It had to happen. Someone was going to get around to trying to dub over the classic Space Pirate series. That someone turned out to be ZIV International, who had also produced dubbed versions of other anime series such as Captain Future and Candy Candy. As one might surmise, they probably weren't really familiar with dealing with anything above kiddie fare, and their method of dealing with it here wasn't exactly exemplary. They produced two volumes of dubbed Space Pirate episodes, though they weren't, as has been misreported, the first four episodes. Volume one contained episode one and episode nine, for some abstruse reason, and volume two contained episodes two and three. Both volumes were distributed by FHE--that's Family Home Entertainment, a company whose name alone is enough to inspire precognitive groans of despair amongst Harlock fans. The word "family" attached to a media product in America means either that's it's religious (or "Christian," as we pronounce it in this country), or that its proclamations of "fun for the entire family" are based on the assumption that your entire family has the collective IQ of a cheese sandwich. By and large, we've never given our younger generation the credit for being smart enough to outthink their pet goldfish, or even their goldfish crackers, and ZIV's approach was no exception.
That said, the first volume wasn't all that bad. Perhaps not that inspiring either, but it could've been worse (and shortly would be). The script was pretty well-translated, some of the names remained the same, and the original music was kept (well, most of it, anyway. The opening theme was replaced with a pretty awful disco-flavored theme song called "Take to the Sky," which included a lot of goofy electronic sci-fi sound effects that would've felt perfectly at home in an early Williams arcade game). They even got an actual little girl to play Mayu, though as could be expected, she couldn't act that well. The rest of the cast was made up of adults, and, whatever one might have expected, they couldn't act all that well either. Not terrible, just not very emotive. And of course, we saw the inevitable renaming of characters that had foreign-sounding names. Tadashi Daiba became Tommy Dexter, keeping only the initials of his Japanese name (an approach which Harmony Gold would later repeat with "Terry Drake"). Mayu became "Maya," another move which would be replicated by the later Harmony Gold dub, and which has doubtlessly contributed greatly to the perpetual confusion of Space Pirate's Mayu with My Youth in Arcadia's Maya, a completely unrelated character. Kei became "Carrie" (what, is "Kay" not English-sounding enough?) and Yattaran became Youngblood. And while Harlock and the Arcadia got to keep their names, the Mazone became "Zetons," a thoroughly silly and generically comic-booky name for an alien species. Still, it's hard to be too harsh on this dub; while the acting is a bit torpor-inducing, it's at least mostly the correct dialogue, and relatively little was cut out; even the hordes of naked Mazone in episode nine were left intact. But it's amazingly easy-nay, effortless-to harsh upon the dub of Volume Two.
Whatever market the first dub had been designed for, we can only conclude that it didn't perform well within said market; therefore, ZIV tried a new approach with their second excursion into Americanizing Harlock, this one primarily focusing upon the aforementioned "Americans are benightedly stupid" theory. What happened?
Well, first off, the actual script was mulched, sent to Havana and remanufactered as cigar wrappers, or, if I can speak like a normal human being for at least a few moments, I could just say that they didn't use it. They didn't use the hell out of it, to the degree that the jurors in the O.J. Simpson case didn't use the hell out of the evidence, or that George W. Bush doesn't use the hell out of his brain. Lines like "illegal aliens from an underdeveloped galaxy decided to blackball the planet earth" don't the hell appear in the Japanese script. Neither do the bits where Harlock bungles his orders, sings "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," or bellows "YEEEEESSSSSSS!! It's me!" in a sort of lisping Dracula accent. It's almost impossible to list all of the asinine lines without just listing pretty much every line in the script, but a few of the best zingers include:
Prime Minister: Harlock, how did you get here?
Harlock: I jumped! BOO!
Tadashi: It wasn't a person, dad; I think it's a woman!
Harlock: That's the only Zeton dwarf nebula in the dense-space galaxy! (Thank God that's cleared up.)
Ship's robot: Greetings. I am Fambot 3. I am beautiful. I love you.
