Harlock Saga Anime Review
Haarokku Saaga: Niibarungu no Yubiwa
Harlock Saga: The Ring of the Nibelung
US Release By
Fantasy Opera in Space
6 30-minute episodes
1999-01-25 - 1999-11-25
What's In It
- Dogfights (the gods have starfighters!)
- Mass Combat
- A Pantheon
- Space Ships (as classic as they come)
- Exploding-Death-Star-style escapes
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 1 (mild)
At the center of the Universe lies a place known as Valhalla, inhabited by a mysterious and powerful race more ancient than even the stars. But there is one who would destroy them out of hate, an act that would bring about the end of the universe. There is only one thing standing between this mysterious bandit and the ring that will give him the power to fulfill his evil desires--Captain Harlock and his crew. Joined by Tochiro, the mysterious Meeme, a young boy haunted by his past, and the rest of the faithful crew, he will travel to the ends of space and time to do what must be done.
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Harlock Saga is essentially a sci-fi retelling of Wagner's most famous opera, The Ring of the Neibelung, set in Matsumoto's vast universe and cast with his standard set of characters. Although the characters are poorly introduced, the story stands fairly well on its own, and can be enjoyed without a lot of background knowledge even by non-fans. It is most interesting for the heavy fantasy elements of the story--gods and monsters play a bigger role than science--although that can also be a liability for those not willing to accept the story for what it is. The story drags on occasion, but the visuals are decent revival of old-school anime style, and the music, based largely on Wagner's score, is quite nice if a little repetitive. The only other weakness is the voice acting which, with the exception of Kouichi Yamadera's impressive portrayal of both stoic Harlock and quirky Tochiro, is unimpressive in both languages.
Though far from the best introduction to Matsumoto's universe, Harlock Saga is quite watchable even for the uninitiated as long as you're willing to give a piece of broad, classically-styled space fantasy a shot, and it's also fun as a re-interpretation of a classic into a true space opera.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Harlock Saga is yet another small part of Leiji Matsumoto's vast universe. As is always the case with stories set in this world, there are lots of characters who the viewer is expected to recognize--Maetel, Emeraldas, and of course Captain Harlock all make appearances. Fortunately for the uninitiated viewer, Harlock Saga is essentially a sci-fi retelling of Wagner's most famous opera, The Ring of the Nibelung. Although the characters are poorly introduced, the story stands fairly well on its own, and can be enjoyed without a lot of background knowledge (though longtime fans, of course, are going to have more fun with their favorite characters).
There is no singing in it, but Harlock Saga is a space opera in the most literal sense. It is also true enough to Wagner's original tale of gods and heros that, as with many other parts of Matsumoto's universe, it would more accurately be called a space fantasy. This blend of science fiction and fantasy elements is both its strongest and weakest point, at least for me.
On one hand, the combination of technology and mythos is handled almost effortlessly, both weaving smoothly into the story. Little effort is spent trying to explain why the gods--and gods they are, in the classical sense of ancient, powerful beings--make use of starfighters and battleships, nor how a chunk of gold is the essence of the universe. As long as you take it at face value and don't try to read too much Star Trek into it, it's an interesting amalgamation, making for an all-around good yarn.
On the other hand, I'm a Star Trek and science fiction fan, so the juxtaposition of magical rings and space battleships did end up bugging me. I had trouble accepting a bunch of people on a starship taking such wild fantasy for granted. It was equally difficult to overlook the inverse--that the residents of Valhalla, billions of years old and possessing the power to destroy the universe, would send a single robotic spider-mech out to deal with a problem. Still, since there are enough sci-fi tie-ins to keep things relatively grounded and a minimum of time is spent trying to logically explain most of the grand schemes, it isn't too difficult to ignore the non-science and just go with it.
Past the interesting story and setting, Harlock Saga is an all-around enjoyable yarn. There's a classic Matsumoto collection of characters along for the ride, including the ultra-cool Captain Harlock, mysterious women, a young boy caught up in a grand adventure, and of course the wise, diminutive Tochiro. Contrasting with the eclectic group of heros are the gods of Valhalla--distant and self-centered, the ultimate form of corrupt power. It is a testament to the strength of Matsumoto's vision (as well as quality filmmaking) that the characters, and the story as a whole, manage to stay true to their classic anime origins without feeling dated or stale.
My one major complaint about Harlock Saga is its somewhat sluggish pacing. The series of adventures that make up the story are tight enough, but the plot occasionally trips over its own pretense--for example, when the gods are busy machinating things seem to drag unnecessarily, and we get a detailed, dramatic explanation of just how important this quest is three or four times. The former does work to show the gods' aloof manner, but the latter is completely unnecessary. On the whole, it felt like the series could have easily been an episode shorter without losing anything.
The visuals are faithful to Matsumoto's style and pleasing enough, but apart from a few artistically constructed scenes and imaginative locales, not particularly impressive. The true-to-the-originals character designs, art, and animation are all appropriately old-school, spiced up with just a touch of sadly underwhelming computer work. The whole thing looks much older than it is; the animation in particular, interestingly enough, trades fluidity for more detailed line-work, a style that hasn't seen much use since the '80s. Though modern anime has largely abandoned this style for a good reason, it does have its strengths, and fits the story well.
