Space Battleship Arcadia: Captain Harlock’s Only True Home

BTW, this post is sort of a continuation of my ‘Harlock – The Eternal Exile’ post

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80’s-onward battleship Arcadia design

Arcadia [Arh-keydee-uh]: a noun – definitions:

1. a mountainous region of ancient Greece, traditionally known for the contented pastoral innocence of its people.

2. any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity.

3. a city in South-West California, East of Los Angeles.

4. the name of Space Pirate Captain Harlock’s near-indestructible space battleship

vlcsnap-2014-09-02-11h10m08s158”These are the glasses of my friend, who realized a dream that was greater then this universe…My friend who built the Arcadia…” – Captain Harlock, Space Pirate Captain Harlock TV series ep. 30
vlcsnap-2014-08-16-17h44m27s197”The Arcadia…made by Tochiro’s heart, controlled by Harlock’s heart: a ship of the heart. A ship of friendship that no computer can make.” – narrator, AOMY Endless Orbit SSX series ep. 12

 *   *   *

It does not matter if you’re the only competent EGF commander on Vichy Earth who takes his job seriously enough to stand up to space-pirates; it does not matter if you are the ruling Queen of an entire alien race that wants to conquer and repopulate the Earth via a homeworld-ditching space-immigration fleet so large that it looks like a star-cluster at a distance; it doesn’t matter if you are an Illumidas commander residing comfortably on an already alien-controlled Earth while hundreds of your race cruse the galaxy in hundreds of blimpish-looking warships controlling, dominating and spying on every human-inhabited planet/moon/spaceport/ in the universe; it does not matter if you are an embittered battleship designer with an all-consuming grudge against a certain Captain whose displeasure at your ship design got you fired and now you live only to create a battleship powerful enough to send him to Hell; it does not matter if you are an immortal mechanized ‘human’ dwelling on the fortified mechanized home-planet(s) in Great Andromeda with more battle-drones and machine-gun laser-blasters then toilets; it does not matter if you are a very evil, supernatural entity that has existed since the dawn of time; it does not matter if you are a grumpy god; it does not matter if you are the pissed-off, crippled admiral of a hundred armadas of beautifully CG I-animated space battleships of the all-powerful Gaia Coalition – none of that means absolutely nothing if the target of your wrath and firepower is the Ship of the Heart: Captain Harlock’s Arcadia. Your ass is grass.

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Arcadia…what is Arcadia? The three definitions listed above (number 4 being my own addition) are all correct definitions of the word [usually pronounced ‘Arh-ooh-ka-de-ago’ by the Japanese], but it is the second definition the needs to be taken into account. ‘Arcadia’ is a word for a place of simplicity and peace…a place without war or conflict. Harlock’s ship is named Arcadia, which is very telling, because it reflects Captain Harlock’s deep-set desire to find a place in the world where he can finally be at rest; a place where he will no longer be regarded as an outcast; a place of peace. Or is death the only way this can be achieved? Must Harlock die in order to find peace? Space battleship Arcadia is the only thing in the universe that Harlock can claim as his own – a place he can call home, a place where, at least for a while, he has some measure of peace (or at least solitude), which he needs in order to function in a universe that, for all intents and purposes, is forever out to get him.

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In the ultimate twist of irony, the Arcadia itself is constantly in situations of peril and warfare. For someone who desires peace – or a least solitude – Harlock is forever engaged in conflict, mired in perilous situations, waging war, dueling, hiding/evading/escaping from his enemies and/or protecting/rescuing his friends. The guy is never allowed a break. Everything from vengeful humans, spies, assassins, bounty-hunters, conquering aliens, heartless cyborgs, holograms, asteroids, anti-gravity planets, the Flame Stream Prominence, drones, tanks, bombs, UFOs, killer-AI robots, to poisonous flowers, pissed-off semi-sentient plant-life, space-storms, gods, demonic entities, the Jovian Accelerator, and battleships of every size, shape and number are all thrown at him either by his creator, Leiji Matsumoto, or by the animation director(s). Peace? Tranquility? Solitude? Nope. Harlock is lucky enough to catch a few naps, down some bubble-gum pink booze in the privacy of his cabin, watch a pretty sunrise, play his ocarina, visit his goddaughter, snag some dinner, have a picnic, or go swimming briefly with his best friend before some form of shit hits the fan again. Which is always happening. No wonder the poor man has a subtle death-wish. Life aboard the Arcadia is rarely Arcadia-ish…

