|Tall, mysterious willowy women with hair down to their ankles, super-cool space heroes that make Cowboy Bebop's Spike look like a second-rate nobody, and then some character that looks like a Mr. Potato-Head. It can't possibly work, but in Matsumoto's universe, somehow it all does and does so brilliantly.
Matsumoto's importance to anime cannot be overstated, he quite literally gave us the first space-opera, by taking what was, ostensibly, a children's cartoon, and turning it into one the tightest dramas of all time, making himself anime's first "superstar". When Yamato fever hit Japan, the lines at the theater for Arrevederchi Yamato were unprecedented, and the normally stoic Japanese were seen openly weeping by the end of the film. He also gave anime the concept of the noble villain - Desslok/Dessler - who remains one of the most popular anime characters *ever*.
Everything he touches becomes legendary, just mention the names "Harlock" "Galaxy Express 999" "Emeraldus" to any old-school anime fan and they will become misty-eyed. Matsumoto also gave us our first taste of anime-babes. Many a fanboy has dreamed about what's under that black fur dress.
Homages to Matsumoto's work appear in the plethora of other anime, and his work is often imitated, but never duplicated. His tight characters, social commentary, and dramatic style of storytelling changed anime forever and gave us the essential concepts which we now take for granted. Other anime superstars may come and go, but Leiji Matsumoto will always be the first and the greatest of them.
When Yamato 2199's pre-production designs started hitting Japanese anime magazines about 2 years ago, anime.com's publisher immediately complained about the character designs, claiming they were too girlish-looking and not in the traditional Matsumoto style.
Although I found the character designs to be fine, and certainly by the time Yamato 2199 started airing, we'd accepted it and moved on and simply enjoyed the show, although I know some fans were secretly hoping it would be done ala Matsumoto. Even I was wondering what a modern anime done in Matsumoto style would look like.
Well, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
Ozma is a new anime currently streaming in Crunchyroll, but looking at it, except for the subtle CGI, you'd never know this was a modern, recently-produced anime, because it looks exactly like it was made in the late 1970's/Early 1980's when Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 ruled the Japanese airwaves.
And as much as love Matsumoto, as much as I'm probably the biggest GE999 geek in the United States, as much as I totally respect what this meant to all of us in the early days on anime, I have to admit that it looks totally out of place now and actually appears to come off as something of a parody of itself.
I mean, within the first 10 minutes, you see a Captain Harlock clone and a Emeraldus clone, and every character you see is completely derivative of some other Matsumoto standard-type, as if you're watching a movie starring Denzel Washington, but instead of seeing the character Washington is playing, you're seeing the actor himself, and it takes you out of the story.
Now all that said, the "series" is really more of a movie that's been cut into 6 episodes, so, it's fairly easy to digest, but that's also the failure of the title as well, there's not enough time to flesh out the characters because the film is beholden to the action, and although there's plenty of that it still seems like it's not enough to draw you in.
If you're a die-hard Matsumoto fanboy (or fangurl), then I would recommend you give it your time, but overall, I think there are better titles out this year to invest your time into, like the aforementioned Yamato 2199, a perfect example of an old-time, retro-anime 'reboot' done correctly and appealing to anime fans young and old alike.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, April 2014
Galaxy Express 999
Although not as big a hit as Harlock and Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 is one of Matsumoto's greatest creations. Sure, it seems silly, a choo-choo train flying through space, but this series starts off with the brutal slaying of the protagonist's mother *for sport* so you know there's going to be some serious ass-kicking before things are through.
GE999 is a social commentary, with practically every episode being some sort of parable regarding what's screwed up with the Earth. And Tetsuro, who's traveling to get a robot body, is also taking a journey of self-discovery, learning that it's better to be human, all the while being mentored by what may be the most dangerous woman in the universe.
Ahhh Maetel... Possibly the most enigmatic character in all of anime, she's the model on which almost all female heroines are built. The nice thing about going back to such classic anime is that you get to see where all the current anime stole their ideas from.
Crunchyroll has done us the honor of hosting this amazing classic anime series, and probably the most "pure" Matsumoto, as he wasn't trying to sell toys, nor did there seem to be pressure from outside influences to make it more commercial. This is the story he wanted to tell, during a time when he had nearly unlimited freedom to do so because of his star status. So it's real, it's him, and seriously, it's utterly epic.
Galaxy Express 999 is available on crunchyroll.com.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, May 2011
Anime DVD Review
I first watched the TV series a couple years ago on HK DVD (with the usual pseudo-subtitles), and decided it was worth buying again once the Funimation discs started to appear. I'm watching the dub this time, and it's every bit as good as I remember it. The first two episodes had me in tears all over again, so it's already a winner.
There's a real knack to animating Matsumoto characters and making them look cool, which was pioneered by Toshihiro Kawamoto, who set the style guide for character art in "The Cockpit." (He's a brilliant artist in his own right and has a singular talent for finding the essence of other artists' styles). Over the last ten years, Matsumoto's output has been uneven. It's only then that you realize it all comes down to who gets hired to interpret the master.
And on all counts, Galaxy Railways is as good as it gets. Story, art, music, everything. I strongly suspect that what made it all "click" was the CG breakthrough that allowed the artists to focus their energies on the character animation. As a result, both 2D and 3D are allowed to do what each does best and it's a feast for the eyes from start to finish.