The background music is based, not surprisingly, on Wagner's score for the opera the series itself is based on. Perhaps also not surprisingly, the best pieces are those most closely based on Wagner's work--the ever-popular Ride of the Valkyries, which is used without alteration, and the brooding main theme based on The Funeral of Siegfried. The latter, sadly, is overused in the later episodes. Elsewhere, the music is somewhat less remarkable, but still an attractive orchestral score, and the two wistful songs that serve as end themes, though not from the opera, are quite pretty.
The Japanese language version features a variety of decent (if slightly overdramatic) performances, but almost nothing noteworthy. The one impressive exception is Kouichi Yamadera, who voices not only the ultra-cool, low-key Captain Harlock, but the quirky little Tochiro as well--Harlock as the quintessential stoic captain without being annoyingly emotionless, and Tochiro as the colorful counterpoint while still being far from any kind of comic relief. The dub, based on a cursory examination, is a bit cheesy-sounding, but passable.
Harlock Saga is, in the end, a little slow, and far from the best introduction to Matsumoto's universe, but it is quite watchable even for the uninitiated as long as you're willing to give a piece of broad, classically-styled space fantasy a shot. It's also interesting as a sci-fi take on Wagner's opera--a true space opera--so if you're the sort who enjoys re-interpretation of the classics, this is one to look out for.
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This of course shares much with the entire Matsumoto universe. In style and feel, it is also similar to Odin: Photon Space Sailor Starlight.
Notes and Trivia
Part of Leiji Matsumoto's vast universe, and features characters from several of the series that make it up.
The story is loosely based on Wagner's opera The Ring of the Neibelung, which is in turn loosely based on a very old epic poem, "The Nibelungenlied."
US DVD Review
A solid production, in line with USM's graduation from their early DVDs into into the world of good DVDs. In addition to a decent (if slightly harsh-looking) video transfer and clean bilingual audio, the disc includes character sketches set to music, several interesting text interviews with the creative staff and lead actor Kouichi Yamadera, a live-action documentary on the making of the dub, and text-free credits of the both openings and endings. The disc also includes full bilingual casts with each episode.
Nothing terribly objectionable, but some violent content and mature themes make for a 13-up rating.
Violence: 3 - Never graphic, but there are some scenes of violence with more strongly implied.
Nudity: 0 - Nothing of note.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Nothing is shown, but there is discussion and implication of some sexual violence.
Language: 1 - Relatively mild language.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Harlock: Kouichi Yamadera
Tochiro: Kouichi Yamadera
Meeme: Kazuko Yanaga
Alberich: Yoshito Yasuhara
Yattran: Shigeru Chiba
Tadashi Daiba: Toshihiko Seki
Captain (1): Kumiko Hironaka
Emeraldas (1-2): Masako Katsuki
Maetel (2): Masako Ikeba
Wotan (3-6): Taro Ishida
Fricka (3-6): Miyuki Ueda
Elda (4): K'
Fasolt (4-6): Takehito Koyasu
Fafner (4-6): Shinichiro Miki
Freya (4-6): Emi Shinohara
Voice (4-6): Kouichi Sakaguchi
Additional: Kouichi Sakaguchi (2, 3), Chiemi Chiba (2), Yasunori Yumiie (4)
English Dub Cast
Harlock: Matt Hoverman
Tochiro: David Brimmer
Meeme: Jill Seifers
Alberich: Frank Frankson
Yattran: Natahn Price
Tadashi Daiba: Scottie Ray
Captain (1): Tara Jayne
Emeraldas (1-2): Veronica Taylor
Maetel (2): Lisa Oritz
Wotan (3-6): Robert O'Gorman
Fricka (3-6): Rachael Lillis
Elda (4): Carol Jacobanis
Fasolt (4-6): Dan Green
Fafner (4-6): Scottie Ray
Freya (4-6): Veronica Taylor
Voice (4-6): Tony Salerno
Original Story/Executive Producer: Leiji Matsumoto
Based on: "Der Ring Des Nibelungen", by Richard Wagner
Executive Producer: Kazumi Kawashiro
Producers: Jinichiro Koyama (Bandai Visual), Toru Nakano (81 Produce)
Director: Yoshio Takeuchi
Assistant Director: Yuji Himaki
Writer: Megumi Hiyoshi
Storyboard: Masaharu Okkuwaki
Character Design, Executive Animation Director: Hideyuki Motohashi
Director of Character Design: Hideyuki Motohashi
Mechanical Design Supervisor: Eiji Ishimoto
Mechanical Design: Toshiyuki Horii
Original Mechanical Design: Katsumi Itabashi
Art Director: Osamu Honda
Director of Photography: Takashi Azuhata
Music Director: Kaoru Wada
Music Producer: Kuniyasu Ichikawa
Performance: Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra, Koonstantin D. Krimets Conductor
End Theme 1: "Aurifera - To the Promised Land"
Composed and Arranged by Akira Inoue
Performed by Nozomu Otagi (Avex Tune)
End Theme 2: "Druid - The Sage of the Oak"
Composed and Arranged by Akira Inoue
Performed by Nozomu Otagi (Avex Tune)
Animation: Studio March, Song Sun Planning
Production: Bandai Visual, 81 Produce
Formerly available on a single hybrid DVD volume from the late US Manga Corps. Was also available on two dubbed VHS volumes.
Used copies are available at a reasonable price through Amazon at last check: Harlock Saga