An anime originally conceived by Leiji Matsumoto
If you would like to watch this, it’s available for free on Amazon Prime and the Retrocrush app, I watched it on Roku because I was too lazy to look for my DVDs.
When I worked at a now defunct retail chain more than 15 years ago, I stumbled on a DVD for a show called Cosmo Warrior Zero (CWZ from now on) and was excited. Being a fan of the Galaxy Express 999 manga as it was being published in an anime magazine called Animerica, and a fan of the Daft Punk Discovery music videos (Interstella 5555), I knew that art style from miles away and knew I had to snatch this up. In many ways, this was my introduction to characters other than GE999 and Harlock, and I loved every second of it. It held the same sort of ideas that some of the other shows I had watched contained – the eventual mechanization of humankind was going to be bad thing and ruin the Earth, tragic heroes realizing the cause they are fighting for is unjust, and love becoming a force for change in the Universe.
When a Reddit page I participate in decided to do a watch-along for CWZ I was excited to watch this show again after something like 15-18 years since my last viewing. Hopefully, I thought, it still held, up – maybe it wouldn’t. Luckily, the show still hits all the points I love about Matsumoto’s work, and I’m glad I re-watched it. Another big reason I enjoyed this show is that Harlock is played by none other than Steve Blum in one of his many non-union roles he did under a pseudonym. This was around the time Cowboy Bebop really hit it big, so it was always cool to hear him playing all of these cool stoic characters he used to be typecast as. I know many are still into that unnecessary sub vs dub battle that has been raging for decades, but the voice cast here is very good for the English version.
“The long war between the planet Earth and the machine men is finally over, resulting in a peace that is more a victory for the machine men than the Earth. Warius Zero lost his family in the war to the machinemen but despite this he still is a member of the Earth fleet that is now working in concert with the machine men. His ship, made up of both humans and machine men, has been given a near impossible task: capture the space pirate Captain Harlock. While Zero struggles to accomplish this task, evidence begins to surface that the peace between machine men and Earth may not be as it seems.”From Wikipedia
Fun fact, many don’t realize the anime was adapted from a videogame developed by Taito for the original PlayStation in 2000. One of these days I’d love to watch a full playthrough of the game, I’ve seen clips and would be scared as to how antiquated it would be now, but I’d like to see the differences in the story.
Warius Zero is an interesting character due to the fact that his own nature is at odds with his duty so much. In a somewhat similar vein to Star Trek’s Captain Picard, Zero has a heavy prejudice against Machinemen (for Picard the Borg); during the war his wife and child were killed by them. That said, he upholds his duty to protect the Machinemen under his command because he has sworn duty to The Federation which overseas a union between the two races. This makes his initial run-ins with Harlock almost seem racist in nature – seeing that he is vehemently against the Machinemen, no matter what. We all know Zero largely feels the same way, but he suppresses it – then he comes across Machinemen he cares about, and it softens his heart a bit. He comes to terms with his own prejudice and helps fight against it in his crew. He even develops feelings for a Machineman officer on his ship named Marina.
There are many cases where Machinemen are the victims of racism, harassment, and bullying on the ship. Neither Zero or Marina will stand up for this, and set the perpetrators straight when they see it. These tensions boil over many times and the two sides are eager to open old wounds of the war. There is even a race war of sorts early on resulting in people getting hurt, this angers the Captain to where he has to basically lay the law down to everyone on the ship. There are no humans or Machinemen on his crew, only soldiers. He shows great courage seeking the understand his crew no matter what. Later, he finds out that most mechanized people had to take mechanized bodies for survival purposes. Marina, for example had to become one because the very planet she lived on started to have ecological disasters that could no longer sustain life. The real enemy aren’t your average Joe grunt Machinemen, in true Matsumoto fashion, it’s the elites that have Machine bodies for reasons of wealth.
CWZ Is from 2001, and such it is one of those early 2000’s amines that has very inconsistent animation. When cels were on their way out, and Digipaint came into widespread use, there were definitely some growing pains. CWZ blends CGI and animated models for a number of scenes, and this effect is never the best looking, then again most productions that used this style were the same or similar, so its not like this stands out. It’s of the time unfortunately. The good news is, this is largely a character drama, and the script and scenes with that are great.
I LOVE the opening theme and ending themes. Both are timeless pieces of music with the opening sounding like music you would hear in the Lord of the Rings, and the ending a moody somber choral song that sets the tone for the show. Most anime today seems like a mechanism to sell comics, toys, body pillows, and that new hit single from [insert popular band], having something a bit more minimalist makes the show stand out. A lot of Matsumoto shows do this, many have orchestral themes, and others have op sings that sound like they are deliberately from a by-gone era. Whatever they do, I like it. I have posted the videos for these songs at the bottom if you want to hear them.
If you are a fan of all Leijiverse material, there are TONS of cameos from characters like Emeraldas and Tochiro amongst others. Coupled with Harlock being the chief antagonist until the real bad guy shows up, that means you will be in heaven with all of the fanservice. The show consists of thirteen regular episodes and two specials. I found the specials to be somewhat weird in comparison the rest of the show, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
All-in-all my re-watch was worth it. CWZ is a bit inconsistent in terms of animation and has a few plot holes here and there. That said, it handles tropes like the tragic hero and racism allegories very well, and you really get to feeling for the characters by the end. As a prequel to Captain Harlock, as this was designed to be, I’m not sure it’s wholly successful as it flies in the face of continuity a lot. That said, almost no Matsumoto show actually stays within it’s own timeline, trying to make sense of every inconsistency would drive a normal man to madness. Out of all of the early 2000’s Matsumoto properties that were released right at the time I was getting into anime hardcore, this is probably my favorite. Whether it be nostalgia or actual quality I’m not sure, but I’d definitely recommend a watch-through.
That Reddit group plans more of these watch-throughs, so be prepared for more of these reviews.