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Except that at the same time it is. The ironies continue. Even though being a crewmember of the Arcadia and a friend of Harlock’s reduces one’s life-expectancy to time-frames that can be ticked off by a 24-hour clock (or a 25-minute TV episode), everyone on the Arcadia is quite happy or relieved to be on her in spite of everything that keeps happening. Like Harlock, they are either wanted fugitives or social outcasts who have no other place to go. The Arcadia is their home too, and it is a rare day when when they start to complain about anything in large numbers. There is never a mutiny. They are all quite devoted to Harlock (okay, probably because he lets the bulk of them brawl, play games, and pass out in booze-induced stupors in the Arcadia’s corridors – but that’s not the point) and to whatever cause or mission they are engaged in at any given time. If anything, the endless battles, escapes and adventures only serve to make Harlock and crew a stronger, more efficient force, and, if you are a youngster, help you mature and grow into a brave and trustworthy man, which is the best thing that can happen to you in Leijiverse.

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Growing up in Arcadia…it is a damn pity Harlock never became a real father

Depending on what kind of person you are, battleship Arcadia means one of these three things to you:

1. It is the ship that you have dedicated vast portions of your time, life and resources to in order to destroy it.

2. It is the ship that is your only home either because you have nowhere else to go or because there is nowhere else you want to go.

3. It is the ship that will soon bring about your dramatic, explosive demise.

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1978 battleship Arcadia design

Prior to his almost literal enthronement on the Arcadia, Captain Harlock’s first ship was the Deathshadow, an impressive (albeit rather weird-looking) battlecruser that was taken from him after the Illumidas victory over the Earth Defence Forces in the Arcadia of My Youth film (actually, it is not really taken from him after defeat in battle – Harlock simply crash-lands it on the Illumidas’s Earth-base in a final F-you gesture before being relieved of his command).

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space battleship Deathshadow (can you find a cooler name?)

The Deathshadow is subsequently used against him in the Endless Orbit SSX series, and eventually he is forced to destroy it with the Arcadia, during the process of which he has an intense, emotional nervous-breakdown that has not been witnessed before or since in his animated history. One could write a small book about the numbers and types of ships that the Arcadia has triumphed over – Tochiro’s big, fat, life’s-work-present to his best friend could very easily enable Harlock to become quite the villain if he ever chose the road of power and control, but Harlock has no such desires. All Harlock wants is to be left alone so he can find either a true home or a fitting place to die, but the universe (and just about everyone in it) has other ideas. No, Harlock, there will be no rest for you, no home for you, no end of conflict, of war, of loss, of rejection – if you were ‘born an outlaw’ as you claim in the Space Pirate TV series, then an outlaw you will be, forever – until someone finally kills you, or you find your final resting place – which has yet to officially happen (the sudden bullshit cliff-hanger ending of the Endless Odyssey mini-series notwithstanding). The Arcadia is all Harlock needs to keep himself distinct and separate from the rest of humanity, and it enables him to keep on living, fighting, searching and hoping (for what, exactly, we don’t always know) long after most other people have bitten the dust – which, alas, includes Tochiro.

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There are so many things I’ve left undone, so many things I wanted to do…

Depending on which Harlock series or movie you are watching, the Arcadia’s color, design and origins very – a lot. In the 1978 original Space Pirate TV series the Arcadia is a dark blue and its most significant (and awesome) feature is an epic sword-ram the slices alien battleships apart as Harlock plows it into and through them. It is constructed in secret on the desert-planet Heavy Meldar by Tochiro, Harlock and Emeraldas and their band of space-pirates in-hiding from the Earth Federation Government:

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In the Arcadia of My Youth film the Arcadia is built on Earth underground by Tochiro alone prior to his meeting Harlock, and from this movie onward it is longer, army-green, with more guns, no ram, and a gigantic skull-and-bones emblem on the masthead:

