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Hakugei – Volume 1

Hakugei: The Legend of Moby Dick
Release Date: 11/29/2005
Released By: ADV Films
DVD SRP: $29.98
Video: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio, Episodes #1-#5 – 125 Mins.
Audio: English DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0 w/English Subtitles

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?

DVD Features:
- Episodes #1-#5
- The Space Whaler’s Lexicon
- Production Artwork
- Character Sketches
- Character Biographies

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REVIEW – Rating: 6/10
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Taking place in the very, very distant future, Hakugei is the story of a great white demon, those who have chosen to pursue it, and the consequences wrought through the variety of motives and circumstances in-between. In an era of universal life when mankind has achieved its technological pique, and come back down from said pique, many feel much is to be gained in the slack therein. Of course, the adventures and dangers that lurk in the vast darkness of outer space is the greatest source of interest for those wishing to fill their lives with something more important or something more meaningful than the ordinary.

Some of these people searching for a purpose out in space are junk enthusiasts, treasure hunters or scavengers. The scavenged are old and rusting space ships that have been cast out into the depths of space after they were of no more use, or space ships whose crew for one reason or another weren’t able to make the return trip home. These old ships have come to be called “whales,” and those who hunt them for the treasures inside, “whalers.” Looking to take in some extra money by cashing in on old and broken space ships that have been left to float around in space, these scavengers aren’t the nicest bunch of people, but they get the job done.

Naturally, within the underworld of scavengers, or whalers, is a notorious gang of thieves that often get the best results when they go out hunting. Captain Ahab Ishmal Ali is one tough bastard, and his crew is comprised of individuals from all over space, all of them fugitives according to one definition or another. For some ten years, Ahab has been comfortable as a rugged whaler, but when a small boy calls on him to help save his world from a massive white machine that demonically circles above his planet, Ahab is suddenly interested. Lucky, the fourteen-year-old boy, informs Ahab that a giant white mechanized beast in the shape and form of a whale–a destructive weapon created by the Federation Police and referred to as Moby Dick–is about to destroy the boy’s home planet of Moad. Since, as you’ve probably guessed, Ahab has a past with the metal demon, the old captain is eager to take the crew of the Lady Whisker in the direction in accordance to him exacting his revenge.

Hakugei, like a few other recently released anime titles here in the west, is [re]telling us a story we are all quite familiar with; and as such, takes a variety of stylistic liberties in its storytelling. The ultra-futuristic approach hasn’t always been one of my favorites (the concept has backfired in anime such as Samurai 7, where the setting and environment has become utterly useless and irrelevant), fortunately for Hakugei, the audience is eased into the environment before the hunt for Moby Dick really gets underway. I acknowledge that 4699 is a ridiculous amount of time in the future for an animated series to take place; but it’s better to have the background info of an overbearing military police, an intergalactic criminal underworld and a starving little blonde child whose planet has been corrupted by both, than to have nothing at all.

Ahab himself as the legendary ship whaler is a bit of an unstable guy. His habit of going into fits of “obsession” are mostly quite a mystery to his shipmates, and his relationship with Moby Dick has gone for the most part, bottled up inside of him for a good decade or so. His character isn’t special but he’s unique, because he’s easily representative of everyone he meets–someone with a vicious or potentially destructive internal conflict at work, while still someone hoping to achieve some sort of validation of his existence outside of himself. Although one of the downsides to this series appears to be its lack of any real cohesive character dynamics, Ahab is solid.

Lucky, the sharp-minded brat that comes to Ahab and the crew for help is easily the most important character to the greater story at hand, because he serves as narrator to the anime. Despite the fact that we don’t often see the crew interact in ways that reveal their motivations or instincts, it is through the perception of a child that find out what we may not otherwise discover. An advantage in that we see with eyes unclouded how dirty, grimy and corrupt personal endeavors can be and a disadvantage to the series in that a child’s perception limits our understanding of certain events. Nevertheless, I think Hakugei benefits from a juvenile narrator because it gives us a new perspective of an older story (naturally, those who aren’t interested in the story to begin with probably won’t find it all that unique a narrative approach).

Visually, Hakugei’s quality of animation isn’t the greatest and the character designs are far from pretty. The grainy animation and the continual reuse of particular cels, at times, ironically coincide with the grimy disposition of the whalers. A lot of the coloring is composed of subdued solids, giving the interior of ships and clothing designs a rougher, dirtier fa├žade. Such designs applies to most of this anime with the exception of Moby Dick himself, the great white warship of which appears majestically (and deceivingly) pure and white like snow. You shouldn’t be interested in Hakugei with the forethought that you are going to find some brilliant, futuristic production design (which Gankutsuou succeeds at beautifully), but interested in understanding that the visual elements are secondary, if not tertiary to character motivations and concepts of storytelling.

While there are hidden character dynamics and while the visual appeal is lackluster, Hakugei is paced rather genially. The crew doesn’t actually set out to find Moby Dick until the fifth episode (the last of the first DVD volume), and we do not catch an honest glimpse of Ahab’s inner conflict until the fourth episode in addition to that. Granted, the story is easy to tell, one should be thankful that things weren’t rushed with such a malleable medium. That and the fact that we catch glimpses of deeper themes at work could make the series worth sticking out. I wouldn’t want to invest in this series without a serious interest in the original story concept and I wouldn’t want to invest in this series without a sincere eagerness for the impending showdown some twenty episodes from now between Ahab and Moby Dick. Nevertheless there are greater interests at work within Hakugei. Such as the concept of obsession, about “getting something in your head” and never being able to let it go but never really knowing why is introduced every now and then, it is one facet of a number of concerns and anxieties that the hunters/pirates always have about their destiny, or about where they’re going in life.