Buccaneers In Space:  Captain Harlock

Captain Harlock

When it comes to space pirates, one name ought to stand above the rest — Captain Harlock.

Since 1977, this rebellious space captain has appeared in many science-fiction manga and anime TV shows. And he has inspired many tributes and parodies. 

Even anime space pirates who don’t directly reference Harlock owe him a debt of gratitude.

Space pirates

Since the beginning of the Space Age, many writers have created many different visions of the future of space travel and space colonization.  Star Trek has a space navy and space explorers.  Star Wars has space rebels fighting a space empire. Cowboy Bebop had space bounty hunters.

And when you have space travel, why not space pirates?

Star Trek had the Orion Space Pirates.  Doctor Who had a space pirate captain, complete with a robotic parrot (some of those “Classic Who” stories were weird). Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of the Serenity in Firefly would also count as pirates.

The year 1977 must have been special because two famous space pirates made their first appearances — not just Captain Harlock, but also Star Wars’ Han Solo, the lovable, roguish outlaw who was “in it for the money.”  Still, Han Solo was more of a space smuggler than a pirate.

Since 1977, anime space pirates have included Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo! (1992); the main characters of Outlaw Star (1996); the Pirate King Atomsk from FLCL (2000); and the very Harlock-influenced Bodacious Space Pirates (2012).

The American animated comedy Futurama also had space pirates.  In Steven Universe, Lars wore a Captain Harlock-inspired outfit when he became a space captain.

The Original Harlock

Captain Harlock first appeared in a Leiji Matsumoto manga, Space Pirate Captain Harlock.  The manga takes place a thousand years into the future.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock

By 2977, human beings have spread out into space. Unfortunately, this expansion has also brought forth new enemies. The newest threat to Earth and mankind is a plant-based race called the Mazons.

At the start of the 1977 TV series, Harlock and his crew set out to find out more about this alien race.  There are plenty of space battles, as Harlock fights the aliens.

There is also a lot of exploration of emotional themes.  Harlock is a rebellious and stoic outcast. He fights for what he feels is right in his heart.  

Much of the story is told from the point of view of Tadashi, a teenage new arrival to the Arcadia, Harlock’s ship. Tadashi has already seen a lot of the Earth’s struggle against the Mazons. He wants to avenge the death of his father.

The Mazons (alternate spelling Mazones) are the enemy, but Earth’s government is also seen as weak and apathetic.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock was made into an anime series in 1978.

The Arcadia crew includes:  

  • Tadashi Daiba, the teenage newcomer. 
  • Kei Yuki, the chief engineer, and science officer. She has a crush on Harlock.
  • Miime, an alien. She has psionic and psychic powers.
  • Yattaran.  The first mate, and a source of comic relief.
  • Doctor Zero, the chief medical officer. 

Other important characters include Emeraldas, a.k.a. Queen Emeraldas.  Her spaceship is also called Queen Emeraldas.  She wanders space in search of a purpose.

Emeraldas is friends with Captain Harlock. 

The anime follows the same story as the manga. Earth is under attack. Earth’s government is corrupt and decadent. Harlock must save the day.

Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia is a 1978 film that reuses footage from the series.

In 1981, ZIV International created an English-language translation of only part of the Captain Harlock anime. The ZIV International version is very short, with two serious episodes and two more comedic ones.

Arcadia and Macek 

Captain Harlock’s story got a remake in the movie Arcadia of My Youth.  The 1982 film goes back to the beginning of Harlock’s life.

Before he became a pirate captain, Harlock was a Solar Federation officer as a young man. Earth had been conquered by aliens from the Illumidus Empire.  Harlock joins a resistance group that fights the aliens. The Arcadia is built.

We also learn about a couple of Harlock’s ancestors. There is the 20th-century explorer, Captain Phantom F. Harlock. Phantom F. Harlock II is a German fighter pilot in World War II.  Harlock’s ancestor meets up with an ancestor of Tochiro Oyama, the man who built the Arcadia. 

Arcadia of My Youth was followed by a TV anime sequel, Arcadia of my Youth – Endless Orbit SSX.  The 1982 series was cut short after 22 episodes.

In 1985, Harmony Gold USA and Carl Macek created Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years.  This series combined parts of the Space Pirate Captain Harlock anime with a different series, Queen Millennia.

Queen Millennia was a 1980 manga series by Leiji Matsumoto. It was made into an anime series in 1981.  

The series involves the discovery of a 10th planet. The planet will come close enough to Earth to destroy it.  The 10th planet is inhabited, and the queen of the planet wants to enslave humans.

A fight to save the Earth becomes a fight to save both worlds.

Captain Harlock does not appear in the series, which takes place centuries earlier.

