Yamato X Harlock: Ships in the Night

Captain Harlock is indisputibly the most famous anime character who almost appeared in Space Battleship Yamato.

By now, the story is old hat for longtime fans: the original concept, as written by Leiji Matsumoto, was for Mamoru Kodai [Alex Wildstar] to come “back from the dead” as Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and surreptitiously aid Yamato against the Gamilas. Rather than reappearing alive and well on Iscandar, he would remain in hiding until critical moments and his true identity would be revealed in the final episode when he arrived to stop Desslok’s final attack.

Of course, all this went out the window when low initial ratings infamously moved the Yomiuri TV network to cut back on their commitment and reduce Yamato from 39 episodes to 26. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Leiji Matsumoto; he was able to retain full rights to his character and take him to far more places than would otherwise have been possible.

What is less well-known is that Captain Harlock still played his part in every aspect of the first Yamato series except the anime. As the show moved into production and spinoff products were being conceived, he was as important to the story as any other character. Thus, he was strongly represented in the first wave of merchandising and all of the print-media adaptations. Looking back at this unique timeframe, we can fully examine the passing of these two great ships on their way toward separate destinations.

Series Development

First created by Matsumoto in his high school years (and originally named Captain Kingston), Harlock was offered up as an addition to the cast when Matsumoto joined the production staff. By his very nature, Harlock was a concept more than a character. He had made a few manga appearances prior to 1974, but never as the same person twice. Thus, his backstory was wide open to be shaped as necessary. As indicated above, Leiji Matsumoto’s rough designs were cleaned up by character designer and chief director Nobuhiro Okaseko for use in Series 1.

Read about the Series 1 character design process here.

Yamato‘s first “public” appearance was in a 16-page full-color large-format publicity book that was circulated among TV stations and prospective licensors. Harlock was there right alongside all the other characters, most of whom were still being refined in pre-production. This book became a defacto style guide for licensors who generated their own artwork for various products. Thus, Harlock’s character design remained pretty consistent in the merchandising that followed.

He did not, however, have a spaceship. Like all the other mecha in the series, it wasn’t scheduled to be designed until it was needed…and it was never needed. As a result, it was drawn differently every time it appeared, as will be seen below.


Lotte Candy Company lured kids with bonus items [Omake] in candy packages, mainly stickers and collectible image papers. The art style was consistent across the product line, almost certainly done by a single artist.

Other than the Lotte candies, there were two more Harlocks to be found among the first wave of Yamato products, which were marketed to children (see the entire lineup here). At right is a sticker image from Marusan, and at far right is a page out of a coloring book by Showa Note. Had history gone a different way, there’s no telling how many more there might have been.

But there was no shortage of Harlock in the print-media adaptations, as we’re about to see.

Novels and Manga

The first Space Battleship Yamato novelization, written by Arashi Ishizu and published in two volumes during the first broadcast of Series 1, is a strangely pessimistic version of the Quest for Iscandar. Though it is based on the 39-episode draft of the series, it takes many detours of its own, ultimately becoming a significantly different story in which the Yamato crew is torn by inner strife and Iscandar turns out not to be the benefactor everyone expected.

The illustrations shown above summarize Captain Harlock’s sporadic appearances, in which he guides Yamato through various pitfalls and actually goes with them to Iscandar. The following summary is excerpted from the climax of the story…

Harlock, Captain Okita, Yuki Mori and Kodai walk into the palace on Iscandar. They see a holographic image of Starsha, which tells them an unbelievable story. Planet Iscandar is an intellectual computer; Gamilas is its defense system, destroying potential threats and possible enemies. Eventually, this will cause the total destruction of the universe.

“Then you called us to stop Gamilas?” Kodai asks. “What about the radiation sweeper (Cosmo Cleaner)?”

Starsha replies, “The radiation is too far advanced and the sweeper no longer of any help. The only way to save the people of earth is to remodel them to tolerate it.”

Kodai cries and gasps in despair. “Many died, too many were sacrificed. And all we could get is a horrifying technology that mutates a human into a different creature!”

But Harlock accepts it. “I don’t think that way, Kodai. It might be better. Sooner or later humans will reach their end. It might be a good chance to start all over again, even as different creatures.”

Starsha sadly informs them that to defeat Gamilas, they must destroy Iscandar. Without something to protect, it will cease to function.

In the last battle, Harlock (now revealed as Mamoru Kodai) stands with the surviving crew members, only ten or so, on the bridge waiting for the final attack. In front of them is the blue planet Iscandar.

