I simply can’t do a bit on GALAXY EXPRESS 999 without making it a Matsumoto double-feature. I already feel pretty frustrated about forgetting to mention CAPTAIN HARLOCK during the Vice Pit Sam and I did about our anime “secret origins.” Back in my earliest TV viewing days, I was watching just as many re-runs of this as my beloved DORAEMON. The sensory memory’s so pointed, in fact, that I’m getting the unmistakable taste of after-school chicken fingers in my mouth while re-visiting this on Hulu.
To bring up another missed opportunity on a past Vice Pit - - when we were discussing COWBOY BEBOP, OUTLAW STAR, Han Solo and all their space pirate progenitors, it would’ve been worthwhile to comment on how few of the lasting space pirate characters in fiction have ever fulfilled their sobriquet as literally as the good captain, here. Indeed, I’m watching this pilot and wondering why there isn’t an anchor on Harlock’s space ship to tether it to asteroids - - because that certainly wouldn’t be any more absurd than all the other anachronistic flourishes on the thing.
Actually, after revisiting LUPIN III, COBRA, GOLGO 13 and other manly anime shows of this era puts into focus a very distinct dichotomy that many of them had. So often, you have these hyper-masculine, supreme badasses who maintained their overwrought honor codes in the face of the most colorfully-ridiculous situations. Here, it’s Harlock honoring a vow he made by intentionally flying into place where authority figures are immediately going to pounce on him for breaking the terms of his exile - - and it’s all while he’s riding on a pirate ship with sails, masts and everything that's totally irrelevant to space travel.
It’s not about the suspension of disbelief here, all right? It’s about the tone. The show isn’t any more ridiculous than DORAEMON, but it now seems far stranger for how it handles that ridiculousness so dourly. I definitely didn’t find any of this to be odd when I was a kid…
Watch this episode, "The Jolly Roger That Flutters Through Space” here and decide for yourself.