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Space! Robots! Anime! 'Splosions! All Filtered Through Something Resembling Reality! Go, DVD Reviewer, Go!
Facts of the Case
Goro Saruwatari and Jack "Lostman" Woodbridge have been close friends for years. They're both high-adrenaline adventurers, constantly looking for a new challege and a new impossible goal. When we first meet them, they're in the process of climbing Mount Everest. Upon reaching the top, Goro and Lostman sit and reflect on their lives for a moment. "Well, that pretty much takes care of everything on this earth," one says. "Guess there's nothing left but space." Almost instantly, the pair decides to dedicate their lives to making it to outer space. Goro is from Japan, Lostman is from America, but nationalities don't particularly matter anymore when it comes to space travel.
You see, our story is set in the year 2019 (or somewhere thereabouts), and all of the national space programs have been blended into a single organization called ISA (The International Space Agency). Nonetheless, the standards for astronauts remain incredibly high, and it's going to be quite difficult for both men to achieve their new life goal. The road to outer space is a difficult one that will require a lot of training and the ability to overcome almost any obstacle. Will the two best friends ever make to space? If they do, what secrets are waiting for them within the dark corners of our solar system?
The 12 episodes are presented on two discs.
Moonlight Mile: The Complete First Season (not remotely related to the underrated 2002 drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman) begins with a particularly fascinating teaser. A female astronaut is wandering across the surface of the moon. For some reason, she seems to be stranded. She says that she only has 5 hours of oxygen left, and that the nearest space station is over 60 miles away. Considering the level of gravity on the moon, she just might be able to make it if she really tries. She begins running towards the space station as fast as she can, but runs into an unexpected obstacle along the way: an army of robot soldiers. The robots shove the woman to the ground, and suddenly a strange-looking spaceship appears. A door opens, and a mysterious masked figure descends the ramp. He approaches the woman, observes her for a moment, pulls out a weapon, and points a laser at her forehead. A look of terror and realization crosses the woman's face, and suddenly the camera pulls back to linger on an image of the entire moon, silently playing host to some sort of violent space drama. Cue the opening credits.
Teasers and flash-forwards have become increasingly common in television programs these days, but I'm not sure that I've ever seen one quite as effective as the one I just described. Most of this first season of Moonlight Mile is a slow-moving, earthbound drama that remains rooted in realism and mundane everyday activities. It takes a long time before the two main characters inevitably reach space, and we don't begin to get an idea of what sort of sinister things are taking place beyond the realm of our planet until the end of the season. However, the intense fascination of that opening moment lingers with the viewer the entire time, making us wonder how all of these seemingly disparate pieces we're being given will join forces to take us to that moment.
That's not to say that what we actually get here is boring. On the contrary, much of Moonlight Mile is rather absorbing and well-crafted viewing. It's just that there isn't much of a sense of momentum in terms of the overall plot, which moves ahead at its own incredibly sluggish pace. Each episode is more or less a self-contained item taking a look at one specific aspect of the story. As such, the episodes vary somewhat in terms of interest and quality, depending on what the subject matter happens to be. Perhaps expectedly, the best episodes are those that focus on the space travel aspects of the show, which are handled with a refreshing realism that is sadly lacking in most modern sci-fi. Yes, the show opens with robot soldiers walking on the surface of the moon, but the technical details of space travel are presented with something resembling painstaking accuracy (with small, relatively unambitious tweaks made for the space vehicles of the near future).
The Earth-bound episodes are a good deal more hit-and-miss, but the ones focusing on Goro are considerably superior to those focusing on Lostman. Episode 2 is one of my favorites, offering an extended suspense sequence in which Goro must attempt to free a man from a pile of rubble at the top of a 600-foot-high construction site. One wrong move not only means death for Goro and the trapped man, but also will cause several hundred million dollars in damage to the city below. One does not typically associate animation with suspense, but it's certainly one of the more tense animated sequences I've ever seen. I would even go so far as to compare it to similarly tense sequences in Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.
Okay, let's talk transfer. The show looks good most of the time, particularly the scenes contrasting the bright space shuttles and equipment with the dark void of space itself. The animation employs a few visual tricks at various points, employing footage that is grainy, desaturated or soft & faded here and there. When it's trying to look good, it typically does, and the relatively realistic animation (save for the typically oversized chests on most of the female characters) is satisfyingly detailed. Audio is excellent, with some surprisingly immersive distribution and rear speaker action. The music is a bit above-average for an animated show; rich and memorable more often than not. The dubbing is good, though I do have a bone to pick with one aspect of it (more on that in a moment). The only extras are subtitle-free versions of the opening and closing credit songs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is one aspect of Moonlight Mile that prevents it from reaching any sort of greatness: the characters. The two male leads are nearly identical. They are one-dimensional chauvinists who regard women as sex toys and have little depth or dimension beyond their basic, "I want to be an awesome space dude," soliloquies. The show seems to back up their viewpoint by actually presenting the women as nyphomaniacal idiots. The female astronauts, who are undoubtedly very intelligent and motivated people, mostly seem to have nothing better to do than go around flashing their boobs and begging Goro and Lostman to ravage them. Speaking of which, the R-rated content included here is thoroughly gratuitous and unnecessary. The vast majority of the foul language was added in by the folks handling the English dubbing, and it sounds unnatural and forced. The sex scenes have no reason to exist other than to serve as a constant reminder that Goro and Lostman can have sex with any random person they want to. Sadly, this stuff will prevent sci-fi loving pre-teens and young teens from checking out a show that they might have really enjoyed.
Additionally, while I admire the show's ambition, I think it tries to bite off more than it can chew. The subplot in Episode 4 in which Lostman becomes a prisoner of war in Iraq is a very strained attempt to make a political statement about the Iraq war that feels very out-of-place in this particular program. I admire the attempt, but ultimately this stuff is simply a waste of time that prevents the viewer from getting anywhere quickly.
Character issues aside, I admire Moonlight Mile and look forward to the second season.
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