One must wonder what the rationale behind this was, exactly. Did they really think that Harlock would work better as some sort of nonsensical farce? Most of the humor doesn't even result from actual jokes, merely the fact that the words spilling out of the characters' mouths seem to have no bearing on anything even remotely rational. One seriously begins to feel that the only possible explanation that doesn't involve demonic possession or early attempts at writing by A.I. would have to be either: A. Really bad drugs, or B. Really good drugs that they weren't kind enough to include with the actual video.
It's worth mentioning that whichever answer may have been the case, it's certainly true that the new music which was regurgitated into this video in place of the beautiful symphonic score by Seiji Yokoyama could make the viewer wish that he or she were on any drugs at all so long as they contributed to rapid clogging of the ears. Mostly what we are given here sounds like the result of a circa-1977 Casio keyboard whose factory-programmed demo mode very nearly resembled music and therefore resulted in the unit being smacked about like a harbor seal until it began wheezing piteously, so that its electronic death rattle could be recorded onto bulk-erased 8-tracks and dropped into the episodes at points and intervals determined by random dice rolls with no deference to mood, timing, or the fact that the listener was given ample time to locate a suitible razor blade, length of rope, or some good brand of brain-liquifying pills before the soundtrack mercifully ceased to impart him with a tonal representation of the tragic and bitter death of the human spirit. This feast for the aural passages of all those who make it their business to hold the flaming whips over the souls of the damned was provided by one Mark Mercury, whose other contributions to the death of the art of film scoring include distinguished titles such as Ninja the Wonder Boy and The Ketchup Vampires. Additionally, the obnoxious theme song, previously relegated to the opening credits, now makes an unwelcome appearance every time anyone exclaims "take to the sky!" which is more often than anyone who isn't already dead would prefer.
Not content to leave any stone unthrown, ZIV had the previous voice cast shot and replaced with vat-grown mutant clones whose attempts at mimicking real human speech wouldn't have fooled a bowl of lemurs with hearing loss; Harlock's pomposity is such that he now sounds as though he's trying to convince that one man in the back of the theater that he is in fact as big an asshole as all the folks in the front row have already surmised. Mayu is no longer played by a little girl, and now sounds like she's seven going on fifty-year-old drag queen. Plus, we have some exciting discontinuities with names. Tommy is still Tommy, but as his father is introduced as "Dr. Hairball," I guess we can assume that his last name is no longer "Dexter." Yattaran is now "Rocky" instead of "Youngblood," and while he thankfully does not sound like Sylvester Stallone, he does sound like his nose has been stopped up with foot-long hot dogs. Amazingly, Queen Lafresia is still Queen Lafresia; indeed, the part where she declares her name is quite probably the only two seconds in the entire video not containing some falsehood or another, though it still contains a ridiculous voice. Just watch this tiny part, and hopefully you won't come away thinking that Harlock was made for people who are still at least fifty percent baboon.
Fortunately for sentient life everywhere, ZIV never dubbed any more Captain Harlock episodes, though unfortunately (life is full of caveats, ain't it?) this dub would get a new lease on life a decade later from Malibu Graphi[c]s, and on our present side of the millennial divide would reappear yet again in a release by East-West DVD called Captain Harlock and Friends, the sort of title that brings to mind those hodgepodge collections of Tom and Jerry or Warner Bros. cartoons that '80s TV producers would sling together in order to fill a block. The first volume begins, brilliantly, with ZIV episode nine, after which it moves on to the "friends," who in this case are a pair of old Fleischer Superman shorts and a Popeye cartoon. Later installments include episodes of Clutch Cargo-with friends like this, who needs to buy this DVD? Not me! Plus, the cover art looks like something one might find in a Bazooka Joe bubblegum wrapper, if Bazooka Joe was drawn by a dog. Okay, by a reasonably bright dog.
It's sad that by and large, most English speakers seem to have experienced the Harlock series through this dub first, which makes it little short of amazing that anyone outside of Japan actually wants to see more of Harlock. But you can help! Simply set aflame anyone who uses the name "Tommy Hairball" in reference to this show, and soon, the message will have been sent. (If you feel that this suggestion contravenes local, pesky anti-murder laws, you may settle for correcting their mistake. But this option ruins all marshmallow-roasting potential, so don't say you didn't have a choice.)