Harlock Saga: Niiberungu no Yubiwa
[Der Ring Des Nibelungen | Das Rheingold ]
Bandai Visual | 81 Produce
Original air date: January 1999
6 x 30 minute episodes
Harlock Saga is strange. Strange and chunky.
Written by Matsumoto Leiji and based around the works of Richard Wagner,
Harlock Saga takes Wagner’s Ring Cycle and brings it forward in time… or is that... backwards in time?.
At the edge of the universe (or it could be the dead centre), the Norse gods
Wotan and Fricka live the life they are presumed to have been living since the dissolution of their glory days on Earth.
Miimé has become a great ‘sorceress of legend,’ somehow transforming from
a mauve and mouthless sylph into a pale blonde goddess contemporaneous with Wotan, fully equipped with a brother of
disrepute and a beleaguered female compatriot, Freya, who has been abandoned by
Miimé to an unwholesome fate. To make matters worse, Miimé has
been living quite a nice and easy life onboard the Arcadia without informing Harlock of her true nature. It is thanks to
Miimé’s omissions regarding her background that Harlock,
Tochirō and Emeraldas find themselves in the undesirable and unenviable position of having to save the universe from
brother Alberich, who has stolen the Rheingold (a single nugget of which is contained at the centre of the universe on the planet Rhein) out from beneath Wotan’s nose and is having
Tadashi Daiba (this time around the son of a great metallurgist) fashion it into a ring with which to control the universe.
[To fill in
a little backstory so that some of this makes sense: Miimé is of the Nibelung clan, sister to Alberich who ruled the Fifth World, and, along with Freya, controls time and
manipulates the universe via music that they have produced on an enormous pipe organ for millennia.
Miimé’s abandonment of her
task leaves Freya — who may or may not be Fricka's sister — to play this music alone, for stopping the
music naturally brings the universe to a stop as well. Alberich,
Miimé’s brother, labours under a filial injustice that compels
him to seek retribution and revenge upon Wotan and Valhalla, which is why he stole the Rheingold in the first place. Yes,
every villain has a noble core… Wotan had repressed the Nibelung clan so Alberich’s motives are indeed pure, if a little tainted by
psychosis. Since that original injustice, Miimé has been on the run from Wotan (now countless millennia old and enfeebled) for over 650 million years…]
All sorts of horrible things will happen to the universe if the Rheingold
is subverted, which of course is Alberich’s plan. Rheingold contains the essence of time (again the Matsumoto-Time
connection), and the destruction of the universe begins with the planet from which the gold is taken. At
Miimé’s beseeching (she
is wracked with guilt after belatedly exposing her true self to Harlock) Harlock of course vows to recover and restore the Rheingold, and
prevent the universe from imploding into a speck of nothing in a reversal of the Big Bang.
At this point in the narrative, Maeter (Galaxy Express 999) makes a
brief cameo, meeting with Tadashi Daiba on Earth to warn him of Alberich’s impending visit, and to deter him from doing as
Alberich wishes. Maeter also hints at Tadashi’s father’s past with Harlock, insinuating obliquely that the admonition to not
make the ring comes from Harlock himself. Tadashi is suitably impressed, but is lacking any loyalty towards his deceased
father (who indeed was a prior compatriot of Harlock's) whatsoever in this incarnation, it appears. Stung by
pride (or simple testosterone-engendered stupidity) Tadashi bluntly ignores Maeter's request and makes the ring, fashioning it
into an impressive death’s head that Alberich can use for his nefarious purposes.
In the meantime, Wotan has been having a floating fortress built by the
two Meister brothers (strange green giants), who both harbour carnal desires for Freya. The fortress is being
built to protect Wotan and his wife Fricka, and the Meister brothers (who turn out to be not as bad as they initially
appear) are having trouble doing any work at all — so great is their desire for beautiful Freya it impedes them. Wotan, being a
man, can’t really see anything wrong in giving them leave to do what they want to Freya as long as they build him his fortress.
And so they do. (That poor girl, they being giants and all…)
The Meister brothers might not mind taking sexual liberties with an
unwilling partner, but they do have their own noble sensibilities regarding honour and war and the ultimate safety
of the universe. They love Freya and Miimé both (in a perverse kind of way) and are recognisant of the role the women play in
the preservation of time and space. To this end the brothers go so far as to seek a truce with Harlock, in defiance of Wotan and
Fricka, and decide to escape Valhalla and take the fortress with them.
