Movie: Evaluating shows that we hold dear is sometimes much more difficult than reviewing a title we care less about. The reasons for this vary but most of the time it centers on the difficulty of being truly objective towards the title or that we allow the quality of the content to overwhelm the quality of the technical matters. When writing such a review, it's important to watch out for this type of problem in order to be fair to the reader, lest you lose credibility (which is part of the reason people read reviews in the first place). Luckily, I got the chance to review a title I've been waiting to come out for some time, Arcadia Of My Youth, and it looked/sounded as good as I've ever heard it.
The movie is the original (one of many) for Captain Harlock, a space pirate in the future. In the universe of Matsumoto Leiji, creator of some of the best anime the world has ever seen, the young Captain is one of the last of Earth's Defenders to be caught by an invasion force of aliens. Forced to surrender his ship in order to save the lives of a group of refugees, he lands on Earth, only to find it devastated by the prolonged war. He meets the alien supreme commander, who offers him a position but turns it down on principle. In harsh times like these, such principle is almost unheard of, which gives the commander a lot of respect for Harlock. Even in his own military forces, few such men exist, and he acknowledges this fact to the puppet governor, a traitor to the human race, who complains about Harlock being dangerous. Like all such collaborators, the man is content to act like a dog for his own benefit, even at the expense of others.
Harlock, being a man of action, seeks out a woman who is making transmissions to rally some sort of resistance, a seemingly futile gesture considering the military and strategic might of their foe. After the aliens capture Harlock and a newfound acquaintance, Tochiro, it is found the two men share a few links to the past via a machine that traces ancestry using a genetic memory of sorts. The story regressed a bit to a WWII battle but it helped explain some of the current story by way of metaphor and then the movie began in earnest, outlining how Harlock and Tochiro intend to be true to their ideals by fighting an impossible battle in an advanced space cruiser, Arcadia.
There was a lot going on here and I'm not going to spoil it for you by providing a virtual screenplay of the movie but fans of anime, particularly Matsumoto's universe and Captain Harlock, will greatly appreciate the guerilla tactics of Harlock and crew as they battle the occupying force. The movie came out over twenty years ago and still warms my heart to watch, even though I've seen it on a number of media formats over the years, including tape, laserdisc, and in an edited form on television. Animeigo is known for providing quality anime, giving shows that would otherwise fade away into obscurity a new shot at life, usually restoring the prints and audio tracks as well as making some of the best subtitles available (with little messing around to change the story like other companies, even a few I like, seem to do with nearly every release). I just wish the folks in Animeigo's North Carolina offices would expand a bit and release more material, it's that good (their Macross and Urusei Yatsura releases have found a large audience for good reason).
Okay, obviously I like the content of the movie. Seeing space battles with advanced warships going at it, the flair of the colorful captain himself, and the circumstances of the well-written movie (which parallels Earth history a whole lot and draws a number of conclusions any reasonable person would draw about war, tilting at windmills, and justice), all made the content above reproach for me. The limitations of the source material worried me a bit but aside from some minor issues (detailed below), they weren't an issue either. So, this said, the only reasonable rating for the DVD is to give it a Highly Recommended. I hope Animeigo gets the rights to some of Harlock's other series in the future since they are currently the Criterion of anime in the USA.
Picture: The picture was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. As befitting the material, it looked a bit dark but that was intentionally done when it was first created. There was a bit of grain in some scenes but the picture looked better than it has ever looked (minor print scratches and all). I saw no compression artifacts after repeated viewing.
Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with a choice of either limited or full English subtitles. There was little separation between the audio tracks but it sounded exceptionally clear for such an old release. This is in stark contrast to most anime releases of older material, which often sound weak at best (and horrible at worst). It's been a long time since I saw this movie and Animeigo did their usual fine job in restoring the sound.
Extras: The extras included seven trailers, a Harlock filmography that outlines the illustrious Captain's career, a Matsumoto Leiji filmography that details his many works, an actor filmography for the Japanese voice actors, a section on unusual facts that provide a lot of background on Matsumoto's universe of characters, a photogallery from the movie, and a paper insert that translates the songs of the show as well as provides some additional background on the show.
Final Thoughts: Arcadia Of My Youth is one of the best science fiction releases of the year bar none. It worked on several levels and depending on what your taste in anime is, you'd be hard pressed to find a show as well written as this one, produced by a company as dedicated to excellence as Animeigo. While it shows its age at times, it is light-years ahead of the market in general for such an older show and well worth buying. There was some violence and themes that really younger children may find upsetting but I think it will really appeal to a large audience looking for intelligently written anime.