Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, December 30, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, November 29, 2005
What They Say
The year 4699. A young adventurer on a desperate mission sets off to find Captain Ahab and his crew of outlaw whale hunters. Only Ahab can save his home planet from the most horrific beast known throughout the universe: Moby Dick. But first he will need to locate the fugitive Captain and his elusive crew. And if he finds them, will he pass muster to join the toughest crew of whale hunters in the galaxy? And will Ahab agree to risk it all for one more shot at the great white? It’s riveting sci-fi action in the distant future as Captain Ahab continues his legendary pursuit of MOBY DICK!
The obsessive quest for a whale that is not a whale.
Hakugei—Legend of the Moby Dick is presented in Dolby 5.1 in English and Dolby 2.0 in Japanese with English subtitles. The English track is very nicely done, utilizing the rear speakers for a strong ambient feel. The music and sound effects really come across much bolder, and the slight echo effect used with the dialogue gives the genuine impression of conversation within the cold metal hull of a space ship. I was very pleased with the strength of the sound on the English language track.
Understandably, the Japanese Dolby 2.0 comes across flatter in comparison. But while it doesn’t have the same underlying rumbling bass that has almost become synonymous with ambient noise inside space ships, or convey the subtle echo effect quite as nicely, the Japanese language track has a very moody feel I really enjoyed. Perhaps this had more to do with the voice acting, but I thought the darker, more somber tone on this track suited the series’ cold environments very nicely.
I found no genuine issues or distortions on either track and feel both have their strong suits. While I favor the ambient noise and general sound quality of the English track, the dialogue and mood of the original Japanese audio would be difficult to beat.
Originally airing in Japan through 1997 to 1999, Hakugei-Legend of the Moby Dick is presented in it original standard Full Screen aspect ratio of 4:3. I thought the transfer looked great and no issues of aliasing or blurriness. I also found the colors were reproduced nicely. In this case, the depths of space are not presented in flat blacks, but rather a dazzling range of blues. The various surfaces used throughout the series are presented in fuchsias and oranges, all of which are clean and well done. In the episodes throughout this disk, I was very impressed with the range and subtleties of the colors, particularly in lieu of the series’ age.
The Hakugei-Legend of the Moby Dick Vol. 1 disk has a very nice sense of design. Blending elements that pay homage to the source material, the bulk of the disk cover consists of a sketchy, water colored image of Ahab. Immediately, I was reminded of older mariner etching work traditionally done on whale bones, which I felt was a very nice touch for the cover art (additionally, this style, to a slightly varying degree, is reflected throughout the series, most notably in the opening and closing animations). This art is placed against a solid white background with the title along the top. Along the right side of the cover, as a design element juxtaposing the more traditional with the futuristic aspect of this series, is a hand-painted rendering of the shadowed Moby Dick gliding effortlessly through the depths of space, the cold metallic tones of a futuristic space station are found just below. All in all, I absolutely loved this cover and felt it will truly draw attention.
The disk spine features a sample of the art from the cover, again set against a white background. The series title and disk number are bold and very clearly legible along the upper half. The disk reverse is much darker in color, featuring a primarily black background with some subtle blue design work throughout. A larger image of the Moby Dick as taken from the series itself is place in the upper right hand side of the reverse cover, with a brief summary of the series, as well as disk extras occupying the space below. Along the left hand side of the cover is an image of Ahab as well as seven screen captures below that. Additionally, this disk features an insert with a repeat of the front cover on one side, and some series background as well as an interview with director and series creator Osamu Desaki. I really like the feel of this disk design in general. Not only is it well designed in an aesthetic sense, but it is functional as well.
Borrowing a design sense from the front cover, the menu features a cropped version of that art, with the bar along the right side serving to hold the menu options. The menu clearly displays the disk’s five episodes by number, with a Preview of Volume 2, Languages options, and Extras listed below in descending order. A clip from the series’ opening song is looped throughout. I was pleased with the menu’s clarity and ease of use.