“Now comes Yamato‘s final attack with full wave-motion energy,” Okita shouts. “Target, Planet Iscandar!”

He then turns to Harlock. “Is this right, Mamoru?”

Harlock replies: “Yes, I am with you, father.”

Read more about the first novelization here, and read a complete translation of it here.

Harlock’s various manga appearances were similar in scope, but slightly more upbeat. In each of the three versions, his role was essentially the same. His briefest stint was in the little-known 6-part adaptation by Yuki Hijiri, published in Terebi Land magazine while Yamato was on the air. Harlock made a cameo appearance in the fourth chapter, which was published in February 1975. The panels are shown above, in right-to-left orientation.

The story is very simple: Kodai launches to take out a Gamilas ship that is controlling energy creatures intent on “eating” Yamato. His Cosmo Zero is zapped by one of the creatures, rendering him blind. Drifting helplessly in space, he hears a voice from nowhere, giving him directions toward his target. He is shocked to recognize the voice as that of his older brother.

Kodai blows up the enemy ship, and we cut to a glowing egg-shaped vessel commanded by a hard-bitten space pirate. He is advised that they have to withdraw and he does so with regret.

“Live on, my strong young brother,” he thinks. “If anyone can save the Earth…it’s you.”

Kodai makes it back despite still being blind, but any further thought about his brother is put aside when he learns that Captain Okita has collapsed. The story rockets along into its final chapter with no further word from or about the pirate, who is never named.

Read the entire manga by Yuki Hijri here.

Far better known than the Hijiri manga was Leiji Matsumoto’s version, also published during the tenure of Series 1. Harlock appeared in the sixth chapter, published in Adventure King magazine the same month Yamato‘s broadcast concluded. (The manga rushed to its own conclusion one month later.) One might expect that Matsumoto would have rendered the definitive version of Harlock, but instead he chose to keep him entirely cloaked. His all-black ship was equally shadowy, an early version of Death Shadow, a ghostly battleship that would become part of the later mythos.

Storywise, Matsumoto stayed close to the subplot that didn’t make it to TV: Yamato must cross the dangerous Magellanic Stream (a “space current” running between galaxies) with General Domel [Lysis] waiting on the other side. A radio voice gives them instructions on how to make the passage safely, and proposes a meeting afterward. From here, the best source is the manga itself.

Click here to read the Harlock scenes, translated into English for the first time by Sword Takeda, edited and lettered by Tim Eldred. (Star Blazers names used for clarity.) These 14 pages include the meeting and Harlock’s subsequent appearance from the final chapter.

Read more about Leiji Matsumoto’s Series 1 manga here.

The third manga adaptation, published in three paperbacks concurrently with the other mangas, contains more Captain Harlock than all of the above put together. It was written by series writer Keisuke Fujikawa and drawn by Akira Hio, and serves as a substantial “time capsule” for much of the material that was cut from the anime. Hio faithfully used the TV character design and based his ship design on Captain Okita’s battleship from Episode 1.

Again, Harlock plays the role of mysterious benefactor, popping up at crucial moments but keeping everyone guessing about his secret identity until the end. There are too many pages for a complete translation, but owing to the sparse dialogue, this summary accomplishes pretty much the same result…

Shocked by Yamato‘s ability to get past his space mines, Dessler assigns General Romel [Lysis] with the task of taking it out. Soon afterward, Yamato is blocked by the Magellanic Stream with Romel’s ships waiting on the other side. Suddenly, another ship appears with a skull and crossbones emblem on its flank. It pierces the stream with ease, showing them the path to cross it.

In an effort to evade Romel’s fleet, Yamato hides in the slipstream of a passing comet. Unfortunately, this doesn’t trick anyone and Romel launches an attack. Heavily outgunned, Yamato is in a tight spot when the mystery ship interevenes, skillfully breaking up the Gamilas formation [left] and allowing Yamato to escape.

Afterward, the ship glides up next to Yamato and requests a resupply of food and medicine. Captain Okita agrees, and sends supply ships over. Yuki boards the ship and Captain Harlock introduces himself to her. [right]

“You said the name Kodai. Susumu Kodai.”

“Yes,” Yuki answers. Do you know him?”

Harlock abruptly tells her to fly right back to Yamato. She mentions this strange meeting to Kodai, and he immediately suspects the truth.

“Could he possibly be my brother? No, my brother is dead. If Harlock were my brother, he would have spoken to me. To the only brother he has in the world.”

The crew’s second encounter with Harlock happens over the Planet Balan, where he intervenes again to distract Romel’s fleet so Yamato can dive into Balan’s ocean. Their mission here is to free a colony of slaves (a common plot device in the 39-episode series outline) which they accomplish by destroying the Gamilas base.

