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Captain Earth centers around an alien force attacking humanity known as the Planetary Gears, who see humans and their “libidos” as a food source. The main character is Manatsu Daichi, who, as a child, befriends a boy and a girl and is thus set on a strange path that ends with him becoming the pilot of a giant space defense robot known as the “Earth Engine.” At the same time that he defends the Earth with his friends, he must deal with the fact that there is another faction on Earth that believes that the only way to save humanity is to create an Ark to save the best of the best, and who are willing to get in “Captain Earth’s” way to do so.

When I watched the first episode of Captain Earth, I felt that the show had to be somehow related to the anime Star Driver, a previous work from the same studio, BONES. Like Star Driver, “libido” is presented as some kind of important power or energy source. The enemy mecha, known as Kiltgangs, bring to mind many  of the “Cybodies” from Star Driver as well, not only in terms of design but also in their pilots’ very “spirited” (read: erotic) reactions. Mysterious songs herald the arrival of an enemy. In the end, it turns out that these allusions remain only as such and that there were no direct narrative connections between these two works, but I do still find it valuable to compare them because Captain Earth more or less feels like a more conventional, less wild re-telling of Star Driver.

Above: Enemy mecha from Captain Earth, Below: Enemy mecha from Star Driver

Whereas Star Driver has a main character whose sense of justice has him appear out of a rift in space like some kind of giant interdimensional Zorro, Daichi in Captain Earth is mainly inspired to do good by the example of his deceased father, and undergoes an elaborate combination sequence that has him launching into multiple space stations. While quiet scenes in Star Driver are set on a mysterious island and battles take place in an enigmatic pocket outside of time and space, fights in Captain Earth uses Tanegashima (home of JAXA in reality), and its most signature fights take place in orbit around the Earth. One thrives on symbols and mystery and is akin to being a giant metal Utena, while the other plays out more closely to a typical super robot anime, yet they share many of the same strengths and flaws as shows. Both shows have vibrant and expressive characters, a consistent sense of mystery about the enemy that gradually reveals itself, and beautiful animation especially focused around dynamic action sequences. However, they also share unusual plot reveals that are strangely abrupt, as well as changes of heart in characters that basically make sense but could be better if they were focused on more. Both stories feel liable to fall apart in a structural sense, but are held together by the dynamism and energy of their characters, for better or for worse.

How does this manifest in Captain Earth in particular? There are two points that stick out to me. The first is the fact that the Planetary Gears have an intriguing inverse relationship with their robots, in the sense that they are basically giant robots who take on the guise of their “human” pilots rather than the other way around. This is quite a unique idea, but it never gets explored as much as I would have preferred. The second point comes in the last episode, when Daichi is back to basics, fighting the enemy with just the Earth Engine and no additional weapons or frills. It’s something that happens at the end in a lot of giant robot anime such as Gurren-Lagann or Gaogaigar, but when Daichi calls out the Earth Engine’s attacks, I realized I didn’t actually remember any of them, because the story couldn’t quite ever focus on the main robot as this symbol of good and make its attacks memorable. What makes the scene a partial success instead is the fact that we are there with Daichi as he grows into the role of “Captain Earth,” and his romantic relationship with the character Hana.

Actually, when I think about it further, Captain Earth doesn’t feel like simply a different, less surreal version of Star Driver, but more the lovechild of Star Driver and another BONES work, Heroman. The Earth Engine basically looks like an upgraded version of Heroman with its red, white, and blue color scheme and its overall “physique,” while Daichi’s personality is right in between Takuto from Star Driver and Joey Jones from Heroman. What’s even more notable, however, is the fact that many of the other high and low points of Captain Earth that it does not share with Star Driver can be found in Heroman. In particular, when Captain Earth is focused on its main story, it has a sense of urgency and excitement, but often it ends up meandering in a way that is less irritating and more puzzling: “Why put this diversion here of all places? It’s not even humor to break up a serious moment?” With Heroman it’s the long number of episodes they spend dealing with that mad scientist villain, and with Captain Earth it’s the time they spend on Earth chasing down unawakened Planetary Gears. While the latter makes more sense, it just feels as if it comes at an unusual point in the overall story.

