Harlock is the archetypical romantic hero, a space pirate with an individualist philosophy of life. He is as noble as he is taciturn, rebellious, stoically fighting against totalitarian regimes, whether they be earthborn or alien. In his own words, he "fight[s] for no one's sake... only [...] for something deep in [his] heart".
The character first appeared in Adventures of a Honeybee (1953). The first series featuring Harlock in the lead role is 1978's Space Pirate Captain Harlock. As with most of Matsumoto's works, continuity is not a crucial issue. An appearance of any particular version of the character does not necessarily connect to any previous or following versions, and the interconnectedness of the various series is a common subject of speculation among fans.
Directed by Rintaro, the series features split screen and flashbacks, excellently served by a symphonic score executed by the Tokyo Philharmonic. For all its pulpy space opera feeling and its action, the series raises a number of issues — from the importance of challenges in the life of men to the limits of violence as a solution to both small- and large-scale problems. The outcast Harlock is well aware of the plight of the Mazone, a refugee people fleeing a dying planet, and finds neither pleasure nor vindication in his battles nor in his final, melancholic victory. Some of the mechanical design on the series is strongly reminiscent of the first Star Wars film, even if the original Harlock manga predates the American movie, prompting some controversy as to "who stole what".
Originally meant as a TV series, delays to the production caused it to be released only on video. Matsumoto initially cancelled the Endless Odyssey series due to the use of the Star of David as the demonic aliens' symbol. Matsumoto was reportedly horrified and made the following statement: "My blood was frozen when I found the Star of David symbol appeared. I believe you cannot debase any religion...I bear that in mind whenever I make stories. I cannot allow my characters to appear in any anime that tramples on my philosophy."
The story is set after the original TV series, with Harlock on a self-imposed exile and his crew either in jail or flying under the Jolly Roger. The series details Harlock's return and his round-up the Arcadia crew for a fight against the Noo, a mysterious and ancient evil which has caused the Earth to disappear, and whom use fear to conquer their foes. Although nearly every part of this series is geared to be a sequel to the original Captain Harlock, Endless Odyssey reintroduces Tadashi Daiba to the Arcadia. The redheaded Mazone spy Shizuka Namino also reappears, now as a black-haired holographic assistant to Dr. Daiba, and the date of the series is approximately one hundred years after the events of the original series, demonstrating rather decisively the degree to which its author seems to disdain full and logical continuity.
Captain Harlock and his world have been developed and occasionally re-developed as Matsumoto changes his conceptions about them. The original Captain Harlock television series was conceived as an independent, standalone work. Captain Harlock, the roguish space pirate, displays the full range of human emotions at one point or another during the course of the story.
When Harlock appears in Arcadia of My Youth feature film the sequel TV series Endless Road SSX, his back story was significantly changed. He was a military officer before he became a space pirate, the circumstances of which were related in the film. This was also the only on-screen incarnation in which Harlock was married. The tragic death of his wife Maya at the hands of Earth's alien conquerors plays a large part in turning Harlock from unconquered space captain to brooding space pirate. The backgrounds of other major characters, such as fellow pirate Emeraldas and best friend Tochrio Oyama, were also altered in accordance with Harlock's new backstory.
When Matsumoto's works again became popular in the 1990s and he began to pen the Harlock Saga manga, he changed the backdrop of Harlock and his universe. This time it was based in part on Wagner's Ring cycle and required significant reworking of almost every one of Matsumoto's stock stable of characters in order to make the story fit. He is only a teenager when the Earth is conquered and his father Great Harlock is the first to take up the "fight for freedom" touched upon in Arcadia of My Youth. As of 2007, this is the version of Harlock that Matsumoto considers in continuity. Harlock's appearance in Space Symphony Maetel tries to consolidate previous adaptations of the character.Other appearances Captain Harlock, or characters indistinguishable from him, have made frequent "unbilled cameo" appearances in many other works of Leiji Matsumoto, including Galaxy Express 999, Queen Emeraldas, and Galaxy Railways as the joker in a deck of playing cards.
Captain Harlock was originally intended to appear in Space Battleship Yamato during their return voyage from Iscandar. The idea was dropped for a number of reasons which probably included the fact that the rights to Yamato were at the time owned by executive producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki. This idea evolved into simply finding Mamoru Kodai (Alex Wildstar) alive on Iscandar. The idea was still used later in a Yamato manga by Matsumoto where Yamato later encounters Mamoru who assumed the false identity of Captain Harlock (as revealed when hero Susumu Kodai finds a copy of a Captain Harlock manga among his supposedly dead brother's belongings).
