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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/04/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Captain Herlock: Endless Odyssey Vol. 1"

Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey
Vol 1. "The Legend Returns"

Based on the comic “Space Pirate Captain Herlock” by Leiji Matsumoto
2002 VAP-NTV
English Language Version: Geneon 2004

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

What is it about pirates anyway? The swords? The clothes? The fey charms of Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom? I don’t know if I’m just being haunted by the pile of "Captain Herlock" DVDs awaiting my review, but this has definitely been Summer of the Pirates for me. Just last night, I ended up watching "Captain Blood" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" back to back. This morning on the way to the grocery store, I was surprised to find Cap’n Morgan grinning up at me from the ditch where he’d been discarded Saturday night.

What other class of criminals do we celebrate as much? I suppose bank robbers would have to be a close second. Car thieves have come in and out of vogue in recent years. However most crimes just don't to hold the same cultural mystique. It's hard to imagine a hundred years from now that teenagers will be discarding bottles of Carl Rove Gin out the back window of their rocket cars while on the way to see "Parking Violators of Columbus Ohio."

In the manner that makes anime fans' hearts beat faster with affection (and makes normal people's eyes cross in confusion) "Space Pirate Captain Herlock" takes an unquestioned piece of Western cultural iconography and reflects it back in a modified form that at the very least will make you spend some time wondering, "What the crap is it about pirates, anyway?" In the hands of series creator Leiji Matsumoto, the pirate becomes not a representation of anarchy and debauchery but rather a symbol of individualism and freedom.

This OAV series, "Endless Odyssey" is what we Americans might call a "re-imagining" of the 1980's "Captain Herlock." However this is no wouldn't-it-be-hot-to-see-Jessica-Simpson-in-a-Daisy-Duke-outfit retread. Unlike many American "updates" of TV or comic book classics (and many not-so-classics) the original creator of the series was actively involved in this 2002 re-visiting of the Herlock saga. The plot, dialogue, and graphic styles remain true to the original. However, in a move seemingly designed to make the average American fanboy's eyes glaze over with pain and rage, there is little continuity between previous iterations and the present. New characters are introduced as if they had always been there. New backstories are provided as if events in previous series and movies never happened or happened very differently.

These sorts of breaks do not seem to trouble Japanese fans... or maybe they're just more well-mannered and polite than our native breed of basement dwelling popular culture connoisseurs. When asked about the new material, Matsumoto-san said that he didn't see "Endless Odyssey's" Herlock as being a new man, but rather as yet another incarnation of an eternal persona he envisions as having existed in many different forms in many different times. "Endless Odyssey" is an alternate timeline that compliments rather than contradicts previous versions.

Volume one of the "Endless Odyssey" series, "The Legend Returns" begins with a single drop of water dripping from the finger of a woman who is thinking how alone and afraid she is in the emptiness of space. The only man who really knows how to survive here, she mourns, is long gone. The drop falls and ripples scatter in every direction. This is a wonderful way to begin because it so neatly encapsulates Herlock's place in this universe. Okay, it also leads to a gratuitous nudie shot of Kei getting out of her bath -- but Herlock is a man who knows how to survive not just in space, but in an existentialist reality. He is a nonconformist who is able to survive independent of ties to culture and nation without falling into callousness or despair. Herlock navigates the anarchy of existence using his own moral compass -- guided by a concern for the well-being of others that does not place reciprocal demands on their behavior. Like the drop of water, his influence will send ripples throughout humanity.

Once Kei Yuri is back into her snappy pirate outfit (with pink leggings and a crossbones turtleneck) she is plunged into immediately into crisis. Throughout this entire series, the crew of the Arcadia will run from one melodramatic peril to the next, pausing only to heave a few quick breaths and debate philosophy with their enemies. This time Kei and the crew are captured and sent to the Panopticon Prison Satellite -- I'm sure somewhere Michel Foucault is smiling smugly -- and sentenced to be executed.

[As a side note, I must mention that the auto-destruct program on a ship they encounter had a readout that dramatically proclaimed, "5...4...3...2...1... Blow Up." This made me very nostalgic for my old Ford Pinto. Why, I still remember the time I had to go two weeks with that "Blow Up" indicator lit before I could afford to get it to the garage…]

Behind a frowsy bar on the Planet of Rubbish Heaps -- the planetary chamber of commerce really needs to work on that name -- we encounter a new addition to the Herlock universe who will play a major part in this series. Daiba is a classic anime rebel-boy without a cause. The viewer can tell immediately that he is destined to end up at Herlock's side from the size and intensity of his hair. He is the immature version of the Captain, fighting conformity but not really knowing why he does so. Unlike Herlock, he has not developed the moral compass that he needs to find direction in his life.

Daiba is one of those characters who serve as handy exposition wastebaskets of sorts. Because he is new to the Arcadia and is still forming his belief system, all the other characters have to explain what they are doing and why they're doing it to him all the time. We viewers hitch along for his ride and get to hear things that we don't know as well. However, sometimes it does give one the urge to shout, "If you'd just shut up and watch the episode, you could have figured that out!"

We are also introduced in these first four episodes of "The Endless Odyssey" to Chief Iruta (who is called Chief Ilita in the Enlgish language version). Iruta throughout this series plays Jabert to Herlock's Jean Valjean, doggedly pursuing the Arcadia and its crew with a single-minded focus on their destruction. The Chief is the mirror version of Herlock. He is obsessed with order and control. Iruta is conformity's champion, believing that he is fully justified in sacrificing the lives and liberty of individuals to maintain the stability of society. "Without total control of information," he says soon after we meet him, "there can be no order in society." Doesn't sound like any government official you've heard recently, does it? In stark contrast to Herlock, he has no trust in others.

Finally we encounter the great menace threatening mankind– the Noo. Although the word "Noo" has no meaning in Japanese (or none that I know of) the word is pronounced so that it sounds like "new" in English and when spelled looks like a prolonged "No." Noo is fear itself. This demonic force is the catalyst that sets Herlock and Iruta on a collision course. When disrupted by fear, the series asks, how should society react? Should we tighten order and increase conformity, or cling to liberty and maintain our respect for others' right to self-determination?

An interesting question, isn't it, fellow Americans? I think I'm beginning to figure out why I'm so interested in pirates all the sudden...

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