The Earth of Captain Harlock suffers from now-disappeared oceans and a divided society – although the planet contains high technology, boasting spacefaring vehicles and the ability to farm on other celestial bodies, Earth seems rather stagnant socially, with people now complacent in their behavior and deferring to overarching governmental control of the city. From the opening scenes, one can see a metropolis overrun by derelict ships, practically empty streets and glistening towers; these initial shots of an enormous metropolitan city provides a rather somber vision of a future where people bemoan the fate of the world but do not seem to have the energy to pursue life elsewhere. As the narrator reminds us, space provides an excellent place for humanity to begin anew – Earth may be at a somber moment now, but through cooperation and effort people can rejuvenate the planet. As it stands, however, Earth seemingly lost its way when the seas dried up; recovering from such a disaster will take time, but people do not appear interested in putting forth the effort.
This is where Captain Harlock comes in – he willingly goes against the planet’s laws in order to protect what he holds dear, becoming a space pirate in order to instill hope for a better future. He knows full well that he has Earth as an opponent now, but he does so out of concern for the planet’s well-being; in this episode, we get to see his heroic side, through his struggle to free himself from overwhelming social lethargy, exemplified by the government’s social control of the populace. For Harlock, space represents the ideal path for humanity – they have limitless potential to better themselves and emerge from an imposed social complacency.
The first appearance of Harlock’s ship comes with a booming chorus singing about it, as it approaches a transport vessel; the looming visage of the Arcadia takes over the monitor as the transport vessel views it, giving it a deeply imposing presence as a pirate ship. Here, one can get a first glimpse at the tenuous relationship between Harlock and Earth – the unnamed transport vessel would rather attempt to trick the Arcadia with a fake surrender than face it fairly in ship-to-ship combat, a rather devious and duplicitous move on its commander’s part. As we learn from first mate Yattaran, most Earth ships (if not all) would rather surrender than put up any sort of fight at all; already, the Arcadia has a reputation as a strong vessel, capable of taking on any ship coming from the planet with ease, which means that Harlock has the upper hand in this situation.
A bit of cinematography discussion here – the transport vessel scenes have various diagonal shots to them, accompanying the rather tightly-structured close-ups of the Arcadia, imparting a sense of apprehension on the side of the Earth officers, who would rather flee than face Harlock’s attack. When the commander decides upon deception to lure the Arcadia in, this comes with a close-up of his sweating face; he’s scared of Harlock, and would rather resort to trickery than attempt a fair fight. Speaking of the viewscreen, the Arcadia practically dwarfs the characters, even from within their own ship – the booming voices singing the call for freedom (which piracy represents) places the Arcadia morally and physically above the transport vessel, as it appears larger than life and sends chills down the spines of the Terran officers aboard the vessel. That Harlock easily sees through the vessel’s ruse cements his reputation as a calculating officer – the shot of him framed by the pilot’s wheel utilizes shallow focus to emphasize him, alone in the frame as the sort of commander who takes a level-headed approach to combat, and can read through any deception.
When the Arcadia attacks the transport ship, it incapacitates it (along with the officers aboard), rather than destroying it; Harlock adheres to a heroic code, wherein he avoids violent confrontation whenever possible. That he would momentarily freeze the officers in place shows his kindness towards people who mean ill will toward him – he certainly lives up to his code of honor, preferring to find a more peaceful solution even in the midst of combat. His decision to destroy the alcohol, leaving it and the valuables (such as diamonds) behind, further illustrates his principles as a pirate; he does not covet material things, instead taking only what is necessary (such as food) and dispensing with the expensive things and the more alluring prospect of financial gain. I spoke of Buddhism in my commentary for the first episode of Sailor Moon, and it applies here, as well – Harlock recognizes the trappings of following money and materialistic desires, and avoids following the example of those on Earth by staying on the fringes of society.
Speaking of society and Buddhism, the city featured here serves as a nearly-hedonistic vision of society at its most complacent; the government has full authoritative control over it, and any fears of insurrection are ostensibly quelled through the use of subliminal messages in television to keep to populace occupied. The leader of this city seems rather dismissive of Kiruta, who alone has any real concern for Harlock’s capacity to seriously damage the city and the government’s reputation; he would rather watch horse races than entertain the notion of a threat to his livelihood, which makes him appear out of touch with the universe around him. As we can see, however, disaster looms – a shrouded figure has been killing astronomers and destroying observatories, apparently to silence them (possibly in connection with an arriving asteroid). This figure has no defining physical characteristics – only the eyes can be see through the cloak, and the rather staccato rhythm of it firing its gun contrasts with the rather laid-back, unconcerned nature of the city leader.
The second half of Captain Harlock‘s episode concerns his promise to meet Ōyama Mayu on her birthday; here, Harlock shows his heroic side once again, as he would risk his own life to keep a promise he made to an old friend, since Kiruta’s forces await him upon his arrival. It’s not explicitly mentioned here, but Harlock was friends with Mayu’s father, Tochirō, whose grave they visit shortly before Kiruta captures Harlock; the somber scene is marked by a rather large tree atop a hill, overlooking the grave, as the two figures pay their reminiscences to Tochirō. When Harlock is captured, he is led to an arena, forced to stand within an open area marked with a circle containing letters, as if he were some prize or target in an odd game; he manages to escape by having the Arcadia fire upon the building, again showing his desire to save rather than destroy.
Throughout this episode, Harlock appears as the compassionate captain – he highly values the planet of his birth, and his decision to become a pirate can be understood by his desire to help bring Earth to an age of happiness, where one can live without having one’s life dictated by an unconcerned leader and his officers. The episode really emphasizes the tribulations of a single man struggling against a system that strayed from its ideals at some point – it will take work to revive Earth’s fortunes, but Harlock will certainly give it his all.