This is it. This is the end-all, be-all; the veritable Holy Grail of badness that connoisseurs of all things bad will fight bloody wars to obtain. This is the embodiment of all buyer's regret given shape and substance. This is the shit to end all shitting.
This is the Malibu Graphics Captain Harlock Collectors' Video. Not only the worst dub of any Harlock property ever, it is almost unquestionably the worst ever video of any kind at all.
In the early nineties, Harlock was enjoying something of a revival of interest, largely due-at least in America-to the original Captain Harlock comic book by Robert Gibson and Ben Dunn (and subsequently Tim Eldred), published by Eternity Comics. So when the comic's seventh issue featured an ad for an upcoming video release of the original Space Pirate series, it seemed that the time was right-in fact, long since overdue-for a faithful adaptation of this much-loved series to finally be made available to English-speaking viewers. Harmony Gold's license had lapsed by this time, and the rights had supposedly gone to Coral Pictures, which was teaming with Malibu Graphics to produce the new release. The ad promised that for the first time ever, the 1978 Harlock series would be presented in an uncut format, translated correctly, and presented on high-quality VHS (a bit of an oxymoron, but it was 1991). This tape, the ad promised, would be the first in a series of such tapes. It seemed that at long last, we were going to get to see this classic show given the royal treatment, without all the monkeying about its plotline had received before.
In June of '91, the first tape hit the shelves. I found it in a local comic book shop, and seeing that they had a TV and VCR behind the counter, I asked if they could pop in a copy for me to preview. The ads had, after all, been a bit sketchy on some crucial details, such as whether this would be a sub or a dub, instead using the somewhat noncommittal term "translated." After having been burned so many times in the past, I wasn't into the idea of plunking down thirty-four bucks on an unknown quantity. They said, "Sure," and put the tape in. It started.
I did a double take.
A minute later, I did a triple take.
A minute after that I asked the store clerk if he noticed anything wrong with the video. He looked for a few seconds, and replied, "Oh, yeah...Huh?"
I left the shop that evening empty-handed.
Shortly thereafter, my pal Dave the Third, who worked at a different comic book shop at the time, managed to get ahold of a copy using his employee's credit. And so it came about that one fine weekend, the members of Corn Pone Flicks met with some friends from the Birmingham anime club New Japan to view this exciting new gift to humankind, and we all got the chance to see the full horror of what I had only glimpsed that previous night.
Only seconds in, many things began to crash in on everyone who didn't already know from me what to expect. Because we were, in fact, just watching the ZIV International dub from ten years prior all over again. This alone meant a great many things. It meant that the claim that these episodes were "available for the first time anywhere" was a baldfaced lie. It meant that the claim that the tape contained "three completely uncut TV episodes" was a similar lie. It meant that the claim on the packaging that the video contained "original, unaltered vintage recordings" indicated some bold new forays into the unconventional use of words we all thought we understood clearly. And it meant that the supposed series of videos promised could only amount to four episodes, tops, three of which were already on this, the first tape.
None of this was the particularly bad bit.
That would be approximately two minutes in, when everyone in the room had the disconcerting experience of having their jawbones spontaneously flop off their skulls and drop to the carpet to twist and writhe like asphixiating trout. Because five seconds worth of audio had just vanished into the ether. By this, I don't mean that there were simply five seconds of silence. I mean they were simply skipped straight over as if they'd never existed, while the video continued unabated. The sound simply preceded the picture by five seconds.
Five frames out of sync is noticable. Five seconds is longer than it takes to say this entire sentence out loud. And until the commercial break it stayed that way, unwatchable by any reasonable definition, despite the fact that this multiple-car-and-plane-crash of a video kept us glued to the tube in spite of all efforts by our rational minds to get us to stop. One of the New Japan members rhetorically inquired if perchance Malibu Graphics had livestock on their payroll, which was a pretty impressive thing to manage with his jawbone gnawing listlessly at the rug. Five seconds before the commercial break was to hit, the sound ran out, and when the picture had crossed the breakpoint, it remained silent for three more seconds before a buzzing, flatulent noise signaled the return of the audio. Three seconds too late.
