Looking Back At ARCADIA OF MY YOUTH - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace immerses himself in the Leijiverse.
You could say that Arcadia of My Youth is a space opera; you would be correct, but you would be missing several aspects. You could say it’s a war story, and you wouldn’t exactly be wrong either. You could say it’s something of a superhero origin story and likewise approach correctness. It’s all that and more.

This is on the long end for an anime OVA; it runs at a hundred and thirty minutes. It adapts Leiji Matsumoto’s character Captain Harlock, and was directed by Tomoharu Katsumata and released in 1982. It’s a film that succeeds in being many things, and in bringing them all together in a way that never feels disjointed; that alone is a major triumph.
Captain Harlock as a character is worth going on about at length; he is your classic rogue, in the likes of Han Solo or Indiana Jones, more like the former in that he inhabits a space opera setting. He is amiable and charming in the extreme, and he is always fun to watch banter with just about everyone, with a healthy disrespect for authority underlying all of it. He is similar in another way: he is a rebel against an authoritarian state and leads others in fighting it. In that regard, both Solo and Harlock are strongly reminiscent of the sort of historical revolutionary that has become heavily romanticized. In his book Invisible Armies: an Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, Max Boot argues that there is very much a stereotype of the ‘sexy revolutionary,’ a trend he says starts with Giuseppe Garibaldi and continues with Che Guevara (but I can think of at least one example in Irish folk music). As George R. R. Martin said, everybody loves a rogue.

But Harlock would never get to be a revolutionary without an empire to fight against; in this case, the Ilumidans, an alien empire that has occupied Earth in the absence of the likes of Captain Harlock. Much of the present-day plot, therefore, is the war against the Ilumidans, a war that is shown to take a great toll on all involved. The Ilumidans, to their credit, are great villains; you never doubt for a moment that they deserved to be thrown off the planet (as does imperialism generally). In some ways, it’s a romanticized war; there’s a resistance radio station that calls to mind several from our own history.
On the topic of history, this film interacts with our world in some strange ways. Much of Arcadia of My Youth is centered around two ancestors of Captain Harlock, both in the early twentieth century. The first is Phantom F. Harlock I, a daring explorer in the tradition of Professor Challenger, as he flies his plane through the mists of New Guinea. The other is implied to be the former’s son, Phantom F. Harlock II (a rather bold name for a German), a Luftwaffe pilot in the waning days of the Second World War in Europe who is assisted by a Japanese engineer in surviving his regime’s ignominious (and deserved) end. I will admit that it felt a bit odd seeing the relatively uncritical portrayal of an old-style adventurer (with all its uncomfortable implications regarding colonialism) and a pilot who flew from Hitler, but it serves to remind you of the humanity of those you would consider your enemy. By casting these two men as ancestors to the space pirate of the rest of the film, it shows how certain traits endure through generations and are in some ways part of the great gestalt of humanity (that Japanese engineer also gets a descendant in the rest of the film).

Overall, this is a strange film, too long to be described as ‘little.’ It’s partially a generational saga of sorts, a James Michener novel in space in a way (and, come to think of it, we need a book series with that premise, but I digress). It’s a war story and the story of a dashing rogue. It’s a film that’s most certainly hard to pin down, but I certainly enjoyed the experience.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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