Hakugei-Legend of the Moby Dick Vol. 1 offers some of the more common extras, but there are also some stand-outs. The disk features Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, Character Sketches, Character Bios, Production Artwork, The Space Whalers’ Lexicon, Previews, and Credits. Of these, I found the Production Artwork and Character Sketches to be the most interesting. I was particularly pleased with the Production Artwork, as it showcases some of the beautiful hand-painted backgrounds featured throughout the series though I feel the Production Art was the more value-added respectively with some truly beautiful renderings of the scenery and various series backgrounds. The character sketches are nice, but I would have liked to have been able to scroll through them at my own pace, though this is only a slight complaint and some may prefer the disk’s pace. The Space Whaler’s Lexicon could be useful to those new to the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally airing on Japanese television from April 1997 to May 1999, Hakugei—Legend of the Moby Dick is based very loosely on Herman Melville’s famous novel. While taking huge liberties with the source material, Hakugei does retain some of the original’s essence beyond the shared titular and character names, namely a giant white whale. Except, it’s not really a whale.
Set in the year 4699, the story focuses on a subculture of space-faring scavengers known as “whale hunters” at the outer edges of the galaxy near a place called the Nantucket Nebula. It seems at the climax of the race to explore and colonize space (roughly 4100, called “The Era of the Space Bubble”) Earth was producing so many ships and space stations that they were said to “crowd the edge of the universe.” When the bubble burst there was no longer any need for all these ships, so they were simply set adrift in space. These ships, referred to as “whales” are the main source of income for the whale hunters. Due to the strength of the Nantucket Nebula, many of the whales have found their way here over time. It is in this place, on an abandoned--and subsequently reclaimed by the whale hunters—resort and vacation satellite that the story takes place.
Lucky Luck, the optimistically-named fourteen year old lead character and narrator (with probably the most uninspired name I can recall in recent memory) has come to this scavenger haven looking for the man called Captain Ahab. Ahab, a giant peg-legged man, is among the most famous of the whale hunters. Lucky wishes to join his uniquely small and elite crew of men to become a whale hunter himself.
The first episode opens with a prologue to Lucky’s story and introduces Dew, an android and future crewmember of Ahab’s ship, The Lady Whisker. On a cold and lifeless world, an android named Dew performs his daily routine scouring the snow-covered surface of the world for life. Just as he completes his mission duration, an extraordinarily large white and strangely-shaped space ship fires upon his vehicle and eventually captures him. Once onboard, Dew is subject to a number of tests. Finally, the ship performs some sort of procedure on his chest, telling him the two are now linked. He is subsequently encased in a cryogenic tube of sorts and set adrift in space.
The rest of the episode features Lucky and the search for Ahab. Upon finding the elusive captain and crew, Lucky is given a series of tests, a sort of hazing process to determine usefulness to the crew. After nearly dying while performing a childish test, Ahab sees the youngster’s worth and Lucky joins the crew.
Episode two features the first “whale hunt” Lucky has an opportunity to watch. In fulfilling a request for antiquated guns, the crew of the Lady Whisker hunts and captures a drifting ship. However, the crew also finds something else. It seems the containment chamber Dew was locked in, has become lodged along the side of the ship and they mistake it for a coffin. In order to stay true to the laws of space, which suggest one finding a coffin adrift in space must give the body a second funeral, or risk suffering bad luck, the crew retrieves Dew’s body.
Episode three begins as the crew brings Dew’s body aboard the Lady Whisker. Once on board, it doesn’t take them long to realize Dew is neither dead nor human. Realizing what Dew truly is, Ahab offers to him a position on the ship, but completely out of sorts, Dew attacks the captain and flees. Showing the obsession inspired by Ahab’s character from the novel, the captain goes off in search of Dew to bring him back.
Episode four marks a turning point for the series, with a number of major revelations about the primary characters and the ties that bind them, which basically set the direction the story will follow. Beginning with a brief respite for the crew on a planet frequented by whalers looking for rest and relaxation, the episode soon leads to Lucky Luck’s capture at the hands of the Bang Kids, a group of whale hunters whose primary source of income is kidnapping and ransom. After a daring rescue by Dew and Mutz, Lucky Luck is forced to make several revelations and a request for the Captain’s help. One of these revelations draws a connection to a terrible moment in Ahab’s past, driving him in to a blind rage.
