ADV Films // 2001 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // March 2nd, 2006
Ahab's deadly obsession lives!
Hakugei is an anime adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick -- complete with different characters and a story that has nothing to do with 19th-century whaling!
It is the year 4699. Outer space has been colonized. The recklessness of mankind has left the void scattered with discarded spaceships. Scavengers known as whalers strip the floating debris for valuable parts and cargo. The most famous of these opportunists is Captain Ahab. From his base of operations on the dilapidated King Kuron space station in the Nantucket Nebula, he sets out on expeditions in his ship, the Lady Whisker. His crew is small:
* Atre -- Ahab's precocious eleven-year-old apprentice
* Speed King -- a speed-obsessed pilot
* Barba -- a formidable, tattooed, harpoon-wielding warrior
* Academias -- the crew's wild-haired technical and programming genius
* Doc Christiansen -- the ship's affable doctor
* Cook -- the Lady Whisker's lazy but proficient chef
* Mutz Gunryu -- the mysterious, stand-offish master of the super ceramic sword
Having hitched a ride aboard a cargo vessel, Lucky Luck -- a 14-year-old girl disguised as a boy -- arrives in King Kuron seeking Ahab. For over 200 years, the natural resources of her home world, Moad, have been stripped by the Federation government. Now, they're relocating the population and turning the decimated planet into a testing ground for a prototype planet-destroying cannon deployed on a white whale of a ship called the Moby Dick. Lucky's brother is leading a resistance movement, but all will be lost when the Moby Dick arrives at Moad in nine months. Ahab and his crew are the planet's only hope.
Volume One of Hakugei contains the first five episodes the series:
* "Drifting Place"
Lucky Luck arrives at the rickety space port of King Kuron in the Nantucket Nebula. She seeks the famed Captain Ahab. When she finds him, she's put through a series of tests before being accepted as a crewmember.
* "Whale Hunters"
Atre introduces Lucky to the crew of the Lady Whisker. The crew assembles, and sets out on the first mission of its voyage.
* "From a Cold Planet..."
The crew discovers a combat android named Due discarded by the Federation and drifting in suspended animation. He harbors a secret that will shape the destinies of Ahab and his crew.
* "The White Demon"
The crew visits planet Laz Angel, a vacation spot for intrepid whalers. Once there, Due proves useful when Lucky is kidnapped by another crew of whalers. Lucky's gender secret is revealed.
* "Super Battleship Moby Dick"
Ahab reveals the truth about his criminal past, and his tragic encounter with Moby Dick. He determines to save Lucky's planet from the white whale. Despite the danger, the crew of the Lady Whisker means to help him.
Hakugei has so little to do with Herman Melville's literary classic that bibliophiles will find no offense in its spacefaring adventures. This is such a loose adaptation, it's no adaptation at all. One wonders why the series' creator, Osamu Desaki, even bothered appropriating the names of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. The novel's cannibal Queequeg has been renamed Barba, and transformed from a mysterious, deep-feeling pagan prince to a comic boob. The Lady Whisker's mission has little in common with that of the Pequod. All of this is good news. An earnest attempt at an anime adaptation of Melville's profound, sprawling epic of existential dread could only have resulted in disaster. Desaki and his crew were wise to focus on playing to anime's strengths: visual splendor, thrilling action, and maybe a few laughs.
Did they succeed on all those fronts? Unfortunately, no. The world of Hakugei looks cool. It's a little like a nautical version of Cowboy Bebop's rundown, high-tech, anarchic universe. King Kuron, in particular, is a vibrant multicultural mélange of losers, misfits, and reprobates. The visual appeal of its dank corridors and neon gaudiness gets us through some dry but necessary exposition in the first couple episodes. Unfortunately, solid production design isn't enough to sell cheap animation, and Hakugei's animation is indeed cheap. In fact, ithe show's not very animated at all. Pans across animation cels, and still images with motion lines abound. Even simple movement is herky-jerky and repetitive. The budget shortcuts make it impossible for Desaki and his crew to make the action and slapstick set pieces as dynamic as they need to be -- a major problem considering this is an action/comedy series. They try to sidestep the problem with clever use of stylized sketchy freeze frames that are pleasing to the eye, but the gimmick only goes so far before it begins to feel, well, gimmicky.
In terms of story, Hakugei shows promise. Episodes One and Two offer a clunky mix of exposition and juvenile humor, but the series picks up speed by the end of the second episode. The introduction of the android Due gives the third and fourth episodes a satisfying veil of mystery and foreboding. The revelation of Ahab's backstory in Episode Five is as action-packed as the series' early episodes get. It also gives us our first real glimpse of the behemoth ship known as the Moby Dick. Skeptical when the first episode began, I was actually eager to find out what happens next as the credits rolled on Episode Five.
ADV Films' DVD presentation of Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick looks great. The transfer is full frame, in keeping with the show's broadcast television origins. The image is as crisp as the animation allows. Colors are fully saturated. Digital artifacts are negligible.
As with nearly all ADV titles, two audio options are offered. The default track is a Dolby 5.1 mix of an English-language dub. The original Japanese voice performances are also available in a stereo mix, subtitled in English. The tracks are a mixed bag. The Japanese option is thinner and more muted than the English, but its performances are more satisfying for the most part. That said, John Swasey's (Madlax) gravelly, shiver-me-timbers performance as Ahab stands head and shoulders above the subdued work of his Japanese counterpart. The show's blue-eyed, square-jawed, New Wave pretty boy characterization of the Lady Whisker's captain is in desperate need of some rough edges and Swasey delivers the goods. Most of the rest of the English voice work is lacking, though. It's unfortunate because listening to the English track with the subtitles activated reveals a translation that is more vibrant and riddled with slang than the original Japanese.
Supplements are reasonably abundant. In addition to the requisite credit-free opening and closing animation sequences, the disc contains a couple featurettes and text-based extras. Character sketches and production artwork are presented as brief featurettes in which slideshows of drawings are set to music from the show. The former runs about two-and-a-half minutes, while the latter is less than a minute in length. Character biographies and "The Space Whalers' Lexicon" are both text-based supplements. The usual gallery of a half-dozen trailers for other ADV Films releases is also offered, as is a brief preview of the next volume of Hakugei. A one-page insert inside the keepcase contains a brief interview with Osamu Desaki.
Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick, Volume One exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, but was still far too uneven to convince me it's a good show. Despite budgetary limitations, the first five episodes of the series succeeded in piquing my curiosity about future installments.
Review content copyright © 2006 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* Character Sketches
* Character Bios
* Production Artwork
* The Space Whalers' Lexicon
* Interview with Creator/Director Osamu Desaki
* ADV Previews
* Preview of Hakugei, Volume Two