Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a CG animated movie reboot of the original Space Pirate Captain Harlock story. This film takes a few steps away from the recognizable formula seen from earlier series for a more modern audience. The catch phrase for the film is billed as "If you want to change the world, get on this ship" in the poster and "Fight the binds yourself" in the teaser.
In early 2008, film director Shinji Aramaki was requested to direct the film by Toei Animation's director in a new directional pilot of the series formula. The use of 3DCG was requested to be used and Aramaki had met with producer Yoshiyuki Ikezawa for the best quality they could manage. Aramaki had then gotten help from Marza Animation Planet.
By 2009, a 3 minute pilot called RITA was completed by the end of the year while the main program was worked in parallel. 2010 was the development stage of the storyboard and characters. 2011's early summer had to make adjustments to the storyboards in order to incorporate motion capture by the second half of August. Production was in full swing by this point, dividing the process into four blocks. Around April 2012, the first block had been completed with the end of the finishing all of the blocks.
The trailer was unveiled on June 14, 2013, with filmmaker James Cameron praising the quality of the animation. At the 70th Venice Film Festival, specially selected screening were used for the completed films with guests including series creator Leiji Matsumoto appearing.
The films use of the tracing renderer "Arnold" would be Japan's first time. The production was mostly a Hollywood tool until its distribution within the film. Along with this was the "Faceware" facial capture system.
According to Shinji Aramaki, the slow process for one long cut was due to the use of the new three-dimensional effects. In addition, the movie had used 2D to 3D conversion software such as Queue-Tech and Digital Hearts to translate between scenes. The main struggle however was refractive materials at 60 cuts on surfaces like glass or water. The conversion itself was a lengthy and costly process.
The effects were so impressive, the film had won the International 3D Feature Award at the International 3D Society Lumiere Japan Awards 2013. Journalist Reiji Asakura praised the effects as "Great 3D".
In an unspecified time, humanity was able to go out into space and colonize planets meeting alien life, fulfilling the wishes of space travel and extraterrestrial contact. But as human development began to decline, many people desired to go back to their home planet of Earth.
However because of this, many wars for Earth were fought over given its limited space. This event was called the "Come Home War".
In an effort to arbitrate the war, a government power known as the "Gaia Sanction" was created. Under their direction, Earth was declared a sanctuary with not many people allowed to set foot on the planet. With no one willing to go back to Earth after this, humanity had gone through day-to-day operations; as a result, an era of regret had followed.
Standing against this regimen however is a lone man who travels the abyss of the universe in the immortal ship, the Arcadia. This man is Captain Harlock.
In a deserted town, a young man named Yama hears about Captain Harlock recruiting for his crew. Yama finds the way over and along with others who did is put through a test to see if they are worthy to join. Yama says his wish for freedom which allows Harlock to accept him. He is put under Kei Yuki's wing while working as a gunner who excels at his new job. Yama however was sent in as a spy to root out Captain Harlock and find stats about the Arcadia by his older brother, Gaia Sanction Commander Ezra. Harlock had known about Yama's intentions all along confessing to his aide Miime, the Nibelung who supplied the Dark Matter technology that the Arcadia is powered by. Yet, Harlock hopes for a miracle to happen because of Yama.
On Torkaga, the unsteady relationship between Yama and Kei gets tricky when attempting to set up the Dimensional Vibration Bomb. Harlock plans to turn back time by using a set of bombs to create an oscillation so great that it can cause a spacetime event that can allow them to go back and make changes before all of the wars started. When the bomb's placing becomes unstable, Yama kicks Kei out of harms way but falls into a crevice near lava. All seems lost for Yama inside the control center until Harlock comes to help. Yama readies his gun on Harlock telling he is under arrest and that the Gaia Sanction wishes to retrieve the bomb. Harlock does not hesitate or fight Yama, merely telling Yama that even if he succeeds Yama has no real home to go back to with how the Gaia Sanction is. Harlock tells Yama that he should do what he really wants, not just follow orders. Yama complies and helps reset the bomb with Harlock.
Yama had originally went on the mission in an attempt to make right for an accident he unintentionally caused that caused Ezra to be crippled and their friend Nami had to be put on life-support. Ezra was put in a wheelchair while Nami used a holographic projector to communicate with others.
Meanwhile Harlock informs everyone that the last bomb will be placed on Earth, much to everyone's shock. The Gaia Sanction tries to prevent this as Earth is the symbol of their rule. But the Sanction forces are no match for the Arcadia's ability to warp around and recover through the use of dark matter. Ezra disobeys orders to rely more defense while the Arcadia gets shot down by the Kaleido Star System's weapons. However, the Arcadia had used well placed holograms to break through the defenses. The rest of the fleet is annihilated with Ezra is captured and brought onto the Arcadia.
