Background: Screen presence is something difficult to gauge in advance and even the literary equivalent is open to interpretation but from the onset, it was probably always clear that author Hermann Melville's classic Moby Dick would set the tone for generations to talk about, and be scared by, with regard to the oceans and the mysteries contained within. I saw an interesting documentary on the events that inspired the story and it seemed all too real as the written record spoke of larger than life characters worthy of our study. Still, in the updated anime version of the story, the Hakugei/Moby Dick series, the story was more about man against man than anything else and the change in dynamic made for a very different set of themes. In todays review of Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 5: Death and Rebirth, the story continues as Ahab fights for his life (as well as the life of his crew) against the murdering android Murato but there was more than that too. Here's a brief overview to catch you up if you haven't read the previous installments:
Story: The year is 4699 and a young girl by the name of Lucky Luck seeks out Captain Ahab and his band of whale hunters. In the fringes of outer space are abandoned space ships from generations gone by that are called whales. They pose various dangers to shipping lanes and space stations, with some of the larger ones even endangering colonies thanks to their powerful defensive weaponry. Space salvage is a deadly business and the competition makes it even more so but so do the authorities for various reasons. Ahab commands a small but loyal crew consisting of 8 actual hunters, far fewer than most crews, that work in unison to assist each other through thick and thin; making them legends in the space faring community. Lucky wants to join them in order to save her planet from destruction but meets initial resistance due to her age and lack of skill. The fact that convinces Ahab to take up arms in the quest is that his age old nemesis, Moby Dick is the target; the largest such "whale" that has ever existed according to those who keep track. Circumstances change that a bit as time progresses, including the addition of an android to the crew. The male android, Dew, lacks a memory but there are elements about that want to keep it that way so in the second chapter of the saga; it came as no surprise that the Captain and crew meet with all sorts of resistance as they prepare to take on the Moby Dick.
The comic misadventures included a bit of fighting with mobsters as they threatened an old friend of the Captain's, the difficulty with obtaining supplies for the lengthy voyage on short notice, and a Federation crackdown that nets the Captain as being something of a notorious criminal. Like the Firefly series, Ahab is the center point of a band of people who have been pushed around by those in authority to the point that they just want to live freely and outside of the federation's influence. To do that, they live the dangerous lives of whalers on the fringes of civilized space in hopes of leaving the multitude of modern regulations behind them; making profit when they succeed and potentially dying when they fail.
In the last chapter of the story, the crew landed on Moad having survived a brush with Moby Dick and the authorities. It split into three separate viewpoints by this point; one of Ahab and his followers, one with Dew as he struggled to reunite with them, and a third surrounding an aggressively mean android and his female boss, Ohara, a gal wit a cruel streak a mile long and just as deep. Her job is to make sure the destruction of Moad goes smoothly, with the federation giving her substantial leeway as to how the task is handled. Her initial goal is to capture Dew since he has a unique role to play in her efforts but she also sees the danger posed by Ahab and his band so she makes sure that their capture is high on her list of things to do. The back cover put it like this: "On its last breath, a dying planet cries for independence. In an underground base, hidden deep within a labyrinth of tunnels, Ahab and his crew meet with Lucky's brother Shiro, the leader of the Moad Civilian Movement. When a celebration is held in his honor, Ahab turns a cold shoulder to Shiro's warm reception and finds that he can't see eye-to-eye with his new partner. Meanwhile, Dew rekindles an old love, uncovers the secrets of his past, and learns the horrifying truth behind his mysterious connection to Moby Dick. As the Moad citizens begin their fight for independence, Ahab marches off alone to settle an age-old score with the menacing android Murato." This set the stage for the fifth volume of the series to take place, with Ahab and Murato squaring off; notable for the fact that Murato no longer has any limits on his programming about directly killing humans.
