Finally, Judge Sandra Dozier warms up to the storyline of this latest Herlock odyssey, despite lingering displays of arrogance on the part of the captain.
"If you want to become a real man, come aboard my ship…"
The Decimated Planet is the best volume yet in this recent Space Pirate Captain Herlock series. This is a series that got off to a very slow start, with a needlessly long re-introduction to Captain Herlock that did little to fill in his back story for new fans, and a convoluted plot line that was hard to warm up to. The various threads of the story finally come together in this suite of episodes, as the origin for the menacing Noo is revealed and the fate of the scientists whose bodies Noo hijacked in the first episode is explained.
Voyage eight picks up after Miss Kei has been mortally wounded by an
incarnation of Noo, a spectral menace that has succeeded in obliterating the
Earth and taking over several small planets in his quest to conquer our galaxy.
She is taken to the ship for medical attention but lies in a coma, near death.
Her mind is filled with nightmare images of a barren, scorched landscape as she
struggles to regain consciousness. Meanwhile, Daiba is held prisoner by the Noo
and is joined by the former chief engineer for the Arcadia, who was trying to
rescue an employee of his trapped in a mine cave-in. They are eventually
reunited with Captain Herlock after he confronts Noo directly. Kei, still in a
coma, realizes that her nightmares are actually a manifestation of herself in
another dimension or reality, and comes face to face with the ghosts of the dead
scientists who originally discovered Noo. In the meantime, her body is taken
over by another incarnation of Noo, and she squares off wi!
I'm so glad the story has finally caught up with the visuals. With such stunning animation and faithful character design (vintage Leiji Matsumoto, rendered beautifully with an expert use of light and dark elements to create specific moods and settings), one would expect a sprawling, compelling story. Up until this group of episodes (or Voyages, according to the DVD menu), the story part has been conspicuously muddled. Part of the appeal of a Matsumoto tale, traditionally, is the complex weave of characters, plot lines, and events that is presented simply and elegantly. It isn't formula, but it isn't a puzzle that the viewer has to figure out. That we are just now finding out the salient details regarding the Noo menace makes for a story that is hard to connect with.
Despite feeling entertained and engrossed in Voyages eight through ten, I'm still not connecting with all the characters. Herlock's arrogance and inability to feel fear are almost supernatural in their intensity, which is probably designed to make him larger than life, but instead it merely makes him a distant, cold presence—there is no indication of why his crew feel such a fierce loyalty to him or why Daiba wants to be like him. The Noo get an image upgrade in these Voyages, however, by showing their true form and relying a little less on the scare factor of shambling zombies and oozing bodily fluids.
I also missed Chief Ilita, who had such an interesting arc at the beginning of the series, and who seems almost forgotten in this arc. I hope he will return later in the story—of all the characters, he seems the most human to me. He's an arrogant man with aspirations to drown anyone who gets in his way, yet he is flawed and vulnerable and all the more compelling for his shortcomings.
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 Herlock himself exudes may also enjoy seeing a slower-paced story that provides many opportunities for Herlock to demonstrate his edict that every human should live free or die.
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