In the aftermath, Captain Harlock’s ship lands and his pirates immediately cart off all the money they can find in the wreckage. Harlock himself appears before Yuki and Shima. He refuses their thanks, stating that he just did it on a whim.

“I have no interest in Earth’s future. That is the struggle of you young people.”

Turning to leave, he adds: “Kodai tends to lose his temper. You two keep your eyes on him.”

“Aren’t you…Kodai’s brother?” Yuki asks.

“I am Captain Harlock!” is his only answer.

Battling its way through one trap after another, Yamato closes in on Planet Gamilas and meets the full might of Romel’s spacefleet in pitched battle. As the tide turns against our heroes, Harlock rockets in and this time directly engages Romel, who he describes as his toughest rival.

The two fight tooth and nail, emptying their guns into each others’ hulls. After several pages of brutality, Harlock prevails and his ship limps away leaving Romel and his dead crew floating in space.

The final encounter happens very near the end of the story. Gamilas is in ruins and Yamato heads home with the Cosmo Cleaner. Dessler appears for the final showdown. In the TV series he is content to fire from a distance, but in the Hio manga his ship bores in for a kamikaze attack directly at Yamato‘s bridge.

At the last second, a laserbolt lances in and hits Dessler’s stern. He is not rattled, since he is already on a collision course. Kodai orders Yamato to pitch over so that Dessler only grazes their belly before careening off. Harlock fires again to finish the job; Dessler is killed.

Harlock contacts Yamato, finally speaking directly with Kodai.

“Susumu? Are you all right? Are you safe?

“You!” Kodai responds. “My brother Mamoru? Is it really you?”

“Yes, I am. Captain Harlock is your brother Mamoru.”

Both cry manly tears until Harlock explains that he is not returning to Earth with them.

“I and the crew of this vessel are heavily affected by radiation. We do not have much longer to live, maybe only a few more days. Returning to Earth will not help it.”

Kodai protests in vain.

“Susumu, the future of Earth relies on you. I am not needed any more. As I told you before, I have long wished to die in space. Remember, Susumu. Remember the people who sacrificed themselves to fill the Earth with love and peace. You are the one to do that. You are now the leader of Yamato. You still have an important mission.”

Kodai embraces Yuki and they vow to fulfill the hopes of their three great benefactors: Starsha, Captain Okita, and Harlock. Yamato returns to Earth and the story ends.

Read more about the Akira Hio manga here.

The Pirate’s Path: Captain Harlock’s Endless Road

Leiji Matsumoto took a sabbatical when the first Yamato series closed down in 1975, recharging his creative batteries with a trip to Africa and elsewhere. He returned to start two simultaneous projects for which he would be known the world over for the rest of his life: Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. They began in 1977 as parallel manga series in manga magazines from two different publishers and each made their way to anime within a year. (The Space Pirate manga was later collected into five paperback volumes, shown above.)

Shown at left is an early image used to pitch Space Pirate, which finally gave Harlock his signature spaceship, the Arcadia [below]. The TV series ran 42 episodes from 1978 to ’79 and though it never quite measured up to Yamato‘s production values, it had tremendous appeal to the same viewership and quickly made its way to classic status due in no small part to the innovative directing style of Rin Taro.

A few episodes of the series made their way to the English-speaking world on home video, but never more than a tiny sampler of the series. This deficit was finally set right in 2009 when all of Space Pirate began streaming on Crunchyroll.com and later moved to Hulu Plus.

With two galaxy-sweeping stories running side by side, it was only natural for them to meet, and that happened in August 1978 with the premiere of the first Galaxy Express 999 feature film. The crossover was writ large in the movie’s trailer, which got the immediate attention of fans when both Harlock and Matsumoto’s female pirate Emeraldas appeared on the big screen for the first time. See the trailer on YouTube here.

There was also a sleeker, more striking version of the Arcadia, this time with a giant skull and crossbones on its prow. The primary designer was Kazutaka Miyatake of Studio Nue, the mecha design powerhouse that earned their street cred on Yamato.

Read an interview with Miyatake here.

Since Toei studio was the production office for both the Yamato and Leiji Matsumoto movies, their schedule was filled with one or the other for several consecutive years. Between the years of Be Forever (1980) and Final Yamato (1983) came Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981) and Captain Harlock’s own feature film, My Youth in Arcadia (1982). This was followed by his second TV series, Endless Road SSX (1982), a 22-episode tour de force which was imported to the English-speaking world many years later.

