Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 14-26 Streaming
The government has declared Heroman public enemy number one and while Joey and his comrades have slipped through the net thrown by wily Agent Hughes, Joey is dispirited by Heroman's mistreatment at the hands of those he saved. Help comes from an unexpected quarter when Hughes himself offers a chance to clear Heroman's name, and perhaps restore Joey's faith in authority. They'll have to go through Dr. Minami to do it, though. When the smoke clears, Joey and his friends unwind by battling man-eating plants, defending Denton's extraterrestrial toys from a mysterious attacker and investigating a series of abductions. All in good fun for a boy and his walking WMD, but the incidents all point to a larger and more sinister design: a plan by Skrugg remnants to deal a lethal blow to the pesky Earthlings who once thwarted them.
Picking up where the first half left off, Heroman's second half begins promisingly. Having replaced the absolute evils of aliens and their invasions with a nuanced human antagonist and (somewhat) ambiguous manmade plights, the Hughes story is far and away the series' most interesting arc, and soon proves itself to be among the more visceral as well. After a few reasonably twisty turns, it climaxes in a spectacularly extended mecha duel that burns through the better part of two episodes and a good deal of the American landscape. Minami and his MR-1 may be a little on the silly side, but their final confrontation with Heroman at the foot of a slowly crumbling dam is the series at its showboating best: sneakily retro, shamelessly spectacle-oriented, and seriously cool. So gee-whiz neat is the whole two-episode spectacular that it takes a while to realize that transferring villain duties to Dr. Minami has effectively rolled back the series' newfound complexity. Suddenly Hughes is Joey's favorite uncle (metaphorically speaking) and the US Army their own personal backup squad. That's a far cry from the complex cat-and-mouse relations and implied indictments of militarism of but an episode previous.
And it is only the first of many unfulfilled promises made during the Hughes episodes. Some are minor. The failure to follow up on the strange cinematic connection forged in episode 11 between Hughes and Holly, for instance. Or the refusal to further explore the arty streak that Holly's gorgeous beachside concert exposed. Others are quite major. Rolling back the moral complexities of the government's pursuit of Heroman being one of the biggest, but even more disappointing being the subsequent devolution into one-off tales of monsters, and the eventual return of Skrugg invasion scenarios. Sliding back into monster and alien squashing squashes any hope of Heroman transcending its status as a purveyor of spiffy action. The spark of ambition, both stylistic and narrative, is gone, along with a goodly portion of the series' forward momentum, and all that remains are a lot of efficient beastie-battling thrills...with a few heart-tuggers thrown in for good measure.
Which is, of course, nothing to sneeze at. The episode in which Denton divines that someone is destroying the remaining Skrugg technology delivers polished close-in action as well as some much-needed development for Lina's recently Skrugg-ized brother Will. The obligatory deserted island vacation is funny fluff with an edge of emotional weight and a surprising turn to the violent, while the abduction arc offers some of the series' most disturbingly beautiful imagery—an enormous subterranean bloom comprised of abductees in glowing sacs of goo—and shows off Holly to her best advantage: with her heart of tarnished gold wrapped firmly in a prickly skin of sisterly sadism. And while its incorporation of all the standalone water-treading preceding it is forced, the final arc is apocalyptic carnage of eye-opening scale and peerless execution. Through it all Lina and Joey's puppy-love relationship provides warmth and a smidge of drama while Holly of all people comes to embody the series' sometimes powerful sentimental underbelly. Ultimately the series, weighted by leaden dissertations on heroism, sinks into that underbelly, drowning its final moments in a sea of cheese; but until then the show's as fun as it ever was pre-Hughes...or nearly so.
And as great to look at too. The important characters are still caught at a becoming midpoint between American and Japanese artistic conventions, Center City remains a convincing mixture of modern realism and mildly futuristic atmosphere, and Heroman continues to exude a perfect blend of retro mecha attitude and superhero nobility. And the action... Little or no blood is ever shed in Heroman (it is a children's show), but it lacks for nothing in intensity. The final fight—against a familiar but magnificently up-scaled opponent—is positively staggering, rendered with thrilling fluidity by the animators at BONES and rife with unforgettable imagery. The sight of skyscraper-sized tentacles chasing airplanes through the skies of Washington, D.C. will not soon be forgotten, and the pulsing organic nightmares of Skrugg technology take on an evil beauty that transcends their inherent silliness. And the scene in which a wounded Heroman geysers liquid energy into the stormy skies above the ruined capitol? Unparalleled.
Superior execution and monster entertainment chops don't erase the over-earnest explorations of heroism, though; nor the general loss of runaway forward energy; nor the relapse into (admittedly well-wrought) monster-mashing simplicity; nor the dispiriting loss of that sense of endless possibility brought on by Hughes and his arc; nor the gooey sentimentality and manipulative pop-song inserts. But they do make it all very easy to forget, and ultimately fairly easy to forgive.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Satisfyingly explosive conclusion to the Hughes arc; eye-popping final fight; good fun even when not so good overall.
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