While its aesthetics don’t have quite the flash and razzmatazz of anime like Utena or Kill la Kill or indeed Star Driver, the show’s more by-the-books approach to looking good enhances the series and its viewability by giving care to both its characters and its mechanical designs. At the same time, I can easily see why someone looking for a cohesive narrative above all else would find Captain Earth infuriating, even if I did consistently enjoy and look forward to the series. I wouldn’t say it’s a show that you shouldn’t think about too much, but that you should think about it while well aware of where the characters and their emotions fill in the gaps that might not otherwise make much sense.

A new Super Robot Wars game was announced yesterday, Super Robot Wars UX for the Nintendo 3DS, and the amount of new and unexpected entries makes me want to talk about it, as well as some other SRW-related thoughts.

I think you can roughly categorize Super Robot Wars into two types of games: the flagship titles, and the experimental ones. The former consists of the titles with the best animation and the most-anticipated anime entries into the franchise. The latter can go in a number of directions, from aesthetics (3D models instead of 2D sprites in Super Robot Wars GC) to gameplay (a switch from turn-based to real-time strategy as with Super Robot Wars Scramble Commander), but often times “experimental” simply ends up referring to the titles chosen for that game.

That’s pretty much where UX is. Just look at the debut works for this version.

  • Kishin Houkou Demonbane
  • Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth
  • Wings of Rean
  • Cyber Troopers Virtual On’s Fei-Yen HD
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A wakening of the Trailblazer
  • SD Gundam Three Kingdoms Legend: Brave Battle Warriors
  • Mazinkaiser SKL
  • Heroman

When you include the other titles that are in this game, the first thing that jumps out is just how new most of the anime are. Not only is the Mazinger franchise represented by its latest one-off OVA series, but the actual oldest anime in the entire game (and the only two from the 1980s) are Aura Battler Dunbine, and then Ninja Senshi Tobikage of all things. If it were a flagship title, there would have to be certain staples, but with a “lesser” SRW like this, it’s possible to inject a ton of new blood into it and not offend anyone.

Not only that, but when you look at some of the recent titles chosen for UX, they seem to be among the least likely candidates even among non-flagship SRW games. Brave Battle Warriors is actually an already-super deformed Gundam anime done entirely in 3DCG and based on classical chinese literature, the sort of title one would least expect to represent Gundam even with the fact that SEED Destiny and 00 are there. Though I’m sure it’s based on the anime version, Demonbane‘s inclusion may be the first instance (and correct me if I’m wrong) of a visual novel appearing in SRW, which opens the gate for things like Muvluv Alternative.

Heroman I wasn’t even sure counted as a giant robot anime, though I guess if you think about it, it’s basically a combination of Tetsujin 28/Giant Robo with Gold Lightan (though Gold Lightan has yet to make its debut). Possibly craziest of all is the inclusion of Virtual On in the form of a Fei-Yen dressed like Hatsune Miku. Virtual On in SRW Alpha 3 paved the way for non-anime/manga to appear in Super Robot Wars games, and this takes it to another level, as I’m pretty sure Miku Fei-Yen is nothing more than a model kit!

It might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I actually love it when SRW games go a little wild like this, though one complaint I do have is that the DS SRW games have never been the most impressive when it comes to animation. My issue isn’t even with the quality of the sprites or an unfair comparison to the exquisitely animated Z series of SRW, but that a lot of the shortcuts taken to try to make the games look better actually end up making them look worse. In particular, I’m referring to the way the DS games including UX incorporate cut-ins, and detail shots. Instead of creating the images to better match the sprites and the visuals of the rest of the game, the DS SRWs basically take screenshots directly from the original anime, and while this means things look accurate, it also sticks out in an odd way and messes with the way the attack animations end up looking in a manner which didn’t quite affect previous games with worse sprite animation.

But it might just be that with a game with this daring of a series list, some things have to give. In that case, I’ll take it, but will still hope for better the next time around.

Question: What’s the difference between Anpanman and Heroman?

The answer is, Anpanman has an arch-enemy.

