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Hakugei - Legend of the Moby Dick, Vol. 4 - Hearts of Steel

ADV Films // Unrated // April 25, 2006
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted September 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Background: As a general rule, updated classics have a tendency to keep on a familiar track with modest changes when the author truly finds inspiration in the subject matter but deviates more substantially when he has something different to say but wants to embrace a singular concept or use the name of the classic to invoke a certain type of imagery. That appears to be the case in the Hakugei/Moby Dick series that I started reviewing last year and picked up again this weekend as I plod through the rest of the volumes that came in what amounted to a care package from ADV Films. The Melville classic has been dissected countless times by as many scholars, all of whom appear to have seen different things in the story (it's a great work but a bit heavy handed at times for those of us who read it for classes in Junior High school) and the anime tribute was more in name than anything else but it still appealed to me on multiple levels, making watching four volumes in a sitting easier to do had I hated the subject.

Story: To bring you up to speed; 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. 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."

Ahab knows Murato all too well from the time they spent in prison together (as well as before that) and sets off to find the enhanced being in order to stop his reign of terror. At the same time, Dew's past is largely revealed and his connection to a female android named Sara is delved into, explaining his role all too clearly in the subtext of the events unraveling. Moby makes appearances in the distance but stays largely in the background as Ohara advances her scheme to the brink of madness. The crew chases a hotty cook (that doesn't have much to work with in terms of ingredients) and all heck breaks lose when the federal forces attack the rebel base camps all over the limited land masses of the planet. In general then, the Murato material worked best but fans of the previous volumes will find a lot to appreciate in Dew's background too. For me, it was worth a rating of Rent It again for the inconsistent manner in which some of the characters were handled but you'll get the most out of it by watching it all in order so keep that in mind.

Picture: Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 4: Hearts of Steel 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 fourth 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 4 may not exactly merit being called a classic tale of anime but it can be said to have provided something well off the beaten path for fans of mid 1990's titles to appreciate. ADV Films took some chances picking this title up given the limited appeal of the material and while specific niches tend to sell much better, this one will be likely to enjoy popularity among those who want to see something offbeat but still relatively linear in scope. In short then, Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 4: Hearts of Steel started getting the show ready for the inevitable final confrontation as the key players and their motivations were established, with some action right around the corner for those patient enough to wait.

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.

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