Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Reimagining a classic manga and anime series that introduces a fresh storyline yet paying homage and preserving the spirit of the original can be a daunting feat, yet Jérôme Alquié successfully achieves this vision in Space Pirate Captain Harlock. He adapts basic source material from Leiji Matsumoto’s rendition of the iconically eye patched, skull and bones emblazoned cape donning pirate, sailing across space with a ragtag crew of misfits en route to save the earth from an unidentified global threat.

The story is set in 2977, paralleling the original series. A wave of unexplained snowstorms ravage the earth, throwing the climate off balance. Teams of scientists launch research expeditions to uncover the mystery behind these phenomenally violent blizzards. Clues lead to the discovery of a mausoleum buried beneath the icy depths of the arctic regions. As the mystery deepens, a trio of mutant sisters appear, somehow collectively connected to unique elemental forces of nature like fire and ice. They have engineered a masterplan to undermine the stronghold of the Mazon—an ancient race of female aliens hibernating upon the earth for millennia.

This version of the Captain Harlock mythos presents a faithful rendering of the original both in character and set design along with core characters such as the impulsive driven Tadashi, loyal lieutenant Kei, reticent, observant alien Mimay, model building hobbyist and expert shipwright Yattaran, and on planet earth, little Mayu, daughter of a deceased friend whom Harlock has sworn to protect. Narrated in part as an epistolary series of journal entries from Harlock to the spirit of his battleship Arcadia, the plot unfolds through episodic chapters. The crew ventures through space in search of answers to combat the imminent invasion descending upon the earth. Rendered in noir style within the reaches of a deep blue outer space, Alquié also integrates brightly lit landscapes of a snow-covered earth. Intermittent expositional summaries fill in the backstory for new readers through intricately composed montages, highlighting key events and characters strategically arranged in a collage-like style.

Exquisitely illustrated panels packed with crisp, colorful character and set designs hearkening back to the original series will appeal to past and present otaku fans alike. A bonus gallery of variant covers and character sketches and descriptions occupy the back matter. This brilliantly crafted story takes place alongside the setting of the original and introduces a new alien threat, this time stemming from the earth. Space Pirate Captain Harlock offers a fresh, deftly reimagined take on a classic manga series that will attract younger as well as familiar fans in the science fiction canon of Japanese animation.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock Vol.
By Jérôme Alquié, Leiji Matsumoto,  ,
Ablaze, 2022
ISBN: 9781950912544

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  French,  Character Representation: Japanese,

Belle

The magical realism of anime meets the enchanting wonder of Disney in Academy Award nominated director Mamoru Hosoda’s (The Girl Who Leapt through Time, Mirai) mesmerizing virtual world fantasy that echoes Beauty and the Beast. The tagline of this fantasy thriller states, “You can’t start over in reality, but you can start over in U,” prepping viewers to delve into this alternate reality where the inhabitants adopt identities that mask their true personas, yet draws out their hidden strengths.

Suzu, a reclusive and socially awkward lone wolf of a schoolgirl, leads a melancholy life. At a young age, she lost her mother to a drowning accident, and since then, has been holding onto a fractured relationship with her father. With the aid of her savvy social media classmate Hiro, they enter “U,” an immersive virtual world populated by avatars of every imaginable size, style, and variation. Before long, she rises to stardom as a sensational global pop star, captivating fans with uplifting songs that inspire and heal. In this world, however, lurks a brooding figure known as the Dragon, a monstrous beast who hides in the shadows, isolated and sheltered away from everyone else. Who is this mysterious beast? What secrets does he harbor? In her persona as Belle, Suzu seeks to penetrate the depths of the Dragon in hopes of uncovering his identity to redeem him.

A brilliantly executed rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Hosoda’s fantasy, supported by the creative character designs of Jin Kim (Frozen, Moana, Encanto), orchestrates a story that intersects elements of mystery, romance, and fantasy while touching upon issues of self-identity, trust, loneliness, courage, and hope. Vibrant CGI set designs along with exquisitely hand-drawn scenic backgrounds complement a surrealistic world reminiscent of the dazzling dreamlike sequences in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. In addition to the vibrant fluency and synergy of colors, strategic camera angles capture majestic and iconic shots in homage to Disney’s original animated film. The songs enrich the film’s charming enchantment, transforming it into a semi-musical piece that resonates with warmth and heart.

