Judge Sandra Dozier learned an important tip from Captain Herlock and crew: when fighting aliens who control you by infecting you with fear, complete blandness will save you every time.
"If you want to become a real man, come aboard my ship…"
In Tendrils of Fear, the latest Captain Herlock adventure hits its stride, with plenty of action and plot development to keep fans interested (clearing up lingering questions from Volume One). The Arcadia is heading back to earth with Diaba, the young man Herlock invited on board just prior to freeing the rest of his crew from a space prison run by Chief Ilita, a man with a grudge who is bent on wiping Herlock from existence. Diaba feels restless, and can't understand the lackadaisical attitude of the crew, who often ignore orders and sit around drinking, playing with toys, and reading magazines. Herlock is occupied with thoughts of his deceased friend, something the Noo seem to recognize, and seems unsure of where he should be headed after they confront the Noo. The Noo are an unidentified presence spreading chaos throughout the worlds it comes in contact with, turning human against human in what seems like mental manipulation or perhaps a sort of mental poison. Meanwhile, Ilita takes the fight directly to the Noo, attacking the research vessel they appropriated from the Yadar research team Diaba's father was a part of.
Volume Two has a much tighter pacing than the first volume in this series. We find out about the Noo, get a glimpse into Ilita's mind, and witness Herlock's response when asked to help stop the Noo, all in just three episodes. However, I still can't get into this series, even though the animation is gorgeous (vintage Matsumoto, rendered beautifully with an expert use of light and dark elements to create specific moods and settings), the theme song is catchy, and the English Dub 5.1 Surround soundtrack is lively and robust, with a good use of back channels for ambient noise.
The story is still unfolding too slowly, with ponderous explanation of what the Noo are and what they are doing here, and attempts to control Herlock's crew with fear that falls flat, and not just because it doesn't work on his seemingly fearless crew. Everyone is so nonchalant and unconcerned about what might happen, I doubt that having a klaxon go off in their face would phase them, much less a spooky ghost woman trying to freak you out by withdrawing your still-beating heart and demanding that you obey her. Doesn't she know that Captain Herlock obeys no one? Apparently she didn't get the memo.
I also am tired of looking at the Daiba kid with his comb-over hairdo. I don't so much mind that he only has one eye and a tiny sliver of face showing most of the time, but what happened to the tousle-haired look that used to create this Matsumoto signature? I can understand how a generally downward-falling mane of tousled hair might obscure the eye, but this kid looks like he got caught in a wind tunnel the way it is swept up and to one side, and then carefully brushed down around the other side of his face. Finally, the Noo. The concept of the Noo is scary, for sure, but they don't make the best enemy—they are basically zombies who speak in short, often mono-syllabic sentences, move real slow, and ooze disgusting substances from various body cavities and openings.
Prior to viewing this title, I had never seen any animated Herlock stories, so I'm finding it hard to relate to the characters, and that is mostly what determines my enjoyment of a title. Although I really like Chief Ilita and am interested in the arc of his character, it just isn't enough to keep me hooked, seeing as he isn't onscreen as much as Herlock and crew, and isn't as essential to the story. Even with the presence of Daiba there, as the conscience/voice of the newcomer to the Herlock universe, I am still finding it difficult to connect with the main group of characters.
I think this is a title that existing fans of Captain Herlock will enjoy, if simply from the standpoint of the excellent animation and character design, including nods to other Matsumoto works such as Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999. Fans already invested in the aura exuded by Herlock himself may also enjoy seeing a slower-paced story that provides many opportunities to demonstrate his edict—that every human should live free or die.
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Scales of Justice
• Clean original Japanese opening
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