Captain Harlock – The Eternal Exile

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You can never go home, Harlock…

 I could not bide in the feasting halls, where the great fires light the rooms – for the winds are walking the night for me and I must follow where the gaunt lands be, seeking, beyond some nameless sea, the doom beyond the dooms.

The Outgoing of Sigurd the Jerusalem-Farer (by Robert E. Howard)

Planet Earth, homeland, fatherland, motherland, country, state, province, city, hometown, castle, neighborhood, street, flat, house, bedroom…home… Every human on this planet has a home…except a certain kind of person: the self-aware wandering exile.

Almost every person on Earth has a place in this word – some plot of ground, some house, some mansion, some room in a apartment complex, some farm, some ranch, some commune, some monastery, some trailer, some street corner, some bridge, some park bench, some tent, some little place where we can go to at the end of the day that is, whether in a big way or a small way, theirs…their own little place were we can rest and be at peace – for a time, at least. I have a place. And no doubt ninety-percent of the readers of this post (if there are any) are reading it from the comfort of their own allotted places – their bedrooms most likely, which are their most intimate and personal expression of their homes.

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We take are homes, our cities, our countries, for granted. Whenever we leave, say, on vacation, it is a novel and exciting experience because we are leaving our home, our familiar surroundings and all that they imply – and going to a place that is not our home – to be in other cities, other states, other countries among other people that are different from us. We may be gone a day, a week, a month, or even a year – but we know, no matter how much fun we’re having – or not having, not everyone likes to travel – we know deep down that we are not at home…which is part of the whole experience: to leave home, for a time, and then return to it. We know, at the end of the day, that our home, our town, our neighborhood, our house, our bedroom, will be there for us when we come back. Even if it is a mundane place compared to were we have just been, we are grateful to be back, to be again in familiar surroundings on our own turf, to sleep once again in our very own beds, to slip once more into the comfort of our old routines and ways. Only when we are away from home do we truly appreciate and miss it – and only by having homes do we find ourselves yearning for strange and unfamiliar places (I want to visit Europe, for example – though I doubt I’ll ever have enough money to do so) that are not our homes.

To be homeless is considered a dreadful or tragic thing – especially in the West, and the quicker one gets out of a state of homelessness and finds a stable home within his community the better off society views him. For the Germanic/Norse/Anglo-Saxon peoples of Old Europe, banishment and/or exile was the most feared of all punishments or states. To be banished from one’s clan or nation was worse then death – it was a living death – without his lord, or his people or his homeland, a person ceased to exist, in a way. The long and heartrending Old English poem, fittingly titled ‘The Wanderer’, tells of a lone warrior, the sole survivor of a now-dead (via war and destruction) clan who journeys across the freezing sea in a little boat in search of a new lord and a new home. Although the man is in a state of exile through no fault of his own, the mental, spiritual and physical agonies he undergoes are no less painful and his sorrow and grief no less potent. Separation from one’s people and homeland, either as punishment or by necessity, is rarely considered a good thing.

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However, there some people who do not really have homes, or homelands, or even a people. Yes, they have a certain race of people to which they are bound to by blood and a birth-country which they are a citizen of (these two facts are inescapable, if you are born on planet Earth) and even a house they might live in or own – but even so, they do not really have a home. In their hearts and minds, they are exiles – even if they aren’t actually living in a state of exile (meaning they haven’t been officially banished or cast out of their families or countries).  Some of them are mentally ill or suffer from personality disorders that keep them from fully engaging with their families, cultures and societies, even if they genuinely want to. Some, however, being natural-born introverts and loners, have looked about them and found both current culture and society wanting, and have deliberately distanced themselves from it – if not physically, then at least mentally, emotionally and/or spiritually. They may dwell within the world, but they are not of it – they are strangers in a strange land where everyone else it at home, outcasts in an alien realm that has little to offer them in terms of happiness, fulfillment or meaning. Their hearts burn silently for their own secret Arcadia, that privet Utopia of the soul that only they can enter and dwell – a place they can truly call home, constructed of all their hopes and dreams that no one else seems to share. Such is the doom of the introvert, the loner, the exile, the outcast, the one who walks the narrow road alone. Such is my doom…and such is Harlock’s. Maybe it is yours as well. We know who we are.

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Such is the containing state of Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Harlock is an exile of the most heartrending kind: his is completely alone. Yes, this seems like a false statement at first – after all, doesn’t he have a crew with him most of the time, as well as numerous friends scattered throughout the colonized universe? Yes, he does, and I do not mean to downplay their roles in his life or their struggles, but when one looks at the big picture, Harlock is genuinely alone in that there is no other person (except his best friend Tochiro – who keeps dying on him) whom he can truly share his dreams and hopes with (or, rather, there is no person he wants to share his true dreams and hopes with). Harlock’s exile is complex in that it is both a punishment and a freely chosen state – one that he seeks as well as one that he wishes (at times) to leave. In both the original Space Pirate TV series and the Arcadia of My Youth film, Harlock is ‘officially’ banished from Earth by both governing Prime Ministers (one of which is a lazy, incompetent boor and the other a bought-and-owned puppet-ruler) under pain of death. However, it is just as easily arguable that Harlock would have turned his back on the collective patheticness of humanity and self-banished himself to avoid becoming like them or at least to avoid living under their rule. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him to leave. It is quite obvious that he can no longer remain there. By the time one Prime Minister gets around to publicly announcing his intentions, Harlock is already far from the planet, blasting off into the depths space without waiting to learn that he no longer welcomed or wanted. The grim foreknowledge of his fate seals him emotionally against the doom of exile and he stoically excepts the hand that is dealt to him, as unjust and unfair as it might be. ”Oh, you fools…dance to you’re heart’s content on that small world of yours [Earth]. Our world is the whole of space!” he defiantly cries at the closing of Arcadia of My Youth. Like the romantic Western gunslinger of yore who rides off into the sunset after his task is done, Captain Harlock flies off into the Sea of Stars after he has done all that he can do for his fellow ungrateful humans living on a tarnished, decaying Earth that is no longer fit to be a home to a true man like himself.