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It remains unchanged in the AOMY follow-up series Endless Orbit SSX:

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And it makes two bombastic guest-star appearances in the first and second Galaxy Express 999 movies:

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In the 2002 Endless Odyssey mini-series the 70’s sword-ram is incorporated into the green Arcadia:

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Then we have clunky CGI ships in more recent Matsumoto animes featuring a younger Captain Harlock in which his first ship Deathshadow looks exactly like the Arcadia, such as in Cosmo Warrior Zero and Space Symphony Maetel (at this point, I believe the animators are deliberately messing with us):

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And finally, in the new 2013 CGI Space Pirate Captain Harlock movie the Arcadia and the Deathshadow are welded into one ship of silver-gray, and they are mass-produced (in a flotilla of four) by the Gaia Defence Force – without Tochiro’s involvement (WTH!) – to help protect the Earth during the Homecoming War:

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In one of my favorite quirks of Harlockdom, the massive Arcadia is steered by hand using an old-fashioned 19th-century ship-wheel. I don’t quite know why I find this aspect so neat and appealing – but I think it makes for a unique relationship between Captain and ship. In most si-fy movies the Captain just sits there and gives orders. Yes, Harlock does as well, but with there is more to it – it is more hands-on and personal, plus it’s just freaking awesome:

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And the cabin…Harlock’s personal cabin in the Arcadia’s sterncastle! Oh, how I want to be in that cabin – not so I can bother Harlock, but because I, like him, require a nice, quiet space where I can be alone and decompress. Introverts and loners are cursed with such needs, otherwise we might have nervous  breakdowns and kill some happy, chatty, smiley person at a party we don’t even want to be at. Socializing is a seriously overrated pastime. Harlock agrees. The Arcadia’s captain’s cabin is utilized the most in the original Space Pirate TV series, and Harlock spends vast amounts of his free time in it brooding, drinking, napping and playing his ocarina while beautiful stars and scenic space landscapes go by the grand old-style viewing windows. It is dimly lit, sparsely yet elegantly furnished, and no one suddenly dropped into it would suspect they were actually on a spaceship; it even creaks and groans as if the Arcadia were sailing at sea. For a person like Harlock, such a place is necessary to keep up one’s mental health, relax and recharge, so I’m sure Tochiro took great pains to make it a fitting place for his friend to rest.

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Yes, if I could board the Arcadia, I would, never-mind the danger. The Arcadia makes sport of danger. The ship itself seems to take insidious delight in violating all the laws of space-physics, capable of performing U-turns on the dot, and busting out of concrete-containment caverns and ravines while buried in boulders. Tochiro packs it full of quirky gadgets from snow-machines to wave-runners. It has its own fighter-craft – Space Wolves and Cosmo Wings –

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Harlock in a Space Wolf fighter

which may or may not make an appearance depending which series or movie you are viewing. It can also travel underwater like a sub and sail on the surface like a boat. It is heavily armored, immensely resilient, and never seems to run out of ammo. In order to make sure that its always stays in good working order, Tochiro builds supply-bases inside of huge asteroids where it can be repaired and rearmed (and where he and Harlock can engage in some serious R & R), and, if need be, hide from the perusing enemy ships of whoever they have recently pissed-off.

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But in the end, what makes the Arcadia so awesome is that it is the home and haven of Captain Harlock; it is just as much a part of his identity as his scar, his cape or his gravity-saber; his character takes on new dimensions when he is at her helm. In Arcadia of My Youth, in between loosing the Deathshadow and acquiring the Arcadia, Harlock leads a rather pathetic, fugitive existence at the mercy of his alien-overlords, eating crappy food, engaging in bar fights and getting shot. He is never shown living in a domestic setting (Maya, his sweetheart/wife, is forced to live the same way), or having an occupation other then waging battle in space. We never see him doing normal modern manly things like driving a car to work, mowing his lawn, owning property, changing a tire, paying taxes or dealing with phone-trees. We never learn about his mother or father, possible siblings or anything pertaining to his childhood. All we learn in the Space Pirate series is that he and Tochiro have been joined at the hip since kindergarten and are wanted throughout the civilized universe for petty thievery. It is when the Arcadia enters the picture that Harlock truly becomes Harlock. Everything comes into focus and Harlock now has a means of maintaining his freedom and independence from the corrupt and the unworthy.