Yama goes to speak to Ezra with Ezra revealing the origins of Captain Harlock. A century ago before the end of the Come Home Wars, the Gaia Sanction had come into fruition marking Earth as a sacred ground that must not be inhabited. Harlock was put in charge of four Death Shadow ships that had prototype Dark Matter engines provided by Miime to defend Earth. The fleet was practically unbeatable. However, things went bleak as the Gaia Sanction ruled for Earth only to be visited by people of power and wealth tied to the Sanction with the commoners completely excluded. For Ezra and the Gaia Sanction this was a necessary means of peace but Harlock rebelled against the Sanction. This was furthered when Harlock's long time friend Tochiro was killed in a blast of dark matter fusing his mind with one of the Death Shadow ships which later became the Arcadia.
A battle broke out between the factions. Harlock had to retreat; but to make the planet really inviolable had the planet coated in dark matter. But this caused the planet to degrade into a nearly lifeless husk. That was not the only consequence though, during this time the dark matter fallout caused Harlock and the inhabitants of the Arcadia to become immortal.
Back in the present, the Earth's true self is revealed as it is no longer blue but barren after Harlock's last attempt to make it better. The real purpose of the Time Node bombs is really to cause a chain reaction that would wipe out the entire universe, allowing life to start again without the Gaia Sanction or Harlock's mistakes. With the Arcadia crew shocked at this and disappointed at what Harlock wanted, Yama goes back to Sanction arresting the Arcadia crew and putting them into custody.
Things only get worse for Yama however as Ezra and Nami had an argument which had Ezra cut off Nami's life support, killing her. Enraged at his brother, Yama left for Earth in despair as he had nothing left. But on Earth, Yama finds that there are the flowers that were unable to grow in the Sanction's greenhouses. Seeing that both the Sanction and Harlock were wrong about Earth, Yama disrupts the time of the public execution about to take place.
Harlock had been disheartened that his wish was not shared by anyone close to him, including Tochiro's spirit. But when Yama shows a flower that had grown on Earth to Harlock, he showed the captain that there was hope for Earth and that it wanted to be reborn. With renewed confidence, Harlock plans to show the entire system the truth about Earth in order to remove the Sanction's power over it as well as the supporting colonies. To do so, the Arcadia will need to hijack the holographic satellites while Yattaran hacks the communications system during the intended execution time.
Yama reveals to everyone that Earth was actually devastated during the old war, but life is flourishing again. With their symbol compromised and fearing public disorder, the highest authority in the Sanction authorize the use of the Jovian Blaster to destroy the Arcadia. However there are many risks involved including the destruction of Earth. But the sanction does not care and that they can just use Mars next, something that even Ezra does not support.
Ezra and his ship the Oceanus invade the Arcadia, throwing the ship out of blast zone. The brothers collide with Ezra losing his chair and Yama getting a face wound and losing his right eye. Harlock intervenes before Ezra can kill Yama, mortally wounding Ezra. Dying, Ezra tells them about the Jovian Blaster as it fires missing its target. As it is about to fire again, the Arcadia disengages from the Oceanus before the opposing ship is destroyed by the second blast. The Arcadia covers itself in dark matter to shield from the plasma as done by the Arcadia's main computer. Still taking the force of the attack, the Arcadia crashes onto Earth's surface with everyone rendered wounded or unconscious and Miime seemingly erased.
The Arcadia is still carrying the last Dimensional Vibration bomb. Harlock then gives Yama the choice of destroying the Earth about to be reborn while possibly bringing in another war, or let the Earth live on; handing him the detonator. Yama chooses to let the Earth live with Harlock handing him an eye patch for his damaged face. Yama then proceeds to take the controls. Miime returns as the Arcadia reactivates with Dark Matter, reviving the crew. As Harlock takes his seat, Yama then has the Arcadia take off as the new Captain Harlock. For better or worse the Earth has been reborn with possibilities including prosperity or more war.
In its opening weekend in Japan, the 3D screenings marked an attendance ranking of 51.6% while the 2D showings had an attendance of 48.4%. Box office results however were sluggish, earning over 400 million yen (over 4 million US dollars). Italy had the highest result at over $6.8 million. Globally, the film received $17,137,302; only making over half of the $30 million budget.
Critically, the film was given overall mixed results. The film was universally praised for its use of 3DCG, being nominated and winning several awards including the 37th Japan Academy Award for animation, the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival 2014 first prize for animation, best international animated feature at the 3D Creative Arts Awards, and the Lumiere Award for animation. Timo Wolters of filmrezension.net praised the film's picture and sound quality, citing the film as "probably the most expensive and most impressive that has arisen in recent years on the computer". The film's story and characterizations however had a massive divide in opinion. Many international critics disliked the out of sync voices of the dubbed version of the film. The pacing of the film was criticized for its dragging, leaving little to no character development or comic relief the Captain Harlock franchise has been known for. The climax itself was highly controversial for fans of the original series, seeing the gloomy and withdrawn Captain Harlock as a different person altogether compared to the more relatively open and honor bound Harlock fans have known and loved. The main cast was generally unlikable with the supporting cast all but reduced to background roles.