I recently finished Heroman, the BONES collaboration with American comics legend Stan Lee, and while the show had some positive qualities to it, it fell flat overall, due in no small part to a long run of episodes in the middle which pretty much just meandered about. But in the list of things the show could have done better, what really stood out to me was how Heroman and Joey Jones never got a proper supervillain to call their own. Sure, Heroman and Joey have adversaries and rivals, namely the insectoid Skrugg and their leader Gogorr, as well as Dr. Minami and “Anime Flash Thompson,” but none of them felt quite right, even if two out of the three turned out interesting in the end.

Gogorr had the most potential to be an arch-enemy.  As a galactic conqueror that can augment and evolve his body for combat, he bears a great resemblance to Vilgax, the primary villain in the American cartoon Ben 10, but the main difference here is that, unlike Gogorr, I would most definitely consider Vilgax to be Ben Tennyson’s arch-enemy. With Ben and Vilgax, not only could you sense a greater degree of personal animosity between the two, but Vilgax’s actions directly cause Ben to get his powers in the first place. In contrast, Gogorr feels a little too distant from Joey both emotionally and thematically to be a proper nemesis. Another factor is that the way Gogorr is presented makes him feel a little too powerful to be an arch-enemy, too much of a Goliath to Heroman’s David, and too much of an Archmage to Heroman’s Goliath.

Left: Vilgax, Right: Gogorr

A lack of arch-enemies might seem like an odd thing to single out, and to be sure the inclusion of one wouldn’t have solved all of Heroman‘s problems, but the reason I’m focusing on the concept is that the arch-enemy is a near-integral part of what makes superhero stories feel like superhero stories, and as a show at least partially based on the American superhero concept, Heroman could have benefitted from such a character. On a more intellectual level, they provide a nice foil for the hero, holding up a mirror to the hero’s own abilities either through being the opposite or being the same (or sometimes both), but on a simpler level supervillains expand the world of the superhero by having a great evil that can be vanquished by a great good, highlighting both protagonist and antagonist. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Heroman needed a relationship with a villain on par with Superman/Lex Luthor or the Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom, but just having someone to stand in contrast to Heroman and Joey would go a long way in highlighting the “What does it mean to be a hero?” theme that persists throughout Heroman.

In anime, it is often the case that a romance is hindered by one or more parties being completely oblivious to their own feelings, let alone the feelings of others. But every so often you see a character who “gets it,” realizing that maybe subtle hints just aren’t enough when the person they’re interested in is just a tad dense. One such character is Lina Davis from Heroman, the All-American Cheerleader who knows how to do it.

Opposite Lina is Joey Jones, a guy unfamiliar with the ways of love. Playing coy doesn’t exactly work with a passive guy like him, as it’s difficult for him to make that first move. But Lina is aware of this; she actively tries to get Joey alone so that she can ask him out. Then, when they actually go out on their first date, Lina really lays it on thick.

Whereas most anime girls would be content to maybe put on some makeup and wear a nice skirt, Lina is well aware of how much prompting Joey needs and knows such small steps are simply not enough.

I don’t think there’s much room for misinterpretation here.

While I would not recommend anyone actually look to Heroman for an example of good relationship anime, I think there’s something to be taken from Lina’s more aggressive approach. A lot of anime nerds, not just guys OR girls, can be unable to move forward. But you don’t need a personality change into someone more confident, you just need a quick burst of confidence, just those few seconds or minutes to make your move. In the case of Lina and Joey, while Lina takes the first step, it also allows Joey to reciprocate to some extent.

Let’s celebrate America with an American as interpreted by Japanese attitude towards being with others, even if you’re not American!

In high school I used to hang out in the computer lab after class, where my friends and fellow anime fans would use the school’s T1 connection to download videos of anime openings. After a while we started mixing and matching opening animations. with opening themes in a relatively crude fashion by having two video windows open and playing the video from one with the audio from the other. It was really fun and while I understand that the human mind will just associate any two things together like that, I still enjoy doing it.

For a while I was using Youtube Doubler to approximate the effect, but now I find out there’s something called “Tubedubber” which does exactly what I was hoping for, allowing you to stream the video from one Youtube clip with the sound from another, and it even has enough settings so that you can time it properly.

I particularly enjoyed combining Gundam X with Gaogaigar back in high school. The only flaw is that the audio ends before the video, so your only choice is to pause the video as the song ends. Currently, I’ve gone with something decidedly more patriotic.

