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Harlock Saga: The
Ring of the Nibelungen

Well, boys and girls, it's time to break out that dry board eraser again. Everything you thought you knew about the story of Captain Harlock and his friends has been shitcanned, and we're starting over again! Hooray!

What we have on our hands now is an animated version of Matsumoto's new Harlock manga, based somewhat liberally on Wagner's Ring Cycle, itself being based upon ancient Germanic legends and tales. It was also a point wherein Matsumoto decided to try and rope in all of the various ideas he had set down previously under a single roof. This doesn't mean that all the past stories somehow come together to fit like pieces in a four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, but rather that the concepts from those stories would all be represented in one story, which of course meant rewriting most all of them. We now see that Harlock, Tochiro, and Emeraldas grew up together from their early childhood, instead of just Harlock and Tochiro (as in Space Pirate). Both versions of the Arcadia would appear, but the old, blue Arcadia would now become Pirate Island number two, and...you can see where this is headed. No resolution, just reinvention. It's just as well that none of this backstory wonking-about ever even got into the animated version.

The first big honkin' change to appear would be in the character of Mimay, who no longer appears alien in the least. She's still musically inclined, though she now plays a huge pipe organ that controls time. She's not a Juran anymore, but a member of the mysterious Nibelungen clan, a race of people rumored to have lived before the Universe was formed. She is the guardian of the Rheingold, a substance with the power to potentially unmake the universe, and a substance sought by her estranged brother Alberich, a mask-wearing hombre with revenge on his mind. (Space Pirate fans may also find that Alberich's flagship looks damn familiar.) In order to harness the power of the Rheingold, it must first be forged into a ring (yes, Tolkien most likely found a bit of inspiration in the Ring Cycle, which also includes a bit about a broken sword), so who do we need in order to to do a little metallurgic sculpting? Why, Tadashi Daiba, of course!

Here we begin another bit of liberal erasing--Tadashi's father is still dead, but he seems to have been, well, we're not really sure, but not an astronomer, nor was he assassinated by the Mazone. He is described as having once been a member of Harlock's crew, back when they were fighting "the enemy," whoever they may have been. A photograph of dear old dad is shown, wherein he looks for all the world like engineer Maji from Space Pirate, and basically identical to a character appearing on the Arcadia in the OVA DNA Sights 999.9. I should take a few moments at this point to mention that DNA Sights 999.9 is undoubtedly the lamest thing to ever come out of Matsumoto's brain, with a plot that seems to have been cobbled together out of bits and pieces of his previous works as if by some random file-sifting computer program. When your hero is called Tetsuro Daiba, and your name is Leiji Matsumoto, you seriously need to get some new ideas. Anyway, Tadashi is visited by Maeter, who informs him that he should under no circumstances forge a gold ring for any mysterious strangers that could be coming his way. A mysterious stranger shortly comes his way with a very familiar request, and when he wounds Tadashi's pride, the boy buckles like a belt and makes the ring anyway. It's not a bad introduction to Tadashi, but it can't make up for the fact that subsequent to these events, Tadashi manages to do not one damned thing for the rest of the series. Were this in the vein of the older shows, the boy would be brooding on his failure, then making some courageous but ill-advised attempts at redemption, and finally becoming a responsible man in the end. Instead he stands around, rather oblivious to the fact that everything happening is more or less his fault, staring at the viewscreen or out the window and occasionally asking what's going on. Loser.
While it begins well enough (aside from the astoundingly crappy CG Arcadia shots appearing in the first episode), this show lacks any real meat to it. Part of the problem, I expect, is the fact that it never makes it beyond the first of four acts in the Ring Cycle, all of which appeared in the manga version. Perhaps we'd have seen some more character development if the subsequent acts had been produced, but at only six episodes, this series doesn't fare all that well, and isn't very good as an introduction to the character. Aside from the fact that he's brave and likes dressing in black, we really learn nothing about Harlock the man. Why is it necessary for Harlock to shoulder the burden of protecting earth all by his lonesome? Before, we knew: the earth was either complacent or defeated. Why is Harlock a pirate? Against whom is he rebelling? In previous stories, he was an outlaw for defying a system he found to be corrupt in one way or another. Here, we really don't know what makes him who he is. Reasons, always a crucial ingredient in the Harlock legend, don't really appear here. Harlock fights "because," and that's about all. We do get a pretty good bit where he more or less tells off God, or at least a god, for being self-absorbed and something of a bastard, but we don't go into his inner workings and find what makes him tick, a subject upon which everyone in the original series, fellow crewmen and enemies alike, constantly pondered.

Ultimately, we once again are left with no way to shove this new story into any previous continuity. We can't shove it into Space Pirate because, even if we ignored (as the Japanese do) the fact that they're in the wrong Arcadia, we have a different Mimay, a different Tadashi (and father, as well), and Tochiro sharing screen time with Yattaran, a character he'd never met previously. (It's cool seeing Yattaran appear again, but unfortunately this fave character from the older shows suffers the same problem as Tadashi, in that he mostly just sits around looking at his instruments. That's right: Yattaran does his job without being badgered about it. This is just wrong.) We can't shove it in between Arcadia and SSX for much the same reasons; Yattaran's there, and LaMimay isn't there, plus what little we see of earth doesn't seem to be suffering under the Illumidas occupation. It can't go after the SSX series, because of Tochiro inconveniently dying at the end of that series. And we can't squeeze it before or after Galaxy Express 999 because, once again, of the totally different Mimay, and the totally dying Tochiro. Really, we can mostly thank Mimay for completely lousing up any attempt at continuity here, though if the whole Saga had been animated, we'd have a great deal more in the way of problems. Let it lie, people. It just ain't worth it. Spend your time and problem-solving skills on something that might actually have a solution, like say peace in the Middle East, or a pop song that isn't mindless drivel. This way lies madness.

The final minute of the final episode of Harlock Saga includes a quick fly-by of the Yamato, which again passes unexplained or mentioned. I can't even begin to grasp the terror involved in explaining things if the Yamato continuities are supposed to fit into all this, as well.

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