Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
In the midst of a grueling storm, burly he-men Lostman and Goro Saruwatari clamber to the peak of Mt. Everest, a feat the execution of which had already left a testosterone-deficient French climbing team dead behind them. There, perched atop the pinnacle of masculine physical achievement, the two wonder which peak to scale next and then spot, floating in the sky above, the outline of a satellite. The two vow to make space their next destination and part ways, Lostman to enter the Navy as a pilot and Goro to become a master of all forms of construction work. When Goro's company decides to send a man to the international space agency, Goro's name comes up. With a little luck and his own tremendous skills, Goro unexpectedly secures the spot, no thanks to meddling company-woman Riyoko. Lostman's tenure as a crack pilot has him on the fast track to spaceship piloting, but a close encounter with a surface-to-air missile changes all of that. It's a long, hard path to the freedom of space, and Goro and Lostman have only just begun.
Moonlight Mile is Planetes with chest hair. It would be really nice to say something pithy like that about this excursion into animated near-future conjecture, but sadly, other than space exploration and moon-mining, the two series really have nothing in common. Where Planetes was an exploration of space travel made mundane intertwined with masterfully thorny inter-personal drama, Moonlight Mile thus far is a celebration of the traditional reification of manly-man astronauts shackled to drama cheesy enough to attract space-rats.
You can smell the testosterone on this series. Populated by Americans with granite jaws and names like Tom, Jack and Steve, its sole Japanese character is a gorilla, and the buffet of rippling abs quickly sparks unsettling Baywatch flashbacks. Women are little more than sexual conquests, Goro copulates wildly in the cab of his crane, and Lostman always gets laid before flying—you know, as a good luck charm. It's always a pleasant change of pace when a series forgoes super-powered teenagers in favor of actual adults and shoots for something a little more mature than smackdowns and harem hijinks, but it would be nice if they could remember that true maturity is born of intelligence and insight, not random sex. Riyoko fellating an astronaut candidate in a hot tub doesn't a mature series make—just the opposite. Nor does it successfully disguise the fact that the plot is heavily dependent on credulity-stretching coincidences, that the characters are crudely painted, or that the painfully predictable one-episode buildups to the dramatic bits are laughably childish. Is the astronaut who goes into space right after the extended happy family montage going to run into trouble? Gee, let me guess.
That Goro is a Neanderthal with wiles and smarts belying his tank-like physique is refreshing when he's not out demonstrating the evolutionary advantages of high testosterone levels, but otherwise every attempt the series makes at characterization and drama is a complete write-off. But, if the series is at its worst when providing personal backing for its space-age adventuring, it's at its best once the adventuring starts. The beautifully rendered moonscapes and careful vehicle designs are steeped in the wonder of space travel, and the tension of Goro's displays of life-saving technical prowess actually forgives the contrivances required to set them up, helped immensely by glossy CG animation and patient pacing. The feat that gets him hired as an astronaut is a nail-biting game of high-stakes Jenga with iron beams and a crane, and his rescue plan for that troubled astronaut is an ingenious bit of Zero-G maneuvering. Lostman's aerial maneuvering, while plenty flashy, is far less interesting, but then again, so is he.
So long as you keep in mind the series' own predilection towards random, gratuitous mature content, then ADV's vulgarity-bedecked English re-write actually seems kind of appropriate. The dub plays fast and loose with a lot of the original dialogue, and the results are mixed. If you thought the scene in which Goro and Lostman muscle their way up a cliff amidst a stream of obscenities was embarrassing manly posturing in the original version, wait until you see the English version. The omnipresence of f*** and sh** in the English script frankly smacks of an attempt to force an already forced series to be even edgier, and the newly added jokes often fall flat on their macho faces. On the up side, occasionally the jokes succeed. The line Goro's girl spouts while frolicking in his crane is priceless ("Hey, I can see my house from here!"). Another of the dub's value-added traits are the accents sprinkled across the cast, which are usually effective but occasionally weak. The actors don't embarrass themselves in general, at least not any more than lines like "he drinks like a fish and f***s like a monkey" require them to, and they prove to be quite talented at shouting.
The volume's only extras are clean versions of the opening and closing. The opening is a powerful orchestral number, in keeping with the rousing and crudely deployed soundtrack, set to an impressive montage of imagery that promises heaps of action in the future. With any luck, that's a promise it'll keep. And maybe, just maybe, it'll turn all of that testosterone to its advantage. The ending theme is pop garbage by the way.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Tense, realistically rendered space action; aimed at an older demographic than usual.
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