The concluding arc of the series is a killer set of cliffhangers and a rollercoaster of plot twists that pile up so fast and furious that they gave me a rush I hadn't felt since the ending of Yamato 2.
It goes over the top of the believability meter again and again (as do all Matsumoto productions) but it's just so damn earnest and unself-conscious about it, you get swept right up in the action and you TOTALLY believe a steam locomotive can be a match for a giant space battleship.
Galaxy Railways. Accept no substitutes.
Reviewed by Tim Eldred, March 2009
Adieu Galaxy Express 999
Just a few months back I introduced the readership to Galaxy Express 999, as it's available on Crunchyroll, and may have been previously unknown to American anime fen - only us old-school fanboys remember it. Now I'm going to introduce you to the pinnacle of the series, a movie so big and bold, so lavishly overdone, that it succeeds on a level the TV series just never had the energy (and budget) to explore.
Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is probably one of the best-designed anime movies *ever*. Chock-full of Matsumoto-esque imagery it's also full of Star Wars inspired pieces, gorgeous artwork, and dystopian gloom. It's also backed up by one of the finest soundtracks you can imagine. Only Yamato has this film beat in terms of amazing music. Rin Taro does an impressive job of helming the Matsumoto universe, and plenty of cross-over cameos make their appearances to drive along the plot.
As it was meant to be the series finale, secrets of the show are revealed, and enemies are put in their place, but not before many lives are sacrificed. But hey, you can't go wrong with a movie that's got an amazing beer-drinking song near the end. If you *thought* having a robot body was a good idea, you'll be seriously re-thinking that after this film. Sayonara Ginga-Tetsuro Three-Nine!
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, September 2011
Space Pirate Captain Harlock
The coolest thing about Crunchyroll may be that, in addition to seeing some of the latest and greatest anime, we are also treated to some old-school classics. And here's the most classic-classic of them all: Space Pirate Captain Harlock, probably the most iconic, most kick-ass, and all-time coolest anime series ever.
Featuring the formula that would forever provide the direction that literally all other anime would follow, it takes place in a future time where a complacent Earth faces an enemy from another world, and a lone hero and his crew must stop them, while also avoiding the authorities, who misinterpret his actions as criminal mischief.
And of course, because he stands on his own two feet, and chooses his own course in life rather than the one society would burden him with, he must be put down for the sake of society -- a common theme in all adventure tales and one of the basic tenants in the forging of a hero.
The good Captain's battle with the Mazone is one of Matsumoto's finest creations. The Arcadia gets an impressive facelift in later incarnations of this series, but right here, in the original series is where you'll find the heart and soul of all that is Harlock. Don't even dare miss it.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, January 2011
Quest for Iscandar
Anime DVD Review
We're off to outer space, we're leaving mother Earth, so save the human race
. It's a blast from the past! So classic that it must be seen to be appreciated. Okay, the animation is a little crude looking compared to the ultra-slick anime of today, but don't be put off by it this series has the greatest plot ever put to the screen. It was in many ways the blueprint for so many films that followed, both in Japan and in the U.S. (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, etc., all owe their lineage to a sunken WWII battleship).
Created by anime legend Leiji Matsumoto (Harlock, Galaxy Express), Star Blazers (Uchu Senkan Yamato in Japan) spawned 3 TV series, 5 movies, a zillion copycats and next to Mobile Suit Gundam was one of the longest running anime franchises in Japan. And it all started here with these simple words: In the year 2199 Earth is under attack from the mysterious planet Gamilon. Gamilon planet bombs cover the Earth with radioactivity and as a result, Earth has one year to live. But, on the planet Iscandar, there is a machine which can remove the radioactivity. Queen Starsha offers it to the people of Earth. A team of star blazers undertake the perilous journey, but, can they travel 148,000 light years and back in just one Earth year?
When the show hit the airwaves in America (1979), it created the first legions of anime fans who continue to hail it to this day. Make no mistake the storyline and characters are classic and memorable. The music and art direction are top notch and (for the time) above reproach. It was, and remains the most original and revered anime series of all time. The DVD also has special features like a complete interactive map of the Star Force's journey which make this a "must have" for an old time fan.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, May 2002
Space Pirate Captain Herlock -
The Legend Returns
Anime DVD Review
Kick up your feet, sit back and relax. Get re-acquianted with an old friend. The Leiji Matsumoto time-honored classic Captain Herlock returns to DVD in an exciting new series of adventures, once more bringing together Matsumoto and fellow collaborator Rin Taro.
Captain Herlock and his old crewmates reunite after spending a long period apart, and find themselves facing an ancient evil - one that has been awakened by man's incessant push into deep space. It's guaranteed to be a series you'll want to revisit, over and over again.
Reviewed by Saul Trabal, April 2004
Daft Punk / Interstella 5555
Anime DVD Review
This DVD is an extension of four previously released music videos based on Daft Punk's Discovery album, directed by anime grand-master Leiji Matsumoto (Harlock, Yamato, Queen Emeraldus, Galaxy Express, and more...). Now the entire album has been animated and tells a more complete story, which has twists and turns, and moreover, a respectable ending.
Sound effects have been added in certain parts, and complement the music. The audio is fantastic, and Matsumoto's art has never looked so sharp. The plot is remarkably complex considering that the story moves forward entirely on the strength of the visuals. If you're into the music or Matsumoto, this DVD is worth every cent. We think it's a match made in heaven.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, February 2004