The end of Harlock Saga is short and sweet and traditional: a space battle
between the Arcadia and Alberich’s Rheingold-enhanced fleet, with decisive input from the Meister brothers and their
fortress. Yet in the end, all Harlock has to do is walk up to Alberich and take the ring from his finger. It’s an anticlimax
of climactic proportions, a subtle end to the threat of universal destruction.
Visually, the animation is chunky and very Matsumoto in style, with an
effective use of black, light and shade, and uneven and heavy linework. Harlock’s face is less formed than usual, and
interestingly he has had a change of eye colour (pale blue as opposed to their usual brown). His costume is a black tunic over
his trousers, with of course the ubiquitous cape which, thanks to the animation style and heavy use of black, takes on a
delightful and rich quality (Emeraldas’ cape is also a sight to behold).
Harlock’s postures this time around are reminiscent of his Space Pirate
Captain Harlock days: all folded arms and melancholy expressions. He has both Yattaran and Tochirō by his side,
though Harlock is not as garrulous in this incarnation as he usually is when in the presence of Tochirō. Tochirō however is
his usual verbose and jovial self, cracking jokes and making puns in between all the serious stuff, while Yattaran is a model of
Tadashi Daiba is even more impulsive and impetuous at the outset of
Harlock Saga than usual, although he becomes rather subdued and ineffective as the drama unfolds. The behaviours that cause only
minor disasters in his other incarnations are here exaggerated, to the point where the viewer wants only to smack him and then
never see him again. He’s rounder and chubbier in the face, and labouring under a promise made to him by his dead father, who
was an ex-crewmember of the Arcadia, that Tadashi too would one day be asked to board that ship. Perhaps this promise (his
inescapable fate) accounts for his ennui at the commencement of Harlock Saga, and also his ultimate disobeyance of Maeter’s
request to not make the ring. As Maeter had strongly hinted that this request actually came from Harlock (the mysterious ‘man
with the skull and crossbones’), it makes little sense that Tadashi would risk his predestined future with Harlock by making
the ring. Sure, rotten Alberich had a gun, but if Tadashi were a real Matsumoto man he would rather have died than make that
ring. In the end, Alberich didn’t need to use the gun — a little goading and derision of Tadashi’s abilities produced the desired results. Tadashi in this incarnation is
overly proud and headstrong, and not particularly likeable.
Tochirō has the stronger role in Harlock Saga; he's exceedingly active, and he and Emeraldas have developed a strong partnership at the commencement of
the piece, to the almost total exclusion of Harlock, and they spend a lot of time away from the Arcadia as they perform their self-appointed tasks.
Tochirō even delivers the invitation for Tadashi to join the crew, which is traditionally Harlock’s role, and he also passes on to Tadashi the
‘Cosmo Dragoon’ gun that Tadashi's father once carried (long-time Matsumoto fans will know the significance of the Cosmo Dragoon),
which maybe this time around makes Tadashi Tochirō’s problem and not Harlock’s at all.
The Arcadia is yet to be imbued with Tochirō’s personality and is just a
ship with a crew. It seems more mechanical and less ‘alive’ somehow, although in appearance it retains the detail and depth
that has made it such a visual delight. Wagner’s music (performed by the New Berlin Orchestra and the Moscow
International Symphony Orchestra) is used to great effect, and suits Harlock and the Arcadia well. Given that Harlock is of
Germanic origin it is a natural pairing.
While loosely based on a small fragment of Matsumoto's Götterdämmerung manga, the animated Harlock
Saga is an aberration in the world of Captain Harlock. It is akin to a play: a rickety but grand and mythical stage, with our heroes woodenly playing the major
roles. While the story is incomplete (there are apparently two more parts of this saga possible) and regardless of what the
producers say, Harlock Saga should be considered a diversion and not a true piece of the Harlock mythos.
[Curiously, there is a ‘music video’ addendum set to
Wagner's ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ that accompanies the Harlock Saga DVD. The visual characterisations of Harlock and crew in this short piece are
vastly different to what we are accustomed to. Harlock is blonder, more angular and anglicised in his appearance. The
renderings are a step removed from Matsumoto’s sylphish style, a step closer to ‘realism’ and incredibly fascinating. It is yet
another vision of Harlock, and a compelling one.]