The Dance of Friendship: Captain Harlock and Tochiro Oyama

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Captain Harlock and Tochiro Oyama – united in life, united in death

 ”Harlock…we’re of one body and one soul…we’re together when we fight, and together when we die, right?…”

– Tochiro to Harlock – Endless Orbit SSX episode 12

“Friendship … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gave value to survival.”

– C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves

Tochiro Oyama is Captain Harlock’s best friend. Actually the term ‘best friend’ does their relationship a disservice, because the world ‘friend’ has lost much of its former power in the modern world where ‘friends’ are pretty much the 1000+ people you’re in contact with on Facebook. So who then is Tochiro?

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Tochiro is Harlock’s other self, his soul-mate, his battle-companion, his second-half, his bosom-brother. Tochiro and Harlock are perhaps, to me, the second finest example of male-comradeship at its highest (the top finest being LOTR’s Frodo and Sam). Their passionate platonic love for each other and the sacrifices they make together raise the bar on what it truly means to be someone’s ‘best friend’ and puts our modern concept of the nature of friendship to shame. Harlock would not be truly Harlock without Tochiro.

Ultimately, the friendship of Harlock and Tochiro are what the tale(s) of Captain Harlock are really about. Forget about the aliens, the spaceship battles, the often crazier-then-hell adventures and plotlines: these are stories about friendship, and the loss of said friendship. Whether Tochiro is alive or dead – depending on which series you’re watching – Harlock is forever haunted and shadowed by him: by past memories of him, by his ghostly presence on the Arcadia, or in the flesh, as he and Harlock struggle together to fulfill their dreams and attempt to find a lasting abiding place. Without Tochiro, Harlock is only half of who he is, and his goals and struggles become much harder, and living much less appealing. Harlock and Tochiro can never be portrayed as separate from each other – they are two halves of the same person presented in two very different modes of expression and personality. If one is removed from the picture, the effect upon the other catastrophic on a mental/emotional level. When they are presented together, Harlock is far more happier, goal-orientated, positive and driven. Tochiro is his truest friend, and as long as Harlock has him by his side, nothing in the universe can break them except death.

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Tochiro is so wonderful a character in and of himself because he is the exact OPPOSITE of Harlock. Captain Harlock is a tall, handsome Caucasian of Germanic origin – Tochiro is a short, pudgy, ugly Japanese guy whose head barely reaches above Harlock’s hip. Harlock is distant and aloof – Tochiro is upbeat and wears his feelings on his sleeve. Harlock is cautious and melancholic – Tochiro is positive and impulsive. Harlock is indifferent to women – Tochiro can’t get enough of them and pursues/praises them with gusto. Harlock is a deadly fighter and feared by almost everybody – Tochiro can’t walk into a bar without being humiliated and having the crap beaten out of him (not that he allows this to dampen his day in any way). Captain Harlock has yet to officially die in any of his movies or anime series – Tochiro has four different death-scenes. Harlock is calm and calculating – Tochiro is a spaz and throws caution to the breeze. The only way Tochiro excels over Harlock is in the realm of engineering and ship-construction, two traits that serve to keep Harlock and his friends alive in a deadly and hostile universe whose laws and social systems they can’t fully obey or integrate into.

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The dance of these two friends is a continual and lasting delight for me to watch. It is free of envy (on Tochiro’s part, since there is much one can envy about Harlock) and rivalry. Although I have just listed all the ways in which they are different, their hearts are united as one with the same loves and hates: they both desire to be free from corruption and bondage to unworthy governments; they seek to live life on their own terms and not be tied down by unjust rules and petty allegiances or even by material wealth. Though neither of them have any desire to wield power or dominate the lives of others, their mere existence is a thorn in the side of rulers and dictators who do wield power and dominate the lives of others. Tochiro and Harlock could happily spend their entire lives carousing the galaxy together as ‘free space-travelers trying to realize their dreams’ (with some petty thieving on the side) but cruel Fate will not permit them to be left in peace; ineffably they are drawn into conflicts and wars (and always doomed to fight for the loosing side) and are made outlaws and fugitives whose service to humanity is never truly appreciated or fully grasped.

Not that any of this bothers Tochiro very much: for him, as long as Harlock, Emeraldas and alcohol continue to exist, life – no matter how hard it gets – will be well worth living.

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Except that poor Tochiro is always dying. It is inevitable. Harlock never gets sick, Tochiro is always getting sick, with a sickness that leads to death, to the death of his small, yet stubborn body. He often tries to hide/downplay his illness, forcing himself to continue his tasks, whether they be fixing giant computers or building near-invincible battleships. Tochiro’s death(s) never fail to have a profound effect on Harlock. He is not the same person when his friend is gone. In the original Space Pirate TV series, Tochiro and Harlock have been friends since kindergarten and in the two flash-back episodes Harlock is happy, upbeat, more expressive of his emotions and genuinely enjoying his life with his best friend as a free space explorer and petty thief; after Tochiro’s death, he become more stoic and grim, with little to do apart from defending the Earth from the alien Mazone while secretly desiring only to find his ‘final resting place.’

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In the classic Arcadia of My Youth film, Tochiro and Harlock first meet at a bar on a ravaged Earth under alien occupation. They soon learn that their ancestors have met and helped each other in the past, during WWI, and a tearful Tochiro reveals to Harlock that he has secretly built a great space battleship, the Arcadia, underground, and that he wants Harlock to be her Captain. In the tragic events that follow, Harlock’s and Tochiro’s courage, hope and skills are tested greatly, and they become united forever by a bond that not even death can break. But a very subtle break occurs within Harlock when Tochiro dies – one could argue that Tochiro is the only person (apart from his wife Maaya) that Harlock truly loves. Tochiro is the only person who really understands Harlock, the only person Harlock can be himself around, the only person who shares Harlock’s dreams. One would think that a character like Tochiro would drive Harlock up the wall because they have such different personalities, but Harlock suffers his friend’s eccentrics, emotion-explosions and social blundering with all the patience of a saint.  Not that they always agree…sometimes Harlock, as Captain, has to ‘pull rank’ on Tochiro in order to keep him safe or to prevent him from doing something rash, which Tochiro resents. At one point they even have a fist fight (guess who wins). But these events are few and fleeting. Forgiveness comes easy, and Tochiro’s sunny outlook on life keeps Harlock’s rather pessimistic one in check. Regardless of how different they are, they both see the same truth. They defend each other and save each other and sail through the Sea of Stars as one in the Arcadia…

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For although Tochiro is doomed to die in almost every movie and series he’s in, Fate decrees that Harlock should not be left completely friendless or alone in a world forever opposed to him. Tochiro’s soul/conciseness/ghost becomes united with the Arcadia’s main central computer, and he becomes one with his greatest creation so he can be with his friend Harlock for as long as he lives. Sometimes he speaks to Harlock in the groans and creaks of the ship itself, sometimes with his own voice, but he is always there, ready to assist Harlock when the need is especially dire.

Owing to the fact that Harlock’s life of exile and his status as a space-pirate is partially his own choosing, one can surmise that Harlock never intends to live a ‘normal’ life or find somewhere to settle down with a house and a wife and kids.  Too much has happened, too much has been seen and done. The abiding spirit of his friend and the ship he has built are all Harlock really has, and therein lies the beauty and the tragedy of his life – a life that only Tochiro could truly share, and who remains, in the end, the only person that does.

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