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Harlock: Space Pirate 3D
Twilight Time // Unrated // January 16, 2016 // Region 0
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]
Since Leiji Matsumoto first created the character of Captain Harlock in 1977, the space pirate has been popularized in comics, several TV series, and film. His latest incarnation came in 2013 when Toei Animation released the big-budget 3D computer animated feature film Harlock Space Pirate. For a while it looked like fans of the character would have to settle for a 2D standard definition DVD of the film, but the good folks at Twilight Time have just released the feature on a lovely HD Blu-ray disc. Not only that, but it is a dual format disc with both 2D and 3D versions of the film. With big studios like Disney only releasing 'flat' versions their films that are theatrically released in 3D (domestically at least) it is great that TT went to the effort to put out this feature in the format that it was intended to be seen. It looks good in 2D, but in three dimensions the movie is really quite impressive, even if some of the plot points in the second half are a bit convoluted.
As is explained in the intro sequence, mankind has reached out to the stars and filled the galaxy. We've colonized worlds near and far, but so far found no other signs of intelligent life. Exploding to a population of over 500 billion, mankind starts to fade. With resources dwindling and birthrates declining, humans are faced with extinction. They turn to Earth, wanting to return to the planet that spawned them, but since it can't sustain such a large population the Homecoming War breaks out. At its conclusion the Gaia Sanction is created, a new interstellar government that declares Earth scared and off limits to all humans. If all of humanity can't live there, no one will.
In the hundred years since the war stopped, humanity has continued to decrease, but everyone is more or less happy with the Gaia Sanction's decreed that ended the war: everyone except Captain Harlock, the commander of the pirate ship Arcadia. He had been fighting the Gaia Sanction ever since the war ended, if you believe the rumors, and though he's been hunted by the military's best, no one has come close to capturing him.
As the movie begins, the Arcadia makes planetfall in a remote area of a backwater planet. Four young men, eager to join up with the space pirate, manage to make it to the Arcadia (no easy feat) but unfortunately the pirate crew only has room for one... and the interview process is more than a bit hazardous. Eventually Yama is chosen to come aboard and his life will never be the same.
Aboard the Arcadia he meets Kei, the first officer, and Miime an alien who is Harlock's confidant. (Remember that thing in the intro about there being no intelligent life? Well, they forgot about the Nibelung, a race of superior beings though Miime is the only one left.) He also learns that Harlock isn't just attacking ships for the loot. There is a method to his madness and he has been planting powerful bombs all across the universe. Once he has 100 placed is very specific locations, he'll detonate them and the clock will be reset so that mankind can avoid some of the mistakes it originally made. But will that really happen, and what is Yama's real motive for joining the crew of the Arcadia.
The first thing that strikes viewers is how this film looks truly magnificent. From the first frames though to the ending credits, the movie is eye candy filled with astonishing visuals which really look amazing in 3D. (It looks excellent in 2D, but if you have the set-up, you really want to see this in 3D.) Directed by Shinji Aramaki who was also behind Appleseed and Appleseed Ex Machina (both of which are excellent) it's no surprise that the results are so spectacular. Things have come a long way in the dozen or so years since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and this movie really showcases how good CG animation for humans can be.
There are a lot of other things this film does right, aside from the very impressive visuals. There is no need to worry if you're not familiar with Captain Harlock, this is a reinvention of the character and there's no previous knowledge of his history needed to enjoy the film. That said, the creators do throw some tidbits in for the long-time fans. When Yama stumbles across Harlock alone in the computer core talking to himself, people who have seen the earlier incarnations (and there have been more than one) will smile knowingly to themselves.
Another aspect that worked well is the fact that Harlock himself is rarely seen in the first half of the film. He's mysterious and aloof, and there are a lot of questions surrounding him. Has he really been fighting the Gaia Sanction for 100 years? Why doesn't he look old? When he does go into action, it's easy to believe that this mysterious character is very capable and that his past is even more mysterious than viewers were led to believe.
Though the film gets a lot right, the second part of the movie is a bit of a mess. After an exciting and captivation first half, the script seems to lose its way and become convoluted and, surprisingly, very repetitive. In the big battle a little over halfway through, Harlock pulls the same trick on his opponent... twice! The Gaia Sanction commander couldn't see it coming the second time?? The same thing happens on the other side too. At one point the Gaia Sanction leaders make a big deal out of authorizing the use of an ultimate weapon that has an amazing destructive capability. A bit later in the movie, they realize that they need to use another, even MORE ultimate weapon that's even MORE powerful and destructive.
The later part of the film is also filled with surprise revelations (some of which are surprising, while others... not so much) and convoluted plot twists. One character switches side no less than three times, and it's hard to keep track of just which side everyone stands on. That's not helped by the fact that there are several plot holes and many unanswered questions in this part of the script too.
When all is said and done however, the spectacular visuals and the strong first half make up for any shortcoming in the latter part of the film. Ultimately, it's a fun and enjoyable film that is a blast to watch.
The 2D/3D Blu-ray:
Spectacular. I very rarely give out five stars for video... there's always something that you can spot if you look closely enough, but I was really blown away with the image quality of this disc. It was sharp, clean, and with outstanding detail, both in the 2D and 3D versions (presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio). The 3D was excellent and gave a nice amount of depth to the picture. A very nice looking disc.
The film arrives with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track for both versions. The Japanese version is presented in the original language with optional English subtitles, the international version has an English dub that is very good. While I prefer the original language release, it's just a personal choice and the dub was decent.
As mentioned above, this set comes with two versions of the movie, the Japanese version (115 minutes - Japanese audio) and an international version (111 minutes - English soundtrack). Each version comes on its own disc, and each disc contains both 2D and 3D versions of the film. There are also some very nice extras, and a lot of them. It starts off with a 26 minute 'making of' featurette that talks about how the film was rendered and put together. (Japanese with subtitles.) Next up are a slew of interviews with everyone from Harlock creator Leiji Matsumoto to the director and screenwriter. Then there are highlights from the Venice Film Festival, and a total of 10 theatrical and TV spots. It's rounded up with a series of storyboards and an isolated music score (on the Japanese version only). It's a really nice package.
Twilight Time has put out a great package. Presenting this wonderful-looking film in both 2D and 3D (the latter is the way to go) and filling the disc with some nice extras they've made a disc that anime fans should seriously consider picking up. Though in its second half the film becomes a bit muddled, the strengths overcome the weaknesses. This gets a strong recommendation, especially for anime fans.