Okay, the fight between Aha and Murato was actually one of the shining moments of the series, with the captain fighting for the lives of his men. Seriously outmatched, he gets hammered into the ground by the huge, hulking android and his crew jump in to save him. One of them pays the price for this but in the process, ends up triggering a mechanism whereby the entire installation starts to self destruct, with ramifications for both sides of the conflict. Ohara loses her rank and becomes a fugitive, the Federation President is forced to resign, and the new president decides to end the piecemeal manner in which things have been handled so clumsily by sweeping the planet of the Civilian movement. On a sour note, the series continued to jump the shark as the death in question was treated poorly and Murato's severely damaged body is revived in an even stronger, more deadly form. Dew and Sara flee a mob of civilians after his role in the federation plan is revealed and that leads to tragic consequences too but given the cavalier manner in which most of the previous plot points were played with, it became tough to really care much. The cover summed it up as: "One man will be reborn by the power of friendship. Another will awaken into an endless nightmare. When Ahab challenges Murato to a one-on-one cage match he soon learns that the 9-foot heavyweight space champion may be a bit out of his league. With his crew captured and his harpoon disabled, he's forced to rely on some old-fashioned boxing skills he honed in space prison. In the battle that ensues, two men will meet their demise and the war for independence will take a frightful new turn. Meanwhile, internal strife in the Federation Government results in a new, aggressive stance against the Civilian Movement, as the brutal 7th Fleet is called in to wreak havoc on Moad. With only two months until the planet is destroyed, Ahab's crew is united with long-lost friends, and a new hope is revived as they prepare for the final showdown with Moby Dick."
I had some substantial misgivings about the revival process and the manner in which Ohara had been summarily relieved of duty but also as to how the sitting president could be forced from his seat of power over such a relatively small incident. By this point in time, I was really questioning the translation of the subtitles and dub tracks since it felt really out of kilter for me given the way in which scandals tend to rely on relevance to have a big impact. Moad is so backwater and out of the way that it came off as being irrelevant to such a matter and that kept the rating at Rent It for me as much as anything else.
Picture: Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 5: Death and Rebirth was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as made by Japanese director Osamu Desaki for distribution on Japanese broadcast television. It was an older styled anime with a focus on darker textures and a color palate that belied the usual cartoonish nature in favor of keeping the modernized theme of the material. There was some grain and a touch of minor defects from time to time but overall it looked pretty good to me. There were no compression artifacts but the apparent reduction in the series from the planned 39 episodes to the regular length season took a toll, requiring more character exposition and still shots used to further major parts of the story. The series is also one of the older ones to come to DVD of late, not the golden oldie type but not a recently broadcast show either.
Sound: The audio was presented with the standard choice of the original Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital track with optional English subtitles or the English language dub presented in a richer 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. In general, I thought the dub actually sounded better in terms of the way the voice actors handled the material as well as the usual technical improvements ADV Films' audio engineers use to enhance the listening experience. The bass was deeper, the separation (particularly between the special effects during the action sequences and the musical score) more interesting, and the dynamic range improved on top of the better voice acting. The original track wasn't without its merits though and I encourage fans to listen to both versions when watching the DVD.
Extras: The extras included a paper insert with a short fifth part of the interview by the Japanese director, Osamu Desaki, and his episodic director Matsuzono on one side and artwork on the other side. There was also the usual clean opening and closing animation, some sketches, character biographies, artwork, trailers, and a Space Whalers' lexicon that specialized in the space whaler's songs. If you go to ADV Films' website, you get to see other extras, including some interviews and a picture of hotty Kira Vincent Davis but those weren't included on the DVD (which had four episodes).
Final Thoughts: Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 5, more than any of the previous chapters, made me question how many liberties were being taken with the translation of the original Japanese script. It also made me question certain aspects of the storytelling process employed by the creators of the show since the motivations of the characters appeared to shift far too readily without question. By this point in time though, I admit to having liked enough of it to keep trudging through until the end but if given the chance, I'd probably be shaking my head at director Osamu Desaki were we to meet. In short, Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 5: Death and Rebirth would have worked better if it focused on the death and continued to show each of the stronger characters living up to their roles rather then routinely bounce all around the map instead. I could more easily accept the science fiction aspects of the show than how the characters were reacting to everything and that's never a good sign but keep watching if you've come this far.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.