A courageous young man tries to find the only person who can save his planet from the most terrifying beast in the universe -- the great white whale Moby Dick -- in this futuristic anime adventure set in 4699. But locating the outlaw Captain Ahab and his elusory crew of whale hunters and persuading them to put an end to the leviathan's long reign of terror won't be easy. Will Ahab take up the challenge one more time?
Hakugei: Legend of Moby Dick is certainly an interesting blend of space pirates and cyborgs. While the series goes back and fourth between serious and goofy, it still manages to have a dark yet melancholy story.
To begin, the story has very little to do with the original novel of Moby Dick and only borrows the titular whale character but re-imagined as a cyborg. The planet Moad is under martial law and is set to be destroyed. A kid named Lucky requests the help of Captain Ahab to save the planet and its people. Ahab agrees as the Moby Dick acts as the destroyer
of the planet and it also responsible for Ahab's loss of his left eye and leg.
Initially starting as an episodic space pirate anime, it gradually shifts into a darker tale of cyborgs with a doomsday clock. Part of the serie's lore are the punishment of criminals who are turned into cyborgs to further extend their suffering. Similar to the law of robotics, these criminals are given certain commands they cannot break such as killing humans or committing suicide. The science fiction plays a larger role in the last act of the story as it becomes more serious with our character's backstory, specifically the characters Due and Jacobs.
While does have a darker tone it is sometimes unbalanced by the goofiness of Captain Ahab's crew. There are many scenes where a very tragic event occurred then the next minute will feature a very comical art style filled with very outrageous slap stick gags. The animation certainly helps demonstrate such energy in these comic relief scenes. I don't exactly hate this instability but I can certainly many others to be bothered by its mood swings.
Despite the lack of stability, I found myself enjoying the series since it incorporated a manly pirate, very gruesome science fiction, a war story and giant Moby Dick cyborg to tie it all together. Captain Ahab is a really manly character; being the best interesting character in the story. There's a scene in EP 15 that really sums up his opinion of God, thus possibly being the best scene in the anime. Whether he's being serious or goofy, he still possesses a charismatic charm; a bit similar to John Silver from the Treasure Island anime of 1978.
The story of Moby Dick has really nothing to to do with the novel( aside from the whale), but delivers variety from episodic space adventures to plot related drama and even a little bit of boxing in episodes 18-20. At the same time, those episodes also feature a couple of intriguing antagonists, Madame O' Hara & Jacobs, who become tragic characters as the series reaches its conclusion. Speaking of the ending, I accept the tragedy but something about the very last scene felt a bit abrupt. Personally, I felt the series needed a short epilogue to better end it as there are some events occurring in the universe that are a bit unresolved. I probably expected a tad more since each episode opens with a narrative from the viewpoint of Lucky, implying the series events have already occurred as it's told in the past tense.
Regardless, Legend of Moby Dick is still good but its complaints will all be very subjective due to its constant comedy. The series is directed by Osamu Dezaki who once again shows his iconic style through visual stills or post card memories. Hakugei excels in its art as there are plenty of fascinating imagery scattered throughout the anime and with its sci-fi setting allowed more room for creativity. I recommend Moby Dick in English dub simply because of John Swasey's performance as Captain Ahab. The Japanese is good too with Akio Otsuka but the pirate slang works better in the english tongue. Oh and Vic Mignogna & Stephanie Naldony are also in it. Legend of Moby Dick is definitely one of ADV Films best dubs and is a show that deserves to have a license rescue.
First, Hakugei is not Melville's Moby Dick. It is not a modern interpretation of the classic novel, nor a space-age reimagining. Typical of the anime industry, the writers of Hakugei have merely appropriated high-profile elements of Melville's classic and have applied it, unnecessisarily but to interesting effect, to a space opera that reminded me in equal parts of Star Wars, Dune, Blade Runner, and, perhaps more so, of The Seven Samurai (indeed, I'm now convinced Gonzo's Samurai 7 was a remake of Hakugei rather than of Kurosawa's classic.)
So, does all this derivativeness make Hakugei a
bad show? Nope. It's pretty decent, usually entertaining, and occasionally fantastic. While not exactly fast-paced, the writers do a good job of maintaining narrative thrust. The first half is a fun space adventure with stand-alone episodes that effectively build a believable, if occasionally unsettling universe as well as a collection of likeable, rag-tag characters. The second season is far more ambitious and has perhaps too many plot threads without the thoughtful writing to pull them together.
While the animation is lacking, a typical flaw of late 90s productions, and is occasionally too cartoonish for its own good, the art design is fantastic. This is especially true of the setting second half of the series which features a burned-out environmental disaster of a planet and some awesome neo-noirish spacecraft.
The characters are for the most part a positive element of Hakugei (the annoying android parrot and the "journalist" notwithstanding)- especially Ahab, a combination of the quintessential anime alpha-male and a prototypical wacko goofball. This is what I imagine most shounen brats would be like when they grew up. Ahab's crew is a fine, if typical, cast of characters. The only complaint with them is that they turn into something of a greek chorus of sophmoric slapstick comedy in the more complex (and grim) second season. Thankfully, the second season features a couple of the best villains I've seen in anime in a while.
Sadly, like many anime, Hakugei has some seriously annoying flaws that make it hard to recommend. The second season is downright schizophrenic in tone (cartoonish one second, melodramatic the next) - and much of its humor seems both dated and geared toward a Japanese audience (this added a bit of character for me, so I didn't mind too much.) It also simply fails to successfully address its ambitions in the second season - it's not necessarily a bad thing to want more when an anime ends but in Hakugei's case, a lot of plot lines are, not so much left hanging, as poorly managed. Still, the ending wasn't a bad one compared to many anime. So long as you don't expect too much (and it's Hakugei, so why would you.)
So, who would I recommend this to? If you just can't get enough of 90s sci-fi anime and have seen Bebop, Outlaw Star, Captain Tylor, LoGH, etc, but just want more, try Hakugei. Or, if you enjoy the occasional quality, oddball anime that seems to have disappeared from the radar (Neo Ranga, Shingu, Stellvia, Clockwork Fighters, etc...,) try Hakugei. But if you're looking for Moby Dick? Try yer Kindle.