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Hakugei - Legend of the Moby Dick, Vol. 3: The Moad Trail
Story: Hakugei/Moby Dick is set in the year 4699 where 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. Circumstances change that a bit as time progresses, including the addition of an android named Dew to the crew. The android lacks a memory but becomes a full fledged member of the crew and an integral part of the story as they contemplate the challenge of the mission laid out before them, with it coming 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.
Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 3: The Moad Trail picks up from where the previous volume left off; the crew arriving in orbit around Moad after a narrow escape from the halls of justice. Without too many spoilers, the first being they run into is, by fate, Moby Dick himself and caught completely unawares, they end up at the bottom of the extensive Moad sea. Dew is separated and presumed lost along with the ship so the rest of the crew rig a raft and sail off to find land. Their troubles just begin when a series of increasingly annoying revelations by Lucky reveal that Moad is the armpit of the universe without sustainable food supplies (the government forces moved most of the population off planet when the oil began to run dry in the mines, then destroying the cities as the resistance fought to stay). This is followed by the fact that the resistance, called the Moad Civilian Movement, is in tatters and quite limited in how many resources it has to continue fighting. Lucky eventually introduces them to her brother Shiro (who looks like a slightly grown up version of the lead character from The Last Avatar) but this sets off the already questionable mental state of Ahab as he does believe in religion given his extensive journeys over the years but they come to a shaky gentleman's agreement of sorts with Ahab promising to uphold his end of the deal (fighting Moby Dick with his crew) and staying out of the way of the resistance forces. On top of all the other hidden truths that pop up, it is made clear that they all have a timetable impressed on them as well since Moad is slated for destruction on the first of the next year (about nine months away, perhaps symbolic for rebirth). Moad is a treacherous place with no natural lifeforms except some scavenging birds, a poisonous rose, and two kinds of seaweed; one of which makes you sick and the other lacking much nutritional content, so the stakes get raised mighty high on the cast as the elements start to fall into place.
The back cover put it like this: "From a sea of stars to a sea of sand, Ahab's journey knows no bounds! As Ahab and his crew finally arrive on Planet Moad, Lucky's home planet, they are greeted by none other than Moby Dick himself. Facing off with his old adversary, Ahab is once again humbled and barely escapes with his life. The situation on Moad seems much worse than Lucky let on, as the crew finds the planet on its dying breath. As they march across a scorching desert to meet with the Moad Civilian Movement, tempers flare and friendships are tested in the sweltering sun. To make matters worse, the Federation forces, lead by the fearsome android Murato, pursue them at every turn." In general, the strongest new elements to the story centered on the leading bad guy, a huge android named Murato; a being that had quite a story of his own as revealed in later volumes of the show. Aside from a bit of initial interest in the show though, I rated this one as a Rent It since it's tough to get back into a show 7 months after you left it behind but there were some highlights to the remaining volumes that I'll discuss as I catch up on reviewing them.
Picture: Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 3: The Moad Trail 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 third 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 defined some terms. 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 3 took some very common elements and continued to weave them into a moderately coherent story but the problems noticed earlier popped up several times again for me. There were lucid moments that made perfect sense and then parts that came across as though something was lost in the translation with the character motivations definitely in need of fine tuning if the translation proved to be accurate. Captain Ahab, arguably the central focus of the earlier volumes, seemed a parody at times with probably extensive brain damage the only readily available answer to why he'd bounce around so much with regard to his personality. The confrontation with Moby Dick also left me wanting in how poorly executed it was and how many failed chances there were to better utilize the first battle with more time spent on silly little side trips to the story. Still, Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 3: The Moad Trail had enough to keep me watching the series and report that a boxed set of the show would probably be worthwhile to fans of an older, less expensive, style of Japanese animation (the show was made back in the mid 1990's), if the price was right.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk'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.