The two Galaxy Express 999 movies, VHS editions from Viz Video. Both were released on DVD for the first time
from Discotek in June 2011. Above right:
My Youth in Arcadia DVD from Animeigo.

After that, many years passed before the space pirate returned to form. He made a comeback in 1994 with many other Matsumoto characters to be cast in an SF manga remake of Ring of the Nibelung, which was released as an anime OAV series in 1999 titled Harlock Saga.

The crossovers continued in 2000 with Cosmo Warrior Zero, which premiered as a Playstation game that toured all the corners of the “Leijiverse” in first-person shooter format with Harlock as the final boss. The game made the jump to anime as a 15-episode TV series in 2001. Read more about the game (and see its Yamato connection) here.

Left to right: Harlock Saga DVD (US Manga Corps), Cosmo Warrior Zero and Gun Frontier DVDs (Media Blasters/Anime Works), The Endless Odyssey DVD (Geneon).

By this time, Matsumoto projects were coming fast and furious at a rate not seen since the 70s. Harlock featured strongly in two more 13-episode anime projects that both premiered in 2002: Gun Frontier, based on a western manga from all the way back in 1972, and The Endless Odyssey, a completely new series that reunited Matsumoto with director Rin Taro for a story even darker and more opaque than the original Space Pirate.

There have been plenty of other Harlock cameos in manga and anime over the years (and even a few Yamato cameos, which can be seen here), but the works described above represent the spine of Harlock’s history. Fortunately, most have been released in English and may still be available if you know where to look.

Leiji Matsumoto has famously claimed that all Harlocks are the same despite the contradictions inherent in most of them. Everything in the “Leijiverse” is circular and comes in cycles. It should surprise no one that Matsumoto is the author of Desslok’s credo: “as long as I live, Gamilon lives.” It’s only a small jump for the man himself to state, “as long as I live, my characters live.” And therefore, we can count on seeing Harlock again. Especially with so much already beckoning from the video shelf.

The End


Captain Harlock’s final appearance in the context of Yamato came as a nice surprise in 1990. Bandai released the first box set of Series 1 on laserdisc that year, which came with a gorgeous art book full of goodies. Amongst these was a handful of original paintings that were published nowhere else. This one by Takehiko Itou (previously known by the pen name Hiroyuki Hataike) truly ignites the imagination.

2014 Addendum

Space Pirate Captain Harlock Dimension Voyage

Champion Red, a monthly manga anthology published by Akita Shoten, caught the eye of Leiji Matsumoto fans with the October 2014 issue (published August 19), which featured the first chapter in a brand new Captain Harlock series that stands out from its predecessors in several ways.

Most significantly, you will notice that it isn’t drawn by Leiji Matsumoto. Instead, the artist’s name is Kouichi Shimahochi, with Matsumoto credited as the supervisor. The story is titled Dimension Voyage, and though it begins as a remake of the original Space Pirate, it seems positioned to accomplish a goal Matsumoto has flirted with for many years: to bring all the Harlock mythos together in one story.

Shimahochi’s art is striking in the same way as Keisuke Masunaga‘s work in the Matsumoto universe; it identifies and enhances the core of the style while also updating it with modern techniques (the same approach taken with Yamato 2199). The arrival of the new manga lead to a commemorative model kit box (above left), and the first paperback collection (above right) arrived in January 2015. It can be ordered from Amazon.co.jp here.

Voyaging across dimensions means we’ll be in for crossovers in this tale, and the first Yamato crossovers are sprinkled throughout manga volume 1. Above left, we see the Cosmo Cleaner D (presumably a hologram) displayed as a monument in Megalopolis city, which would be a fitting tribute to a machine that once saved Earth. Above right is young Tadashi Daiba unmistakably wielding a Cosmo Gun.

What makes this possible, despite Leiji Matsumoto no longer being associated with Space Battleship Yamato, is the wording of a legal agreement signed in 2004. It allows him to use elements that he himself designed, with the limitation that he cannot use Space Battleship Yamato terminology in commerce. From this we can deduce that these two particular items are Matsumoto designs – which explains why they were changed for Yamato 2199.

Then there is this spread, which features spaceships last seen in the still-unproduced Cosmo Super Dreadnought Mahoroba series…and the return of G [Great] Yamato. Originally conceived in 2000 and serialized in Gotta Comics under the name New Space Battleship Yamato, Great Yamato was the series that began the copyright dispute that eventually lead to the settlement mentioned above. This is the first appearance of Great Yamato since then, and perhaps not the last.

2 thoughts on “Yamato X Harlock: Ships in the Night

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