series around the time of its initial run in Japan for the consumption of its large Japanese populace, and for the benefit of its English-speaking audience members, they included a subtitled script. What would have been even more beneficial would have been to include subtitles of the actual script, but such a magnanimous bit of bone-throwing was simply not forthcoming.

The subtitles were, shall we say, simple. Not "simple" in the sense that Tic-Tac-Toe is simple, but "simple" in the way a child raised by wolves who regularly smack him in the head with cookware is simple. Dialogue is pared down to the bare minimum of its meaning, or frequently, the bare minimum of some utterly different piece of dialogue's meaning. While the story could more or less be followed from the subtitles as they stood, one was certainly provided a bit of sport in the attempt. Typos and bad translations made for some particularly scatterbrained lines, wherein "solar system" might be written as "galaxy," Harlock might refer to seeing "tangled planets" (make that "plants"), and lines such as "That pyramid's transmitting something that caused that shift in the earth" could become "They've got something up their sleeves!" The translators, if one can call the local college kids shanghaied into this production "translators," also achieved a masterstroke in dealing with the difficulty of deciphering Yattaran's Osaka dialect by simply leaving his dialogue out more often than not. And it's rather amusing to see that Harlock hails from the mysterious land of "Gelmania," which most of us call "Germany" (although since the town of Heiligenstadt, named as Harlock's ancestral home, is located in Austria and not in fact Germany at all, the Japanese would seem to be equally guilty of error in this case). There has always seemed to be this school of so-called thought which firmly holds to the conviction that the Japanese do indeed go around barking utter nonsense at one another, and when a piece of translated dialogue appears to come out as gibberish it's only because the Japs are silly foreigners who can't talk properly, and not because the translator has the linguistic capacities of a beet. That belief shows rampant acceptance here, though amazingly, I've seen worse.

The content of the script aside, the actual subtitles themselves provide their own special excursions into the wonderful world of eye strain and headaches. Not created with anything so esoteric as a computer, they were simply photographed off of a large roll of paper with a video camera and luma-keyed on the picture, in all white, all caps, and no outline or drop shadow, making them amongst the hardest things to read outside of the fine print on a health insurance claim. Occasionally the camera would not be properly pointed at the correct line, or might be pointed halfway between the current line and the next. There's also nothing quite like seeing a subtitle suddenly leap across the screen as someone apparently smacks into the camera and then tries to re-align it, all while the episode is still recording. "Take two" was clearly not a concept that anyone involved was familiar with, and neither was timing; if you were lucky, the subtitle would appear before at least fifty percent of the spoken line had already passed. If you weren't lucky, it would deign to make its appearance over top of the following line, or the following silence if the conversation had ended or slowed.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that this was still the best of all available options for watching the Space Pirate Captain Harlock series until-well, not to sound egotistical, but until I subtitled the whole show myself. (Note: I'm not sending out copies of these subs anymore, so don't ask about them. You can find them via Google easily enough.) KIKU-TV did run the entire series, and ran it unedited, which is something that would not happen again until Discotek released the series on DVD in 2013. From this point on, there would merely be a long succession of badly-made English dubs, each getting further off-track than the last one. Look on these works, ye mighty, and despair.

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