Netflix has always streamed animé, but it’s usually been dubbed titles from several years ago, as opposed to the latest and greatest. For that, animé fans had to turn to other streaming services like Hulu and Crunchyroll. But earlier this year, it seemed that Netflix was making a concerted effort to capture the animé market, releasing some more recent titles and capturing exclusive rights for a couple of high-profile titles: Knights of Sidonia and Space Captain Pirate Harlock.
I won’t spend any time on Knights — basically, I completely agree with Richard Eisenbeis’ review — but Space Captain Pirate Harlock was a particularly confusing viewing. I initially chalked that up to the character’s long, convoluted history: originally conceived by Leiji Matsumoto 1973, the character has had many incarnations, animated or otherwise. But even so, the story seemed particularly incoherent.
The film’s Wikipedia entry mentioned scenes I didn’t remember seeing and didn’t help that switching between the dubbed and subtitled versions revealed was extra dialog in the dubbed version. More discussion of these edits can be found in this GameFAQs forum thread, including some detailed descriptions. One edit, in particular, seems particularly egregious, as it reduced a potentially complicated character to a sadistic villain.
All that being said, Space Captain Pirate Harlock does have some things going for it. The animation is phenomenal (though the character animations still veer too close to “uncanny valley” territory), the ship and tech designs are cool to watch, and the show has a nice gothic space opera vibe to it (particularly with the Arcadia, Harlock’s infamous ship).
It’s disappointing that the edited version is streaming on Netflix (though in fairness, I doubt Netflix made the edits). Assuming Netflix wants to make some inroads to the animé fanbase, grabbing rights to high-profile titles — e.g., Space Captain Pirate Harlock garnered nominations at numerous animation festivals and even James Cameron is a fan — isn’t going to be enough. It seems wiser that the high-profile titles are streamed in their full, unedited form. Otherwise, as is the case with Space Captain Pirate Harlock, you risk offering a confusing and ultimately diminished experience.