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Harlock – the captain-king of Arcadia

Standing on the Arcadia’s battle-bridge before the steering-wheel with his arms folded across his chest, gazing stoically with his one good eye out into the Sea of Stars or sitting in his Captain’s throne chair with all the ease of a king in court, one can’t help but wonder if a man like Harlock ever was, ever can, or ever will be, capable of existing on a mundane ‘normal’ level of being. In my mind, he cannot; nor was he ever intended to be. Harlock resists forced efforts by his foes – and even by his friends – to get inside his head and heart and attempt to stir up his passions and emotions.  He is rarely self-disclosing and open with anyone. He retains his mystery and charisma. There is no animated ‘In the beginning…’ story for him. He is just dropped into the viewer’s lap in the middle of his life and gives no explanations or justifications for what he is doing or what has happened to him. He’s just there, doing what he wants to do so he can be free, and the Arcadia is the chief means by which he stays free.

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As nice as it would be to learn all the details of his (and Tochiro’s) past – his childhood, his family, how he met Maaya, what he had to do to become the captain of the Deathshadow in the first place, and how he got his facial scar, these things are, regrettably or not, unimportant. Harlock doesn’t need a long fleshed-out backstory to add to his charisma and identity. Even if we knew nothing at all about his past, Harlock would loose nothing of his greatness and his hold over the hearts of his fans. Harlock flies into the viewers’ awareness as a fully realized person; he owes nothing to anyone and expects nothing in from anyone in return. ‘’I am Harlock, captain of the Deathshadow; I have nothing more to say.’’ he coldly informs the soldiers of his new Illumidas overlords after crashing his ship onto their base and they storm the bridge and surround him. And indeed what more needs to be said? For Harlock, the Ace-Badass-Hero trope is not a state he needs to seek or work for, but one he sublimely exists in, without long self-validating speeches or showing off or treading on the necks of others. The Arcadia is an extension of Harlock’s persona, as well as Tochiro’s. It is the glue that holds them together. There is no true Arcadia without Captain Harlock and no true Captain Harlock without the Arcadia. The two are inseparable. A great Captain needs a great ship – and there is no better ship then the Arcadia. When it all goes to hell, the Arcadia is the place to be and Harlock is the man to follow (if he’ll have you, that is).

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And the final great thing about the Arcadia is that it is the house of Tochiro’s soul. The Arcadia was built by Tochiro to be a symbol of hope and freedom, and to provide Harlock and himself and any like-minded people with a means of surviving in a deadly and hostile universe that they cannot fully be apart of. Exactly how long it took Tochiro to build her I do not know, but it must have been the ultimate labor of love on his part – the final, most splendid thing he could do for his friends. This is what makes the Arcadia so important and special – what other spaceship carries so much baggage and meaning then this one? Tochiro’s death is not the end of a great friendship, nor is Harlock left completely alone, adrift among the stars. Tochiro and the Arcadia become one, and Harlock finds comfort in the groaning and creaking of his ship, knowing his friend is still with him, even when he is alone.

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Space-battleship Arcadia just might be Harlock’s true Arcadia, but Harlock still yearns for Earth, for the blue seas, for Heilignstadt, for the Arcadia of his youth, for natural things of beauty and love. Once he was young, once he was loved, once upon a time he had a place in the world – but no more. In the end, the Arcadia vanishes back into the Sea of Stars and Harlock departs from the stage as suddenly as he arrived. Who knows what new trails and adventures await him, but as long as he has the Arcadia, and the never-dying spirit of his friend contained within, he will never be forsaken and he will always find something worth fighting for.

Slumber now, and be held in the cosmos’ loving embrace. Slumber peacefully, dreaming of distant Arcadia.”

Harlock’s Ballard: Endless Orbit SSX end theme-song

Captain Herlock 3

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