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Hakugei, Vol. 6: The Final Countdown

ADV Films // Unrated // July 18, 2006
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted September 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Background: One of the problems with reviewing anime has been that some companies get pennywise and pound foolish in sending out press packets and screeners for series that even their most positive marketing executives admit "could have been handled differently". That means a reviewer might get a volume or two for a series but then find himself cut off if the reviews aren't glowingly favorable to the point where you, the consumer, can't trust them. At DVD Talk, the emphasis has always been on honest reviews, regardless of the consequences, so we bear the brunt of the companies' wrath more than most. Still, integrity has an upside too and that is that consumers tend to be more trusting of what they read, which is why they probably have noticed I've had mixed thoughts about the ADV Films release of the Hakugei/Moby Dick series. The premise; taking a classic tale of literature and updating it, makes a lot of sense and other series have done so very nicely of late but the favorable execution depends on many factors and this was a case where the big picture kept getting lost on both sides of the Pacific Ocean from the looks of it. Well, misgivings aside, I finally looked at the ending volume of the series, Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 6: The Final Countdown, and found it to have a lot worth watching. Here's the overview for newcomers and some discussion of the final four episodes of the saga.

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 & most powerfully equipped 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 ending volume is where all the loose ends are supposed to be tied up neatly or at least well enough to fuel endless internet debate where fans can argue until they turn blue in the face. Such was the case here as the federation pounded the daylights out of the already devastated Moad and the final days of the countdown began. The civilian movement is all but wiped out and Ohara is rapidly spiraling downward as her illness takes hold of her. Murato and Ahab have once again come to an agreement of sorts in terms of defeating the federation but with only days left to stop Moby Dick, a surprise in the final hours gives the crew one last hope of getting their shot at the behemoth. The results rest largely with the secret of the whale (and Dew) but as the federation pulls out, it's clear that nothing can be done to stop the end of Moad, or can it? The back cover said: "The Great Space Show of 4701 is about to begin! With less than two months until Moad's destruction, Ahab and his crew are still without Dew, without a plan and without so much as a hope for survival. To make matters worse, the Federation has declared all-out war on the inhabitants of Moad, and won't rest until no one is left standing. After a brutal air raid decimates the Moad Resistance Movement, Ahab is forced to make a few unlikely allies to unlock the secret of Dew's mysterious connection to Moby Dick. With the fate of Moad in his hands, Ahab prepares for the greatest whale hunt of his life. Secrets will be revealed, friends will be lost and a new legend will be born in the final volume of Moby Dick."

Interestingly, the final chapter in the saga contained the arc that helped make sense of many of the minor annoyances from previous volumes. It was still in need of a lot of polishing up and the trimming down from the originally planned number of episodes came into play even more than normal but I'd be misleading you if I said that I didn't fully enjoy the final volume enough to rate it as Recommended. The action was back, the humor relevant, and the many quirks of the show in full evidence as the whale hunters set about to do what they knew best, regardless of the consequences. As part of a boxed set, I think the series would have worked better (especially due to the price) but whatever misgivings I had were absolved in large part thanks to the manner in which the show finished up its run.

Picture: Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 6: The Final Countdown 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 sixth 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 6 had all the elements a good anime series needs; good action, skillful writing, and loads of characters being brought up to speed by the forces they are about to encounter. On those scores, the series finally hit the elusive mark that had escaped it so often in the past but considering the circumstances surrounding the show, I can see why Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick 6: The Final Countdown made the creators proud. I still liked the English language dub better than average and I still wish that someone at ADV Films (if not the original production company) would have taken more time to hone the weaker points but it was well worth the wait to see how the show played out and had a sequel been commissioned, I'd have climbed on board that one too.

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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