I'm sure you know what's coming, and you won't be wrong, but the fact is that this most recent Harlock series (or at thirteen episodes, technically mini-series) seems to have a slightly different attitude about its irreconcilably mutilated continuity. In past instances, it seemed as if the yawning pits of disparity were the result of either a desire not to be trapped into having to write stories that would dovetail with what had gone before, or simple laziness. Endless Odyssey doesn't work that way. Instead, it appears for the first time as though, for undisclosed reasons, Matsumoto and/or his screenwriters are actively hostile towards the idea of proper continuity. About eighty percent of this series is set up as if to be a direct sequel to the Space Pirate series. The remaining twenty percent is dedicated to making the notion of its being a Space Pirate sequel absolutely and unquestionably impossible.
On the one hand, we have a story wherein the pirate crew of the Arcadia has disbanded and gone on with their lives, while Harlock has continued to travel the stars in the Arcadia with Mimay, as per the end of Space Pirate. Kei Yuki is noticably older and has become captain of her own pirate ship. The original Prime Minister is still in charge, and still preferring a general policy of "hide your eyes and hope the problem goes away." Yattaran makes a specific reference to the enemy that they are about to confront being "potentially a greater danger than the Mazone," the alien invaders from the first series, who never appeared or were even mentioned in any subsequent stories. It even pretends to address the two different designs of the Arcadia, showing the original blue version in flashbacks and the better-known green version for the "present-day" scenes. Mayu even shows up again (albeit under slightly odd circumstances) for the first time since the Space Pirate series, as does the ship's resident cook Miss Masu. Just going on this, it would seem as if making a sequel to the classic 1978 series was just what they had in mind; heck, it even has the same director (Rin Taro, who directs Harlock better than anyone).
This, of course, is where the great big "BUT" comes in. The writers stopped seriously short of making this whole thing plausible as a sequel, a fact which is revealed no further in than the second scene of episode one, where Dr. Daiba, dead since episode three of Space Pirate, shows up alive and well again. (He is also, by the way, the same dad as seen in the older series, and not the Engineer Maji-esque version of Dr. Daiba that appears in Harlock Saga.) Young Tadashi is seen shortly thereafter, in the same maroon-colored outfit he wore in the early Space Pirate episodes, living like a troublemaking street punk, and obviously never having met Harlock before. (Note: the fact that the Japanese cannot make up their minds how to spell the guy's name using our alphabet doesn't mean that I'm going to refer to the character as "Herlock" when discussing this particular show. He's the same person, and his name is still pronounced "Harlock," so I'm sticking with the same spelling.) Over the course of the first couple of episodes, we'll see a lot of familiar developments: Dr. Daiba will be killed, Tadashi will swear vengeance, Harlock will invite the boy-via the standard slurs upon his manhood-to join the Arcadia's crew, Tadashi will eventually accept and then gripe about the apparent lack of any discipline amongst the crew. (This, I should say, was a bit more credible in the old show, when Tadashi wasn't running around the streets and getting into fights with Yakuza underlings. He doesn't strike me here as someone who values discipline.)
It doesn't stop there, of course. Shizuka Namino, who longtime fans will remember as the redheaded Mazone spy from Space Pirate, now reappears as a computer-generated assistant to Dr. Daiba that appears in his rather Escher-like virtual laboratory. She now has dark hair (as she did in the original manga), but wears the same black dress and heart-shaped pendant. As they do indeed address her by her full name, there can be no question as to her identity, which isn't even a little bit compatible with the older show. Compounding the problem just a wee bit more is the fact that Tochiro's grave appears to be located on Heavy Meldar in this story, which is in line with the Galaxy Express/SSX version but at odds with Space Pirate, where Tochiro was buried in space (although his grave inexplicably appears on earth; one can only assume that either Emeralda(s) took his body back there, or the scriptwriters forgot). It does tie in with the manga version of the Space Pirate story, but taking it as a sequel to the manga doesn't resolve the Tadashi, Dr. Daiba, or Shizuka Namino issues any better, so it seems that once again, would-be continuity constructors are, as ever before, screwed. And as if to simply rub it in, the date given as the year of death for adversary Commander Irita's father is 3059. Seeing as how this death occurred when Irita was still a small boy, it would seem that the series is taking place somewhere between 3070 and 3080, around a hundred years subsequent to Space Pirate's date of 2977. Maybe my previous theory about everyone living forever in the future wasn't so far off the mark after all.
In many ways, Endless Odyssey comes off as the best entry in the Harlock canon post-SSX. Rin Taro's artful direction continues to suit the material far better than nearly anyone else's, and the angle of the series as basically a space ghost story seems perfectly tailored for a director who seems to find making outer space somewhat spooky almost second nature. Unlike most newer entries into the mythos, reasons and motives for acting are important again, whereas in most other modern-day offerings Harlock is simply playing the hero because it's his job. Tadashi and Yattaran are actually used as characters this time, unlike in Harlock Saga, though regrettably Mimay really isn't. I will, however, stop short of saying that Endless Odyssey is a great series, because it does suffer some definite flaws. Harlock himself is so cold and grim here that the often rather pleased-with-himself character of the Space Pirate and SSX series seems almost like a totally different man. While issues of personal honor were always important components, in this story they've become so stridently put forth that Harlock seems less of a rugged individualist and more of an inflexible hardass who takes himself so utterly seriously that it's impossible to relate to or even really empathize with him. I also find it personally aggravating that the very first scene in the series is of Kei Yuki naked in the bath, a completely superflous bit of pandering to hopelessly geeky adolescent males that just chips away at the class normally inherent in a Harlock story, though admittedly less than was done in Cosmo Warrior Zero. I've gained no remarkable character insights into the person of Kei Yuki by seeing her bare ass; I just now feel slightly like a wanker for watching this. It's also hard to miss the fact that Kei, who was never played as a sex object in any prior shows, spends much time striking bendy poses in her now entirely too form-fitting outfit.
And of course, there's the ending, or more accurately, the place where they decided to stop. While time may tell whether or not this will feed into a sequel series, it certainly doesn't feel like a setup for a whole new story. It feels mostly like there should be another ten minutes worth of episode and then the credits roll. I don't at all mind a little ambiguity in a story, but this is one of those deliberately audience-baiting choices a la The Lady or the Tiger, which cops out of a resolution by simply not bothering to commit to a particular choice on the part of your character. Since good writing tends to have much to do with well-defined characters, dodging the choices they make is dodging the most important issue. The ending credits for the final episode show scenes of the primary characters at what appears to be a short time subsequent to the last scene, but it doesn't do anything towards telling us what went on while we weren't looking, or at least while we weren't being shown anything.
While Endless Odyssey doesn't feel as half-assed as some other recent contributions, it doesn't quite feel fully-assed, either. It tries to get too much into too little time, while managing to still seem like it's occasionally plodding along, which is pretty much the reverse of Space Pirate's pacing. It's very likely that the glory days of Harlock are truly past, never to return, but if you're stuck with what is commercially available over here, then this is the best thing to see after Arcadia. Just don't expect that film's full-on sense of completely un-ironic melodrama.