As I said in my last post, Universal Pictures’ planned adaptation of Moby-Dick will not be the first anime version of the novel.
The science-fiction series Hakugei: Legend of Moby Dick aired in Japan between 1997 and 1999 and spanned 26 episodes. The series is set in the year 4699, when the galaxy is ruled by a totalitarian Federation that uses its giant white warship, Moby Dick, to make sure that planets tow the line. Ahab, still peg-legged, is transformed into a more light-hearted, slightly piratical figure (complete with eye-patch) who leads a motley, futuristically cosmopolitan crew in the hunt for “whales” — derelict ships that can be salvaged. Ahab has fought against Moby Dick in the past: “For the first time in my life,” he eventually tells his crew in the fifth episode, “I experienced fear. I thought that white bastard was terrifying . . . but also beautiful. Our ship was blown to bits. I saw my crew torn apart, blown right into space.”
Ahab, his leg torn off, one eye blinded, survives, for reasons that he still does not understand. He spends time in prison, then escapes, spending his time hunting “whales” and running from the Federation. And then a boy named Lucky, an Ishmael figure, who isn’t quite what he seems, tracks Ahab down: he needs Ahab and his ship, the Lady Whisker, to help him save his home planet, Moad, from the ravages of Moby Dick. And Ahab gives in to his desire for revenge.
The Pequod’s collection of “isolatoes federated on one keel” is amusingly transformed into a group of oddballs who would be at home in any number of anime extravaganzas: a laconic, tatooed, muscle-bound savage with an unlimited (and not too discerning) appetite (Queequeg?); a strangely precocious little kid (Pip?); a computer geek; a speed freak; a fat cook; a saturnine swordsman; and a doctor who’s never seen without his armor on; and Dew, an android in search of a purpose (who has no real analogue in Melville’s novel).
All 26 episodes of Hakugei have just been released in the U.S. in a six-disc box set by ADV films. In an interview that accompanies the discs, series creator Osamu Desaki says, “I did this work thinking I’d like to depict something from the point of view of a group who’s been excluded from the world.” It is also, he says, about the fact that “humans have feelings or longing, or rather awe, for gigantic things.” Desaki takes great liberty with Melville’s story, but from what I’ve seen so far, his vividly frenetic style captures something of the novel’s unruly and inventive spirit. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I’ll have more to say when I’ve finished watching the series.