Call him Appellate Judge Dan Mancini.
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!
Facts of the Case
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
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"
• "Whale Hunters"
• "From a Cold Planet…"
• "The White Demon"
• "Super Battleship Moby Dick"
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.
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