In 2001, Cosmo Warrior Zero presented a version of the story in which Captain Zero, a human veteran of the Earth-Mechanized war, is commanded by the Machine Men, who won the war and now rule Earth, to hunt down the Space Pirate who is still resisting the invaders. This series focuses on Zero and his misfit crew as they take on the hopeless mission, fighting a more skilled enemy who also may be more justified in his actions than they are. Harlock, Tochiro and Emeraldas put in mostly supporting guest appearances, and are shown as being slightly younger than their previous incarnations; Harlock doesn't even have his trademark eyepatch yet.
Most notable is the return of Harlock's ship to the original Blue Arcadia Design (not seen since the original TV series), though now green and named "Deathshadow", the name of Harlock's first battleship which appeared in the Arcadia feature and the 999 films, where it had an altogether different design. As usual, the continuity is essentially nonexistent, even though the series does feature story points appearing in previous Matsumoto films and television shows.
. . Daiba is the audience surrogate, the viewer's gateway to Harlock's world. The 14-year-old son of a scientist who was killed by the Mazone, he joined the Arcadia crew following the death of his father. He lost his mother in a disaster on the Neptunian moon Triton when her pleas for help were ignored by the indifferent government. Tadashi is sometimes in conflict with Harlock early in the series, but he would become a trusted part of Harlock's senior staff as the series progressed.
. . A lady with a unknown age human woman with blonde hair who was already part of Harlock's crew at the time Tadashi came aboard, Kei was rescued by Harlock when he raided a ship that was transporting her as a prisoner back to Earth following an assault by her upon a military officer who had belittled her father's death. There is the slightest intimation that she harbors a crush on Harlock (though this would be made more definite in the later SSX series), and initially seems inclined romantically towards Tadashi Daiba, though the two eventually settle into a platonic friendship. She is the Arcadia's chief navigator and science officer, and she is the second-youngest crew member after Tadashi.
. . A mysterious alien woman with long blue hair who thrives on alcohol and possesses psychic and psionic powers, she is the last survivor of her home planet Jura, from which she was saved by Harlock. After her rescue, Miime became part of the crew of the Arcadia and pledged her life to Harlock in gratitude for saving her. She is Harlock's closest companion and confidante and is willing to protect him at any cost when needed. She does not appear to have a mouth (apparently a common feature in Juran physiology), but she is able to absorb liquids through the general mouth area. She has a quiet, sensitive personality and, although she does not have an official position aboard the Arcadia, she will help Doctor Zero tend to injured crew members in times of need, and her empathic nature makes her valuable in a counseling capacity (for example, when she consoles Miss Masu following the loss of the latter's estranged fiancé). She is musically skilled with the harp. In the 1999 Harlock Saga OVA, she is refashioned to appear as a human-looking woman (as well as given a different back story, making her a member of the Nibelung clan in the story and changing her musical instrument from the harp to a pipe organ with the ability to control time, but otherwise having the same abilities as in her previous incarnation), but she returns to her original appearance and origins in the 2002 Endless Odyssey OVA.
. . Harlock's first mate on the Arcadia, he is usually portrayed as comic relief in the series, but when a battle against alien threats become imminent, he will be at the captain's side. He is also a brilliant mathematician and has a major interest in building plastic model kits of ships (he was even seen building a scale model of the Arcadia in one episode). Yattaran is based on manga artist Kaoru Shintani (best known for Area 88) who, in his early career worked for Matsumoto building models for reference.
. . Chief Medical Officer. Like Yattaran, he serves as comic relief when he argues with the ship's cook, Miss Masu, over his raids of Masu's kitchen to get his beverage of choice, sake. He has a pet cat called Mi-kun (named Miaou in the French version), which he adopted after the then-kitten's mother, which was injured and apparently dying, brought him to Zero's office, and was later brought with Zero on board the Arcadia. Doctor Zero's cat, Mi-kun also appears in Space Battleship Yamato as Doctor Sado's cat. Mi-kun also makes on-off appearances in several other anime such as Queen Millennia and Galaxy Express 999. Mi-kun is based on Matsumoto's own pet cat, the latest of which is named Mi-kun III.