Needless to say at this point, the sound stayed three seconds late for the remainder of the episode. The scene wherein Harlock meets Mayu atop the seawall had now become riotously funny due to the fact that the seven-year-old girl and the thirty-year-old man were precisely lip-syncing each other's lines. It would've been a modicum less riotously funny if any of us had actually paid any real money for this half-assed piece of crap, of course. And as the first episode closed, the old ZIV International logo popped up, as if the producers at Malibu didn't even respect us enough to at least try and conceal their lying like a properly ashamed person should.
We waited with bated breath and flopping mandibles to see what ghastly surprise awaited us with the second episode, even above and beyond the normally sufficient fact that this would be the second episode as dubbed by ZIV, which as you may recall, had different voices, different names, different music, and a radically different approach than their dub of the first episode. The picture came up, and the sound appeared to come with it, but it didn't take too long to see what had gone wrong this time. It seemed that Malibu had not merely run off new copies of the ZIV versions, but rather had gone back to the original multi-track master tapes and fiddled with the sound levels. Thus, at many points, the music--that's the godawful-three-notes-of-buzzing-crap-trapped-on-infinite-repeat-music, and not the original music--is so loud it nearly drowns out the dialogue, which is a mixed blessing of sorts in that at least the ludicrous acting and script fade away into the background, only to be supplanted by a noise that would make the suicide rate triple overnight should it ever hit the airwaves. This problem continues to plague the tape throughout the remaining two episodes, reaching its unparalleled climax near the end of episode three, when the infamous space disco "Take to the Sky" theme comes in without the soulless Casio tweedling that had been tormenting the previous scene actually going away. For the next thirty seconds or so of eternity, we have the double pleasure of a generous helping of whooshing and wailing spread lightly atop a delicate bed of booping and bleeping, delightfully humming away in two separate keys that clash all to screaming burning rat-infested Hell. And finally, after another intrusion of torturously music-free music that bellows above the explosions and gunfire, we at last reach the end. We distractedly pick up our jawbones and muse upon whether or not capital murder is really always such an ill-advised form of protest.
This is beyond "bad." This is a bad that defies all forms of language. This video, in no uncertain terms, SUCKS. It sucks like the illegitimate progeny of a black hole and Madonna. It could suck the planet inside out and be raring to give the moon a go without stopping for a breather. Things of better quality could doubtlessly be made by lobotomized monkeys using no tools but their own crap. Nothing here is worth an infinitesimal fraction of the thirty-four dollar price tag attached to this generalized affront to society and civilization as a whole. The box sucks. Beyond the amazingly audacious false advertising on the front and back (really, in nothing even remotely resembling our earthling honesty could they even make the feeble excuse that the episodes hadn't been altered or edited since buying them off of ZIV) and the pastel packaging that ran the whole gamut of Care Bear colors, we had a Harlock that was blond on the back cover, and an Arcadia which was green-which would've been okay if this series had featured the version of the ship that actually was green, but it doesn't. Dr. Daiba is referred to as "Dr. Daiu" (perhaps better than "Dr. Hairball," the name we actually hear on the tape, but still wrong), and two of the three episode titles are mistranslated, especially the first one. How does one get "Above the Lake" out of "Uchu no Docro no Hata" (the Jolly Roger of Space)? There is no lake in the first episode of Harlock, unless by "lake" one means "the Pacific Ocean." Harlock does indeed remain above sea level at all times in this episode, and of course while cruising about in space, he could genuinely be said to be essentially above every lake.
If you ever get the chance to vex yourself with this tape, be sure to take the opportunity to bask in Malibu's exciting new approach to the concept of stereo sound, wherein the music and dialogue tracks are completely in the right speaker, and the sound effects are completely in the left. In fact, panning the audio totally to the left is probably the best way to watch this tape, since it takes both the music and the voices and puts them someplace where they can't hurt anyone.
Nevertheless, none of these things constitute my favorite anecdote regarding this release. That would be the fact that Malibu Graphics misspelled its own name on the tape label. Thus I continued to refer to them as "Malibu Graphis" for the rest of their short-ass life.
How does something like this happen in a world above a unicellular level? Part of the problem probably had to do with Coral Pictures, and the fact that they didn't exist. There never was any such company, just one guy in Florida running a fake enterprise that never owned the rights to Harlock in any form. (This screwup was also the reason for the demise of the Eternity Harlock comic; Eternity ended up not having the rights to it after all.) So perhaps, in the very beginning, Malibu really intended to release a new dub or sub of the series. But beyond the initial ads, this doesn't excuse anything. Even if they were stuck with re-releasing the ZIV version, the fact that the box was still plastered with copious amounts of false advertising and that the audio of the tape had been royally screwed beyond recognition were still unquestionably their own fuckups. It's a big, moldy, stinky, barbed-wire wrapped pill, but they're just going to have to open wide and chug it down.
