It may seem as though Leiji Matsumoto runs his world on a ‘what if’ basis, and in some cases that may indeed be true. However, it seems far more apparent
that the Matsumoto universe is made up of overlapping realities, multiple spheres of existence that occasionally interconnect. In one sphere
Tochirō may be well and truly dead, in another he still lives.
One sphere may contain an infant Mayu, in yet another she was never born at all. One Harlock has a blue
Arcadia, and another has a green. They are all different universes, and it is best that the audience does not try to reconcile them.
Matsumoto’s overlapping universes are seemingly bound by the laws of Karma and universal predestiny.
Which means that no matter the universe, certain events are inescapable. Tochirō, it seems, will always die young,
and Harlock will always lose his closest friend. Harlock will always be propelled away from the Earth and into a lonely existence as a pirate. Before he dies,
Tochirō will build an Arcadia, and he will place his psyche into it. Planetside, Dr Daiba is forever destined to be brutally murdered, though the murderers
and circumstances change each time, and his son, Tadashi Daiba, may never escape the horror of finding his father’s corpse.
And Tadashi will always follow Harlock — with many misgivings — into a life that in all likelihood he would never have chosen
were he left to his own devices.
Harlock certainly seems cognizant of this nature of his reality, promising to the
dead Maya that they will meet again where the ‘rings of time’ meet
(My Youth in Arcadia). The entire sentence in eloquent Japanese is 'Tōku toki no wa,
sessuru tokoro de, mata aou,' which in clumsy English (because sometimes English
really is clumsy) translates as 'We'll meet again where the distant rings of time meet.' Harlock already seems to know that
this universe is not the only universe, that time is mutable and subject to
change, and that death isn't necessarily the end. He seems somewhat resigned to living
on while his loved ones die, and longs for the time when he too will die and can
rejoin his friends. But he's also learnt that destiny is a powerful force that
can't be trifled with, and perhaps this is the root cause of his attitude
towards life. The longer Harlock lives, the more he realises that he's trapped.
Matsumoto stated in an interview that he thinks of the universe as a sphere, or
a ball, where time overlaps. He regards the past as the distant future — which
is to say that if you keep going forward eventually you'll come back to the
beginning again, meeting your deceased friends along the way. It's a lovely
concept, and it goes a long way towards explaining the worlds he has created,
and the world that Harlock lives in.
In the final episode of Endless Odyssey, Harlock is not surprised to find the long-dead
Tochirō waiting for him within the Hourglass Nebula, an apparent interdimensional
nexus. In a poignant moment of nostalgia, Tochirō wishes that he and Harlock
could drink together for just one night, and Harlock, knowing that the moment
cannot be now, says sadly ‘One day that time will come.’ Harlock, the dreamer,
hopes that one day his particular sphere of existence may interpose once more upon Tochirō’s, but Tochirō knows that the spheres
may never meet, that they should take this opportunity now. It is a sad second farewell for the friends.
Yes, overlappings. Yes, events in common. But no, not the same universes. Not
quite the same personalities. Always, the events of their lives will shape them, and always
their lives will be subtly different. It is as though Matsumoto, in his ponderings,
contemplated… ‘I wonder what this personality would do in these circumstances.’
And then he wrote some stories.