Still reeling from last episode’s revelations, a traumatized Ahab is unwilling to even leave his quarters. Upon his emergence, he has a number of revelations of his own, including the story of his past and his own experience with the Moby Dick. No longer willing to run from his past, Ahab agrees to aid Lucky and the crew agree to aid in the mission. The episode serves as a great end point for the first act and does a great job of building interest in the second volume. One note, however, there was an instance of minor male frontal nudity in this episode, for those who would be concerned by this.
By the end of the fifth episode, the characters are really only beginning to stand out. However, the series has developed a very decent pacing that should allow for further character exploration as it progress. And there’s certainly enough in the way of unique surface characterization to pique the viewer’s interest. Aside from Lucky, Ahab and Dew, there is Mutz, the mysterious warrior, Atre, the eleven year old tough-talker, Barba the mysterious tattooed giant, Academias the crew’s resident genius, and a handful of others. While each of the primary characters has his own special introduction and, in some cases, brief back story, there is not a great deal of individual exploration, though if the series maintains its current pace, I doubt this will long be an issue. It’s likely another issue with the series’ character development results from the story being tied so closely to Lucky Luck’s narration. If Lucky doesn’t yet know the characters, the viewer likely won’t either.
Speaking of Lucky Luck, I was extremely impressed with Kara Vincent-Davies’ work in this role. While the voice acting is solid throughout (Stephanie Nadolny as Atre, Vic Mignogna as Dew, and John Swasey as Ahab for instance), Ms. Vincent-Davies proves her incredible range with her deft portrayal of Lucky Luck. Her ability to emote the character of the na´ve and optimistic fourteen year old is astounding. However, while certainly not an indictment of Ms. Vincent-Davies’ work, the copious amounts of narrative monologue grew tiring very quickly. I didn’t find the series needed so many voice-overs, as they seemed to do little more than reinforce what the viewer has already seen.
Artistically, the series features a completely hand-drawn feel. One point that truly impressed me was the background work. The backgrounds featured throughout are nearly all intricate and beautifully painted. While the colors tend to be rooted in the blue range, there is a fair amount of brighter contrast. The space scenes viewed were deep and also vibrant. In all, the backgrounds give a truly nice science fiction deep space feel to the piece.
However, on the other hand, the character designs seemed a bit less inspired. Ahab is little more than the traditional pirate captain, but with a metal peg leg. Further, in establishing such prominent eyelashes (That is, on his good eye; the other is covered by a patch) makes him appear a bit effeminate, but this is really a minor complaint. Academias appears much like the stereotypical computer genius, having wild, unkempt hair and what amounts to a lab coat. Dew also has wild hair and looks a bit like a fantasy character in shorts. I would have liked to have seen a bit more in terms of inspired design, something a bit more forward-thinking.
The animation for Hakugei—Legend of the Moby Dick is simpler, recycling art in a number of places, though I didn’t find it to detract from my enjoyment of the show. However, the series does have an interesting habit of presenting scene climaxes in very sketchy still images (which is apparently a hallmark of Mr. Desaki’s work). In the first viewing I found this to be slightly distracting, particularly considering the large number of times the technique is employed during the course of an episode, but found it far less noticeable in subsequent viewings.
I found Hakugei—Legend of the Moby Dick Vol. 1 to be a very unique and interesting take on the classic Moby Dick. It was very interesting to see how the creators worked with the source material to make something at once new, but thematically similar to the original. Though the character development feels a little slow at times, I was interested to learn more about the characters and am very curious to discover how the story progresses.
Artistically, I truly enjoyed the beautifully rendered backgrounds, particularly the tech. While the character designs feel flatter and less engaging by comparison, they still work and certainly don’t detract from enjoying the series. There are a number of static shots employed during the course of the episodes, and while I was initially put off by this, the technique becomes far less glaring as the story progresses.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Character sketches,Character bios,Production artwork,Space Whalers’ Lexicon,Clean opening animation,Clean closing animation
34” Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick