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Arcadia of my youth
Waga Seishun No Arcadia
(Arcadia of My Youth)

Copyright: © 1982 Toei Animation Co. (Japan), 1993 AnimEigo
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 130 minutes
Rating: NR, Parental Guidance Suggested
Format: Original Japanese Dialog (LD), Subtitled (VHS/LD)
Original story by: Matsumoto Leiji Director: Tomoharu Katsumata

Parental Guidance Advised - Violence and adult language. While this is an older animated feature, there are still several scenes of people dying, being shot, and being vaporized by flame. The subtitled version includes several scenes where expletives not suitable for younger children are used.

Shortly after the first World War, an adventurer and aviator finds himself exploring the islands of Malaysia. Flying at the service ceiling limits of his biplane, Phantom F. Harlock I finds that his fuel-laden craft is unable to gain sufficient altitude to traverse the treacherous obstacle before him: The Stanley Mountains. He turns back, only to find his failure haunting him, in the form a laughing witch. Summoning his courage, Harlock dumps all but ten minutes of his fuel, and makes one last attempt at his goal...
1000 years later, Captain Phantom F. Harlock III finds himself on his final voyage as a member of the Earth space forces. Earth, defeated by the powerful Illumidas fleet, is now an occupied world, wrought with starvation and despair. Scuttling his once-proud cruiser, Harlock finds himself without a ship and purpose, until he hears the sounds of an underground radio station, operated by none other than his longtime lover, Maya. With the help of an eccentric yet gifted engineer, Tochiro, he and a small group of fighters decide that freedom is not always without heavy costs, and embark on a journey to cast off the shackles of their conquerers...
As with other releases from AnimEigo, wonderfully detailed liner notes are included, including a transcription of the song lyrics, a cast list and some historical notes about some of the hardware and idiomatic expressions used.

Of all the writers that produce either Anime or manga (or both), Matsumoto Leiji is one of those persons whose material would evoke a tremendous amount of controversy. Not because his material is offensive, or particularly insightful, but because people will either understand his writing, or would pass it off as a contrite, angst-riddled soap-opera. Matsumoto writes for his Japanese audience, and as such, people who were not raised in the environment are highly unlikely to feel any sort of bond with any of his works. Such is the case with his ambitious feature movie, Waga Seishun No Arcadia. Followers of the Harlock series will definitely not want to miss this movie -- here we have the origins of the ship itself, and how Harlock and Emeraldas both received their signature scars.
As with all Matsumoto productions, this movie features mechanical designs heavily influenced by times past -- in this case, we have the ships and fighters inspired by anything from sailed frigates right through to the Graf Zeppelin. You can tell that this is an older work -- simple animation techniques are used throughout, and the colours are very limited. Frame rates are pretty decent, but there are several instances of footage being reused in the movie. Not so much of a problem in long-running serials, but something that's very noticeable in a two hour movie. Of particular note is the soundtrack -- it's monophonic, which is most unfortunate. The music is marvel of composition, exquisitely performed by the New Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. Luckily, the Columbia-released CD is in full stereo, thought I suspect that the original master tapes were not in pristine condition, as there are several audible anomalies on the CD. The soundtrack suits the movie to a 'T': Heavy, and at times very depressing, and perhaps even a little ponderous. If classical music is not your style, then you're likely find the vocal tracks to be most satisfying -- in particular, the songs 'Taiyo wa Shinanai,' and the much more upbeat final song, 'Waga Seishun No Arcadia.' This movie's soundtrack is on my list of all-time favorites.
I was less taken with the animation direction, however. Some scenes were very awkward, and almost cheesy -- the final meeting of the Tokarga soldier Zoll and Harlock for example, when it's decided that an expeditionary force would go to their homeworld one last time. While it's a common film technique borrowed from Japanese melodramas, most viewers would think it to be corny. Several fight scenes were poorly choreographed as well -- I don't expect to take on a group of opposing fighters, only to have them attack me one at a time. Convenient, but not particularly realistic. That doesn't mean that the scene composition was bad -- in fact, there are many scenes framed with a true artist's eye. Dramatic use of angles and lighting are prominent throughout this movie; it's unfortunate that the rest of the technical elements aren't up to this standard.
Writing is less than even. Matsumoto paints his characters with a rather broad, flat brush; and often in only two colours: black and white. On one hand, you'll have the noble and idealistic freedom fighters, and on the other, underhanded and cowardly evildoers and opportunists. Add to this an engineer who is able to build an incredibly large and powerful battleship under the occupation force's base by himself, and you pretty much get the idea that the writer is expressing some excess baggage that he's carrying. There's no mistaking where most of this film's ideas come from: The US occupation of postwar Japan. It seems that Matsumoto feels that postwar Japan has become somewhat a nation of sheep, and are basically no longer in control of their own destinies. I think that it would be fair to say that Matsumoto is, if not anti-American, would not be considered to have any great love for the US. From his own feelings of frustration comes the rebellious hero figure: Harlock, in which he instills values that he feels important: Honesty, integrity, and above all else -- being willing to risk all to follow your beliefs. A most noble image -- the heroic, idealistic freedom fighter, accompanied by his loyal companions, bucking all odds by taking on an oppressive and superior force -- a package that I felt very compelling. Perhaps it's the Japanese side of my psyche, or perhaps it resonates with my own sense of idealism. This movie won't appeal to most of the North American market, but it managed to find a place in my heart... my personal "Arcadia."
- AN, 98.09.13