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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/28/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Arcadia of My Youth"

Arcadia of My Youth
Distributed by AnimEigo*

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

I have to admit it. It wasn't love at first sight. The first time I ever saw Captain Herlock (or Harlock, as he was known in those days), he made my brain hurt. It was in the early eighties and my friend Andy had dragged me into a dimly lit room at a comic book convention to watch something he called "anime" that was what he promised would be "great."

“Andy,” I said after a few minutes. “This isn’t in English.”

“Uh-huh,” he muttered back. “’S Japanese.”

“Andy,” I said after a few more minutes. “Do you speak Japanese?”

“Ummm…” he muttered noncommittally.

“Because I don’t.”


My head was starting to hurt from trying to follow the increasingly bizarre plot-twists without benefit of understandable dialogue. “Traditionally this sort of situation calls for subtitles, you know…”


“Why is that one guy’s eyes so big?”


“Why is his hair so big?”


“Hey, wait. Is that hair or is another character sitting on his head?”


“Why do I have to be quiet if this show is in a language none of us speak?”

I get testy when my head hurts.

Now it is many years later. I have learned much about Japanese culture and iconography. Subtitles have been discovered by the anime industry. I view anime in the comfort of my home on high-quality DVDs instead of peering at grainy bootlegs in dark rooms with somewhat smelly and decidedly geeky strangers. And I have finally watched “Arcadia of My Youth” without having my brain try to crawl out my ears.

This is a poor introduction to one of the true Granddaddy’s of anime, but I thought it might be necessary to explain the powerful sense of relief that will no doubt pervade this review.

“Captain Harlock” along with “Robotech” was one of the series that introduced obsessive U.S. fandom to anime. And what an introduction it was – a pirate movie set in outer space that quoted Proust in the title, used Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” as background music for battle scenes, and featured a taciturn main character who tended to spout nihilist philosophy when he did deign to speak.

And let me tell you, kiddies, this was jumping off into the deep end of the pool. This was a big step up from “Speed Racer” and “Scooby-Doo” with no Pokemon primer for us in the Reagan Era, baby.

But we loved it. (Well, most of us did. My brain was still trying to crawl out my ears at this point.) This movie, “Arcadia of My Youth,” incorporates all the elements that made the “Harlock” series so adored. The plot is continual high melodrama on the high seas. Plot twists are fast and frequent. Harlock and his crew go from one seemingly desperate situation from another, managing to stay one hair-breadth ahead of their enemies not only by displaying more cunning, but by tapping the incredible power of time-spanning ties of friendship, and being more superlatively honorable than you could have previously thought was possible for the good guys in a melodrama to be. Even the most jaded viewer (even those with bad memories of their brains trying to crawl out of their ears) can’t help but be drawn in by the pace and energy of the plot.

On to some specifics of this DVD -- The first thing I have to say about the graphics is that they are vintage Eighties. No computer enhancing here. The only thing we were computer enhancing in 1981 was spreadsheets.

The thing, however, that separates “Harlock” from “Robotech” -- making it deliciously retro instead of pure Harmony Gold cheese-- is stylization. Every design element of the movie is stylized. From the pirate ship space ship to the tiny crossbone barrettes worn by one of the female characters, each element contributes to and reinforces Matsumoto-san’s theme of rebellion against not only unjust authority but the despotism of mindless collectivism…. And it looks pretty cool too. Wonder if Harlock wears black crossbone underwear? My bet would have to be yes.

AmerEigo has wrapped “Arcadia of My Youth” up in a pretty package for us. The cover art is lovely. There are liner notes – which always make me happy – giving us interesting facts about Matsumoto-san and the lyrics of the theme songs. More interesting facts about the production and voice actors are contained in the “extras” section of DVD along with the perennially popular image gallery. Nothing extraordinary, but a nice package that won’t disappoint a buyer.

Since our divine editor and given me a lifetime supply of “Harlock” episodes, I’m going to be a little stingy with my store of knowledge and opinions about this series and its creator. I’ve got to keep something in reserve for the four reviews still ahead of me. So let me just say “Arcadia of My Youth” is a wonderful and necessary first acquisition of a series that should be on every true anime aficionado’s shelf. Enjoy its sublime weirdness while hopefully keeping your brain planted firmly inside your skull.

*Note: AnimEigo seems to be having a serious sale! on this title. Full disclosure: J LHLS gets a few pennies if you buy it from Amazon, but this anime is so fantastic, I encourage you to buy 2 from AnimEigo and give one to someone you love very much. Ed.

Also see Ginger Mayerson's wackier review Arcadia of my Middle Age, if you haven't had enough the subject. Ed

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