Galaxy Express 999

Galaxy Express 999Captain Harlock appears in Galaxy Express 999.  Leiji Matsumoto created the manga in 1977, the same year as Space Pirate Captain Harlock.  

Galaxy Express 999 got an anime adaptation in 1978.

Harlock shows up in a three-episode story, The Pirate of Time Castle.  In the episode, a mysterious caped man boards the titular train and saves the main character, Tetsuro.  Shortly afterward, Tetsuro learns about Time Castle and goes there.

Captain Harlock supposedly rules Time Castle.  However, the ruler of Time Castle is not the real Harlock.  The fake Harlock is destroyed, along with the castle.  

The mystery man is revealed to be the real Harlock. He leaves in the Arcadia.

Another episode featured Emeraldas. She attacks the train.  Just like with Captain Harlock, this Emeraldas is not the real deal — but the real Emeraldas is alive.

Galaxy Express 999 is considered to be part of a shared galaxy of stories sometimes called the Leijiverse.  The connection between the two series, beyond the appearance of Harlock and Emeraldas, is not clear.

More Harlock Space Opera

An Original Video Animation (OVA) called Harlock Saga was produced in 1999. It is also called Harlock Saga: Der Ring des Nibelungen.

As the name implies, it is loosely based on Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the first part of Der Ring des Nibelungen.

In this OVA, a man has stolen the Rheingold from the center of the galaxy.

There are three manga series connected to the OVA — Harlock Saga: Valkyrie; Harlock Saga: Siegfried; and Harlock Saga: Gotterdammerung.  There are all sorts of Wagner/ Nordic mythology in the story.

Cosmo Warrior Zero (2001) tells the story of Captain Zero. Zero has been told to capture Captain Harlock.

In 2002, Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey came out.  The OVA features an archaeological mission and an ancient alien horror.  Of course, the aliens must be stopped. Endless Odyssey was originally supposed to be a TV anime series.

Captain Harlock is called Captain “Herlock” in the English-language version of Endless Odyssey.


Space Pirate Captain Harlock was remade as a 3D CGI animated film in 2013. The movie is also known as Harlock: Space Pirate.

Here the good guys and bad guys are all humans. There are a few exceptions — most notably the dying aliens who provide Harlock with some advanced technology.

As the story goes, some people left Earth and colonized the galaxy.  Other humans stayed home. 

When resources begin to dwindle, the space-colonizing humans decide to return home.  Unfortunately, the people of Earth decide that Earth is unable to handle all of these space immigrants.

This leads to a war between the space humans and the Earth.  Harlock leads a fleet defending the Earth.

A peace treaty is signed, but Harlock isn’t happy with it.  He turns against both the immigrants and the Earth defense fleet.  Harlock is now at large.

Harlock has a plan to turn back time and restart everything. But putting that plan together isn’t easy.

There are obvious immigration parallels, and the environment is also an issue.

In 2014, a new manga Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage started.  The manga is a reboot of the original manga. It is very similar to the original, with many of the same characters returning.

The rich control the Earth, but mankind has a new home, called Big Earth.  Just like in the original, the Mazon threaten Earth.  Earth’s government ignores the warnings.

Captain Harlock was an officer of the Gaia Fleet, but now he’s an outlaw.  Once again, Harlock has to save the Earth.

A Different Harlock

Franklin Harlock Jr. is a gunslinger in the 1972 manga and 2002 anime Gun FrontierGun Frontier is an Old West prequel to the Captain Harlock story.  

This Harlock is a former sea captain and pirate. He’s not the main character of the series. Tochiro Oyama is the lead.

Tochiro and Harlock are searching for the survivors of a Japanese immigrant town that was destroyed. 

Almost Had Him

At one point in the creation of the epic space drama Space Battleship Yamato, the creators planned for a version of Captain Harlock to make an appearance.  

They made designs and artwork of what the character would look like.  The Harlock character would turn out to be a presumed-dead member of the cast. Instead of dying, he would go into hiding, change his identity and only show up when needed.

Unfortunately, that idea ended up not happening.

At first, it seems surprising that Harlock would not show up.  After all, Yamato was directed by Leiji Matsumoto, so the link should be obvious.  Also, a space pirate would have fit quite well into the space opera.  Even if this version of Harlock could not possibly be the same Harlock, it seems like a natural fit.

It seems that there were legal issues which prevented the character from appearing.

The 1978 version of Captain Harlock is available at Crunchyroll. 

Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth and   Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth – Endless Orbit SSX is also on Crunchyroll.

They also have Galaxy Express 999.  The Harlock story begins in episode 79 of season 2.

The side story Cosmo Warrior Zero is also available there.

Leiji Matsumoto / Toei Animation
Join Our Discussions on Discord