Try it out! It’s also a fairly low-level way to make some super basic AMVs.

As I watch Heroman, I simultaneously get two conflicting messages.

1) “Whoa, this plot is moving blindingly fast!”

2) “Man, this plot is dragging its feet like crazy.”

It doesn’t make sense at first, but then I realize it’s because the things that you expect to happen quickly seem to take forever, and the things you expect to not occur until much later happen immediately. It’s like Heroman has some sort of “inverse pacing” that defies all conventions of storytelling, especially something you’d expect from the minds of Stan Lee + Studio Bones.

The love interest finding out that the main character is really the hero is something you’d expect to happen towards the end of the series, or at least a season. In Heroman, it happens in episode 2.

Then the rival/bully character to get brought over to the side of evil somehow and become some kind of rival. In most other series, this would be a mid-point “twist,” but here it happens in episode 5.

So all these reveals and events that you’d think would be saved for much later in the series are happening in the single-digit episodes, but somehow giant rolling balls is a strong enough opponent for multiple episodes to the point that we may be looking back one day and referring to this as the “Giant Rolling Balls Arc of Heroman.”

I’m enjoying the series well enough, but this can be kind of disorienting.

Bonus Video Gallery of Total Relevance:

As I mentioned previously, Heroman seems to take a lot from Tetsujin 28, particularly with the idea of a kid remote-controlling a robot and using it to fight evil. However, I think there’s another series which draws a number of parallels to Stan Lee and Bones’ collaboration.

The series, or rather franchise I’m talking about is the “Yuusha” or “Brave” series. In  the 1990s, Sunrise and toy company Takara created a series of super robot cartoons emphasizing the combining robot (and in turn, sales of toys based on combining robots). There was a new show every year from 1990-1997, with The King of Braves Gaogaigar being the biggest name. The two I want to concentrate on in particular are the first two, Brave Exkaiser and, particularly, The Brave Fighter of the Sun Fighbird.

In both shows, alien space police possess Earth vehicles in order to fend off evil menaces, which is at this point the most likely origin for Heroman in my opinion, particularly with the way the scientist in the first episode of  Heroman sends his signal out to find extraterrestrial life. Similarly, in Fighbird a kooky scientist makes contact with alien life forms, including the aforementioned ghost alien cops, but also space criminals who escaped from a space prison (in space).

I know the similarities are pretty shallow, especially because Heroman is barely out at this point and hasn’t even established that much of its own story, but it really reminded me of those early Brave shows.

Heroman feels like a return to an old idea, and probably not in the way you’re thinking.

When we think giant robots, we usually think of robots being piloted from within or being some kind of sentient being, but Heroman is neither (at least, not as of Episode 2). Instead, he’s an entity separate from the human, controlled through a remote device. Sound familiar? It’s the same premise as that progenitor of giant robot anime heroes, Tetsujin 28.

But as I implied, the giant robot moved away from having its hero exist separate from it, and that’s been the trend ever since. While there were attempts to bring back this idea on occasion, I think the reason it failed to succeed was that it just didn’t seem as exciting or as practical as having a cockpit. After all, I’m sure just about anyone who watches any incarnation of Tetsujin 28 will wonder why they don’t just target the completely vulnerable human controlling it. The answer, of course, is that Shoutarou would stab you in the neck and set you on fire because that’s how Shoutarou rolls (no, really), but the basic idea is that it just makes more sense on a variety of levels to in the protective bosom of your mecha. At least, that’s how I see the evolution of that general trend in giant robots.

But then when you think about it, the idea of the remote-controlled giant robot is surprisingly similar to a genre which supplanted mecha in popularity, profitability, and marketability: the monster battle anime, of which Pokemon is by far the most famous. And in time, this turned into not only monsters but mechanical creatures as well.

So we’ve gone from a remote-controlled giant robot to piloted robots to kids battling using monsters to kids battling using mechanical devices, and now with Heroman, a remote-controlled robot servant fighting alongside his owner, it’s  like we’ve come full circle.

As an aside, does anyone else get the feeling that this post is a product of me having recently finished Tetsujin 28 combined with me getting back into Pokemon? Yeah, I thought so.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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