Perhaps we should have seen it coming. The year before, Malibu had released "The Captain Harlock Original Television Scripts" book, containing what were allegedly the first six episode scripts. This document would have to be the print equivalent of the epic display of shoddiness that was their "Collector's Tape." The two editors credited for this book-Mickie Villa and Tom Mason-clearly weren't entirely familiar with such esoteric concepts as words, or perhaps even letters, and it could be argued that randomly shuffling through a dictionary and writing down words on a whim could've produced more coherent sentences than the ones purporting to be the dialogue voiced by Harlock and company here. No one involved seemed to know what the characters' names were supposed to be, either: Mayu occasionally became "Tami" (the name of Kiruta's little sister, who doesn't appear in the first six episodes), Kiruta occasionally became "Gilman" (a snafu resurrected from the old KIKU-TV subbed version), and Yattaran was sometimes correct, sometimes "Yattoran" "Yakko," or "Yakkorattan," and sometimes all four in the space of a single two-page spread. I feel genuinely bad for longtime Harlock fan and comics author Robert Gibson, who probably wrote his introduction without realizing the travesty he was inadvertantly endorsing.
Anime fandom was smaller and less of a marketing demographic in those days, which is probably why Malibu Graphis (sic) was able to more or less get away with this without being sued into oblivion. If someone were to put out a comparable product today, there would be badly-typed bitchings about it on every anime-related message board within days, and the company responsible would be run out of town on a rail. I should hope. The overwhelming success of the dubbed Dragonball Z still leaves much doubt as to whether or not there's anything anime fans won't put up with.
So what became of this "series of videos?" Well, about a year afterwards, vol. 2 did indeed come out, containing episode three (again) and episode nine. They also re-released vol. 1, now containing only the first two episodes, with a sticker attached proclaiming "improved audio quality." Improved, that is, in the sense that it did not rape your ears with a Roto-Rooter, it merely irritated them with some more bad ZIV dubbing. The audio was no longer out of sync or split awkwardly between the sound effects and everything else, though at the point where the sync problem initially manifested itself on the original release there is now an utterly horrible patch job roughly analogous to what the soundtrack would resemble if it had been chewed up by a capybara and then pooped back into the recording device. Apparently the five seconds of sound that belonged at that spot had been lost to Malibu forever, barring the simple matter of copying them back from the ZIV release, an already terrible chop-job which takes on an oddly out-of-place luster in comparison to what befell it at the hands of its latter-day tormentors. The ZIV logo still appears between episodes one and two, followed by a cut rainbow of the sort you would get by mastering this mess on a cheap consumer VCR, and then an actual Malibu logo, which looks like nothing more than an attempt to draw the McDonald's logo on an Etch-A-Sketch during an earthquake and without any hands. At least they managed to correctly spell their own name on this version, perhaps because they changed it to "Malibu Comics" and thus avoided the pratfalls of that bewildering "ph" for "f" substitution.
Of course, the blatant false advertising regarding "unaltered" and "uncut" episodes persists on the box art, and the synopsis for the second episode now claims that Harlock is defending the Earth against the space pirates, lending credence to the theory that some sort of idiocy quotient was being enforced at the company under the threat of actually having to watch the shit they released until one died of painful rectal combustion. The second volume also repeated the "uncut" and "unaltered" narrative; in fact, the "unaltered, vintage recordings" claim which was merely a sticker on the original release graduated to being permanently emblazoned across the front-side box art, as if Malibu simply reveled in the thought of deceiving the consumer. The third episode is still mixed so horribly as to be a mere showcase for the sound of cats in heat screeching through fans, or as Mark Mercury apparently called it, "the music," but episode nine is, shockingly, actually watchable. As it was one of the two episodes ZIV managed not to mangle unduly the first time around, we can at least be grateful that Malibu did not choose to play the audio backwards, clean the film master with a wire brush, or fill the tape box with mustard gas.
Malibu Graphics is now out of business. Go figure.