It's not unusual for anime heroes to blast off into space. It is, however, rare when their biggest problems turn out to be not evil alien robots but stark, simple realities of space travel and development: issues such as decompression sickness, decaying orbits and unseemly political maneuvering. 2004's PLANETES addressed the realities of space travel wonderfully well, but it was a character study rather than a two-fisted action tale, which is precisely what Moonlight Mile is.
Goro Saruwatari and Jack "Lostman" Woodbridge open the story as youthful, devil-may-care thrill-seekers; the first episode of Moonlight Mile begins with them summiting Mount Everest, the last mountain on their checklist of the world's toughest peaks. But as they gaze into the sky, the two men notice the faint outline of the International Space Station, and the moon behind it, and realize that there are still mountains to climb. Luckily, a massive supply of energy-rich helium-3 has just been discovered on the moon, so the top 12 nations' space programs are girding to consolidate and make a big push for truly global space development.
But how do a pair of canny but untrained twentysomethings get to the moon? Lostman takes the relatively conventional approach of joining the navy and becoming a pilot, but Goro opts to work heavy construction and gets every certification under the sun, operating under the ultimately correct hunch that space development is going to need skilled crane and tool operators in addition to highly trained astronauts and pilots. Moonlight Mile concerns itself largely with each man's individual journey toward the goal of taking that big first step into space. For Goro, this will involve besting a politically connected rival and making an extraordinary rescue during a construction accident. For Lostman, the obstacles include a scheming commanding officer and a harrowing escape from a hostile country after getting shot down.
Goro and Lostman definitely live on the edge, and this sometimes exposes Moonlight Mile's biggest problem. After the sixth or eighth narrow escape from danger, the viewer will begin to realize that it is impossible to really worry about the duo, because creator Yasuo Ohtagaki has given his heroes a nice pedestal to help them rise above any challenges. There are times when it seems like Goro and Jack's riskiest behavior isn't so much their pursuit of space but their pursuit of adventuresome women. Fortunately, Ohatagaki also populates Moonlight Mile with a wealth of interesting and quite vulnerable supporting characters, whether it's Goro's surrogate family in Houston or Jack's freedom-fighting friends in hostile territory.
What sets Moonlight Mile apart and makes it a truly worthy series is that it's a story for adults. I don't mean the "for adults" label that's typically associated with anime, either—you know, the one that means that the show is full of exploding heads and naughty tentacles and other things that get tiresome pretty quickly. Its depictions of personal relationships, politics and space travel are firmly grounded in reality. For someone who avidly follows the space program, Moonlight Mile's premise is mouthwatering, featuring a revitalized ISS, redesigned space shuttles and a 25-year plan that would culminate in a small lunar city.
In the final analysis, Moonlight Mile is a hard science fiction story that is mature, focused and extremely engrossing; it's absolutely worth picking up on DVD. Aside from the qualities already noted in this piece, my favorite part of the series just might be the fact that Goro and Lostman's journey to the moon is just the beginning; this DVD set contains only the first half of the series. Here's hoping that the second half comes over the horizon soon.