Earth faces a new enemy. They're the Noo, unkillable Lovecraftian horrors from the realm of the soul, capable of ripping your heart from your chest and turning you into their mindless puppet. You can shoot them, but it won't do you any good. Years after their last mission, Captain Harlock must reassemble his scattered crew and once again save an ungrateful mankind.
This show (planned as a TV series, completed as an OVA) was a hit with Matsumoto fans and remarkably faithful to the original 1978 series. It's almost a direct sequel, bringing back characters we hadn't seen in years like Dr Zero and Mayu, the daughter of Tochiro and Emeraldas. However I say "almost" because it reintroduces Daiba as if he'd never been on the Arcadia before. His father gets killed again, Harlock rescues him again, etc. This perplexed many Matsumoto fans. Why suddenly turn your sequel into a remake? However as a card-carrying Daiba-hater it makes perfect sense to me. Bringing back the original Daiba would be much like drinking vomit with a strychnine chaser, or perhaps machine-gunning your own foot. He's supposedly the audience identification character, but in the 1978 series as such he was a laughable failure. What's more, bringing back the older, experienced Daiba would undermine his main story function, i.e. to be the fresh-faced newbie on the Arcadia, discovering everything for the first time.
Admittedly reintroducing Daiba screws up continuity, but that's hardly unprecedented in Matsumoto shows. You've got to shrug and go with the flow. Since I could watch the rebooted Daiba without wanting to take my own life, I'd call the decision a success.
That aside, unfortunately I was underwhelmed for much of this. It's a Lovecraftian horror story, which seemed like an odd choice for Captain Harlock to me even though the plot's ripping off the original series, Matsumoto's manga and Endless Orbit SSX. Almost all of the latter's episode 20 is here, for instance, albeit out of order and in bits. This retelling often didn't grab me. Stuff happened and gloomy people got even more depressed and/or died. The villains were sufficiently badass to be imposing opponents for Harlock, but he couldn't have a satisfying fight with them. And don't ask me how they died at the end... as far as I could see, they were born from technobabble and killed by technobabble.
However I stuck it out, having high hopes for the last episode. Matusmoto's handling of tragedy had been my favourite bits of Gun Frontier and Space Battleship Yamato, so the odds looked good for a strong ending here. I was right. I wouldn't call it tragic, but it was definitely the closing kick I'd hoped for. Episode 13 is the reason I'm keeping this series instead of giving it away, though it wouldn't have resonated so strongly if I hadn't known some Harlock backstory from elsewhere. ("Who's the little girl?" "So did Harlock already know that Tochiro guy?" "What's the significance of cutting back to the Arcadia's computer core?")
The final scene is cool in anyone's money, though.
Despite her nude scene at the start of part one (with nipples!), I remain immune to the charms of Kei Yuki. I presume she's Matsumoto's wet dream, but somehow... no. Animation can create ridiculously sexy women, but Kei isn't one of them. However I loved the closing theme, Nameless Lonely Blues. It's very Cowboy Bebop, with a touch of slowhand Clapton. Mind you, what the hell is that opening line? "Beheld the man?" "Heard 'bout the man?" "Hell-bent the man?"
Overall, not entirely successful. Horror is one of those souffle genres... get it even slightly wrong and it collapses in a sorry mess. This series does build some atmosphere, but I wouldn't call it scary and the characters aren't enough fun to pull you through on their own. It definitely has its moments, most of them in episode 13, and as an experiment it's not without interest. I'd have been astonished had it been Harlock's finest hour, though.