While not initially apparent, each character plays a significant role that culminates in a riveting climax that propels Suzu to embrace her true identity and purpose, empowering her to uncover the mystery behind the beast’s predicament. Bonus extras include character and set design galleries, insightful interviews with Hosoda, scene breakdowns, and more.

A fine achievement to the ever-expanding films of GKIDS (a division of Studio Ghibli) for family and adult audiences, Belle radiates with heartwarming passion and makes a welcome addition to anime collections .

Belle
By Mamoru Hosoda
Art by Jin Kim
GKIDS/Shout! Factory, 2022

Publisher Age Rating: PG

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Alice in Borderland

Welcome to Borderland. You’ll be dying to stick around.

In volume 1 of Haro Aso’s Alice in Borderland, life is simple, if a bit of a letdown, for eighteen-year-old Arisu and his friend Chota. Obsessed with girls and unconcerned with school, the boys spend their time skipping class and hanging out with older dropout Karube at his bar. Weighed down with family and social pressure as well as dwindling hope for the future, the trio have accepted their lot in life. All that changes with a visit to a fireworks show and a flash of blinding light.

They wake up in their own town—now rundown and absent of any people. Unsure whether they’ve been transported to the future or some alternate dimension, the three embrace their new adventure until they meet a woman named Shibuki—a woman who calls this strange landscape Borderland and reveals that it is not the grand opportunity they first believed. Borderland is an arena. Every night features games where the stakes are life and death—and the only way to stay alive is to keep playing. With no idea who controls Borderland, the four survivors must work together to face the challenges and uncover any way to get home. There are many players in Borderland, but not all of them are friendly. And many will not be going home alive.

Written and drawn by Haro Aso, the story takes its time establishing the characters before charging headlong into the tension of their new predicament. The manga is weakest at its opening, in part because neither Arisu or Chota is particularly likeable when we first encounter them. As the story continues, Aso weaves in flashbacks alongside the main action, giving the reader insight into the struggles each faces and deepening our investment in their survival. It is these secret motivations, in part, that helped bring them to Borderland for this twisted version of a chance to change their fates. Each of the four central characters brings a key strength to the group’s survival, and with each new player introduced, Aso lays the groundwork for future plotlines. Volume 1 is an exciting read on its own, and its promise of future stories makes it a strong introduction to the series.

The art has comfortably familiar manga stylings. There are some strange flourishes—particularly in characters’ expressions—but Aso largely captures the events and emotions of both quiet moments and action sequences in clear detail. In particular, the visuals shine during some of the most sinister moments of the second game, keeping the unfolding action clear while also building tension and drawing the reader into the nail-biting efforts of the characters just to see another sunrise.

The publisher rates Alice in Borderland Mature for depictions of violence and death. Along with some language and suggestive content, it’s certainly a manga aimed at more mature readers. While the themes and violence are intense at times, the content is not so extreme as to be unsuitable for older teens. With a mix of teenage and adult characters, mature teens and adults alike will certainly find something to appreciate here—especially for fans of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games as well as the more recent Squid Game on Netflix. A strong first volume with lots of thematic and action promise for future chapters, Alice in Borderland is a worthy addition to any collection with older manga readers. And with the 2020 live-action adaptation of this manga available on Netflix as well, having this series on the shelf carries the added benefit of drawing in any reader curious about the source material.

Mystery, action, and high-stakes survival—Alice in Borderland, Volume 1 is bold enough to pull you in and has enough layers to keep you thinking about it even after the last body has hit the floor.

Alice in Borderland Vol. 1
By Haro Aso
VIZ, 2022
ISBN: 9781974728374

Publisher Age Rating: M
Related media:  Comic to Movie

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese,  Character Representation: Japanese,