. . Chief Engineer.
. . The ship's cook. Masu Tsunajima is a cantankerous spinster who is intolerant of her kitchen being raided by Doctor Zero or his cat. She is also a comic relief character in the series, although her back story had her intended to marry her fiancé, Gozo Otowara, before circumstances prevented the wedding from taking place. Masu believed she had been stood up, until she learned the truth years later and reconciled with Gozo in a brief communication before Gozo was killed by the Mazone.
. . The daughter of Tochiro Oyama and Queen Emeraldas. Harlock takes her under his wing following Tochiro's death and Emeraldas' departure, but she is unable to remain with Harlock due to Tochiro's wish that she remain on Earth.
Professor Tsuyoshi Daiba. . Tadashi Daiba's father, an astronomer and scientist. He was one of the few scientists who saw the aliens' threat and attempted to warn Earth's government before he was killed by the Mazone. Tadashi, affected by his father's murder, joined the Arcadia crew to seek his revenge.
. . The leader of Earth's defense forces, he is Harlock's sworn enemy and will stop at nothing to try to eliminate him. Earlier in his life, Kiruta suffered the loss of his father, a government secret agent, during an ill-fated mission, followed by his mother and his younger sister Tami. Blaming the government for his family's death, he rose through the military ranks in order to effect change for the better and, like Professor Daiba before him, tried in vain to warn the Earth government of the Mazone invasion. Kiruda eventually puts his grudge with Harlock aside and sacrifices himself defending the Arcadia's main computer against Mazone troopers.
In Kia Asamiya's Space Battleship Nadesico manga, there is a comic one of the main characters reads called Space Vagrant, in which a character called Captain Government features (who pilots the Death Skull mech). The Captain and his ship (The Space Vagrant) resemble Harlock and the Arcadia closely, which is most likely intended as a homage by Asamiya.
In the episode "Space Booty" in the cartoon series Megas XLR, Captain Harlock was parodied as a villain named Captain Warlock who bore a great resemblance to Harlock himself. The legendary establishing shot of Harlock's ship, the Arcadia, is directly ripped in every detail in the Megas episode. Although the Harlock rip-off and the parody of the Arcadia are named differently, and the Harlock parody is considerably different in personality to the real Harlock.
In a storyline in Marvel Comics Star Wars series, the character Lando Calrissian adopted the alias of "Captain Drebble" for a mission, with his disguised appearance strongly resembling that of Harlock, prompting many surprised letters from anime-loving readers.
In the anime Lost Universe, Kain Blueriver makes several references to Captain Harlock.
In the parody anime Excel Saga, some members of the Puuchuu race parody Harlock and Yuuki in the later episodes.
In the anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the opening sequence of the first episode pays homage to the intro sequence of Arcadia of My Youth.
The 1978 series was dubbed again in 1985, this time by Harmony Gold USA (of Robotech fame) and known as Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years. Using the same style as Robotech to meet TV syndication's 65+ episode requirement, the Harlock series was connected with another Matsumoto series, Queen Millennia, to tell an intertwining story (Harmony Gold had originally planned to combine the original series with the 1982 Harlock series, Endless Orbit SSX, but they had to change their plans upon learning of the cost of obtaining the American rights to the second show ). Unlike Robotech, however, episodes were made by inter-cutting whole scenes from each of the component series in each episode, with the Queen Millennia story not actually reaching its original conclusion. The story as it unfolded was very confused and difficult to follow, and plot points would often change from one episode to the next with no apparent explanation. Despite the title, the two titular characters never appear onscreen together. This version never saw wide release in North America.
In 1979, a subtitled version of the original series appeared on Japanese language UHF broadcast channels in Hawaii, New York City and San Francisco. This version was shown once.International releases
Eternity Comics, an imprint of Malibu Comics, produced an American comic book series based on Captain Harlock. It was written by Robert W. Gibson and illustrated by Ben Dunn and Tim Eldred. The storyline allegedly started two years after the events in Arcadia of My Youth but ignores the events in Endless Road SSX while still borrowing elements from them. The comics discontinued in 1992 after it was discovered that Malibu did not have the rights to use Captain Harlock. Reportedly, the alleged representative for the rights to Harlock with whom Malibu exchanged money turned out to be fraudulent and was in no way connected to the rights holders.