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Yet as disillusioned as he is, Harlock can’t fully turn his back on humanity or completely abandon the Earth. In Harlock’s world, individual countries and cultures have all become united and fused as one – you are either a human living on planet Earth or a human living on some colonized world somewhere in space. But Earth still remains a special place, a place even Harlock hopes will one day become beautiful again, with men living as true, valiant men – not as slaves to alien races or cowards shackled by hedonistic lifestyles. In the end, Harlock defends and fights for the Earth not so he can be acclaimed as a hero, be freed of his outlaw status and settle down to a nice domestic life – he fights so his few friends can build a future and have a genuine life on the beautiful blue-green planet of their birth. Whether they want to or not, Harlock bids his comrades – Tadashi, Kei, Mayu, Rebi, Masu, Dr. Ben, Dr Zero, Tetsuro and others to leave his ship and help set things right again after much war and destruction has damaged the word. Planet Earth has been saved, but not for the Captain. Deep down, Harlock knows that his way of life, his mode of existence is abnormal and that it cannot be shared by his other friends for too long. So he leaves them – for the Sea of Stars is his Sea, and somewhere out there he will find one day find his ‘final resting place.’

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For it is Harlock’s own personality and way of life that sets him apart from the bulk of humanity, predestining him to a life of loneliness and isolation. Coming from a long and unbroken line of Germanic pirate-knights who have been forever yearning for the freedom of the skies and, later, for the oceans of space, it is not really surprising how the life(s) of Captain Harlock turned out. In Arcadia of My Youth, 1,000 years ago, Harlock’s ancient ancestor, Phantom F. Harlock II, after stowing the ancestor of his best friend, Tochiro Oyama on his Messerschmitt fighter plane during WWI and flying to the safety of neutral Switzerland, express this beautiful yearning for Arcadia, for his home [which then could still be found on Earth], all those ages ago with graceful and poetic words:

Phantom F. Harlock to Tochiro: ”Tochiro, do you want to go back to Japan?”

Tochiro: ”Naturally! What about you, Harlock?

Harlock: ”Yes, the place I need to return to is Arcadia: Heiligenstadt, my home, whose forests and lakes are likened to that ancient Greek paradise – the place where my youth will forever run through the green fields. The homeland of the Germanic pirate-knight Harlock Clan. At the end of the journey, all my kinsmen think of their homeland. We hear the voice of Arcadia’s pirate-knight spirit calling.”

This is the curse and torment of Space Pirate Captain Harlock: what was true for his ancestors is just as true for him – he is still looking for Arcadia, desiring Arcadia, remembering Arcadia, dreaming of Arcadia. But the Arcadia of his youth no longer exists; Earth is not the same as it once was – so Harlock roams the Sea of Stars searching for it, and he has yet to find it. Instead, all he finds is evil, conflict, war, loss, tragedy and death. And what is worst of all, Harlock is surrounded, hated, feared and hunted by people who don’t give a damn about beauty, or peace, or valor, or sacrifice. Harlock’s presence is an agony to many because he is, in a manner of speaking, the last true man – an agonizing reminder of what mankind once was, and what it no longer is.

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The way Harlock looks, dresses, acts, moves, thinks, feels and lives is entirely at odds with most the human race during his time. Apart from a few close friends, admirers and crew-mates, everyone else is either scared witless of him or wants to kill him. The rulers of Earth blame him for all their mistakes and problems. Huge bounties are placed on his head – as well as Tochiro’s, when he is alive –  and whole fleets of battleships are dispatched by his enemies to scour the galaxy for him, never giving him a chance to properly rest or find a new home. Trouble follows him almost wherever he goes, and many good friends wind up dying in his arms as a direct or side result of choosing to aid and/or associate with him. To be a comrade of Harlock’s and a member of his crew is a choice not to be taken lightly. Yet Harlock never forces anyone to join him or swear alliance to him. It is the Arcadia’s Jolly-Roger ‘flag of freedom’ and whatever is inside their hearts that they must fight for, and if they ever want to leave, Harlock will not stop them. Indeed, Harlock has given entire crews the boot after the main mission has been accomplished and the main baddie defeated; knowing that they are better off on Earth now that the planet is once more a liberated place they can thrive in and trusting them set to it in order.

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But Harlock is never to join them. The doom of being an outcast hangs over him even after the struggles are over, and this time it is Harlock himself who is responsible for the isolation and exile that defines him as a person. He really has no home apart from the Arcadia. And while the ship is his haven and place of refuge, it is also – in a way – his prison: the near-indestructible shell that barricades him off from the rest of humanity. Without the Arcadia he wouldn’t fully be Captain Harlock. And that is how Harlock ultimately desires it. He embraces the solitude, the ‘life wandering space, looking for a place to die.’ He is an eternal exile – stoically traversing the galaxy with the abiding spirit of Tochiro forever by his side, looking, forever looking, for the true Arcadia, the one and only place where he can finally be at peace.

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