"Moonlight Mile" Complete First Season is One Very Small Step for Animated Sci-Fi
One of the more interesting premises underlying the anime series Moonlight Mile is that the next generation of astronauts will not be fighter pilots and astrophysicists, but construction workers. This makes Moonlight Mile comparable to the series Planetes, which used mundane hues to color the exotic by centering on interstellar garbage men. Moonlight Mile‘s hard science fiction pedigree and clear enthusiasm for space travel also make it feel similar to Freedom. Unfortunately, the first season of Moonlight Mile ultimately suffers from a lack of focus, resulting in a good launch that goes astray and flies around uncontrollably before self-destructing instead of achieving escape velocity.
The lead characters of Moonlight Mile are the mountain-climbing duo Goro Saruwatari and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge. After finally reaching the summit of Mount Everest, the pair catch a glimpse of a space station with the naked eye and realize that there are even greater heights to ascend. They split up to achieve their dreams of space travel, with Goro becoming the world’s greatest construction worker in Japan and Lostman returning to the United States Navy as a fighter jock. Despite his penchant for alcohol and women, Goro’s superlative skills as a construction engineer make him the first of the two to be tapped for space travel by the newly formed International Space Association (ISA). On the other hand, Lostman gets delayed by his naval service, and then by being taken as a POW in the “second” Gulf War (one of surprisingly few moments which date the series). However, behind the veneer of multi-national cooperation at the ISA, the usual forces of greed and nationalism are eager to conquer space and seize control of its rare resources for their own ends.
The best thing about Moonlight Mile is the animation, done by Studio Hibari in a very realistic style that looks terrific. The opening episode set on Mount Everest is a gorgeously recreated natural environment, and we can easily feel the strain and the cold that Goro and Lostman must endure. Once the series moves into more high-tech environments, the excellent design work presents a very credible “15 minutes into the future” vision of evolved space travel technology. There is also excellent character animation and smooth in-betweening work on display, and the CGI work shows the same high level of skill, even if the integration of hand-drawn and CGI elements shows the series’ age. The wonderful animation and design work both combine to produce an environment that feels powerfully real. Even though he is straightforward to the point of boorishness, Goro also turns out to be a surprisingly compelling character, which can be partially credited to superb voice-acting work by Kazuhiko Inoue in Japanese and Andrew Love in English.
Unfortunately, the wheels fly off this wagon fairly quickly. The series does get off to a rather engrossing start, with the first three episodes showing how Goro beats out Japan’s clear favorite candidate for the ISA. The series slows down a bit after that to show Goro’s training period before he can strap in and launch for the stars, with episode 4, “Desert Oath,” jumping back to follow Lostman’s wartime service and the consequences of his time as a prisoner of war. The series probably hits its acme with the daring space rescue led by Goro and Lostman in episode 8 “Safe Return from Orbit,” whose slow pace and silent action stand in fascinating contrast to the incredibly tense atmosphere created by the situation. However, Moonlight Mile comes crashing back to Earth, literally and figuratively, almost immediately afterwards, losing its focus rather badly and fumbling around for something substantive until the twelfth and final episode in this set. Conspiracy theories abound, with mysterious operatives pushing the careers of Goro and Lostman for their own sinister purposes, but these conspiracies are packed with clichés and ultimately of little to no significant consequence, making them more annoying than suspenseful. Plot points are brought up and then dumped, such as the young boy who seems to be getting set up as a major force in Lostman’s life in “Desert Oath,” only to vanish for the remainder of the series. Near the end, the show even digresses for three interminable episodes to get in touch with its inner CSI as Goro must investigate a fatal training accident on Earth against the wishes of the Powers that Be.
However, Moonlight Mile‘s most serious misstep comes from its truly appalling treatment of women. If Planetes (the manga, at least) is for the nerds with its equal fascination with science as with story, and Freedom is for the drama club with its contagious “Let’s put on a show!” enthusiasm, then Moonlight Mile is for the jocks and the frat boys, turning space into just another testosterone conquest, little more than a new, exotic locale to drink and have sex so you can lord it over your manly friends at the bar. Nearly every woman in the series serves solely as a collection of orifices for Goro and Lostman to pleasure themselves with. Lostman eschews rabbit’s feet and elaborate superstitious rituals in favor of quickies as a good luck charm before every flight, and apparently has no shortage of seawomen on his carrier ready to oblige him. In episode 5, “From the City of the Stars,” not only is Goro’s girlfriend-of-the-episode a former Russian ballerina reduced to working as a stripper, but the series takes pains to ensure we know that she will soon be a prostitute as well. It seems that either Goro and Lostman’s appearance on the space station is the signal for all the veteran female crewmembers to rip off their clothes for zero-gravity nookie, or the ISA’s space station is really an excuse for a large, international orgy in geosynchronous orbit. The lascivious caveman attitudes towards sex are irksome at the start of the series, but are positively disgusting by the end.
Given that, it’s ironic that one of the more interesting characters on the show is Riyoko Ikeuchi, an intelligent, high-powered Japanese executive seemingly acting to further the Japanese conspiracy, but definitely with an agenda of her own. She is clearly smart and capable enough to achieve her goals without resorting to feminine wiles, but also has no qualms over using sex as a weapon for expediency’s sake (and that weapon is thermonuclear in her case). She’s something like Kim Cattrall’s Samantha Jones from Sex and the City climbing a corporate ladder, except with a hypercool, confident veneer that’s reinforced by terrific vocal performances by Rie Tanaka in Japanese and Luci Christian in English. Her successful sexual manipulations of the men in the series could be a subtle commentary on the raging testosterone on display, allowing her to outmaneuver the men so easily because they’re all thinking with the brain below their belts. She may also just be another manifestation of that same raging testosterone, with the more interesting interpretation being that she is playing (and winning) the men’s game using their rules and a different set of reproductive organs. However, the most likely possibility is that the series is just trying ensure that the one interesting female character on the show gets treated like just another sex object, albeit one that has better lines and happens to be more important to the plot. This last view is reinforced by a late-season plot twist that involves the kind of eye-rolling sexist nonsense that even the recent-day James Bond movies seem to have abandoned.
Moonlight Mile‘s 12 episodes are split across 2 DVDs packaged in 2 thinpak cases encapsulated by a cardboard sleeve. It drops one disc from the original ADV release, but video and audio quality do not seem to have suffered as a result; the anamorphic image and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks in both English and Japanese nicely showcase the show’s wonderful animation. The dub track is quite good, and the show works equally well with either soundtrack. By the time ADV licensed the series originally, they had already dropped most extras from their DVDs, and FUNimation does not seem to have added any new ones for this re-release other than textless opening and closing credits tucked away on disc 2.
It’s a shame that its lack of focus and positively medieval attitude towards women hamstring a series as good looking as Moonlight Mile. However, its flaws ultimately sink the series, and those seeking out a good fix for hard science fiction would probably be better off seeking out Freedom or Planetes instead.