Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
With the Skrugg invasion in full swing, the military resorts to the unreliable methods of mad scientist Dr. Minami to stop the Skrugg sphere before it plays ninepins with the White House. Luckily for them, deep within the Skrugg stronghold Joey and partners in crime Psy and Dr. Denton are making their own bid to stop the spheres. Unluckily for them, the path to sphere-forestalling leads to Kogorr, a Skrugg commander unlike any they've faced. When the smoke clears, the alien threat is temporarily no more. But threats remain; threats subtler and perhaps deadlier than the Skrugg. Like snoopy government agents, first dates, and—the horror—Joey's big sister.
If you're looking for the robot vs. cockroach smackdown to end all others, it's here. The series' first arc goes out in a blaze of glory, with an extended battle that forefronts everything there is to love about Heroman's mecha action. The canny old-school cool of Heroman, the expert execution, the slick animation, the energy and excitement—it's all there, along with some suggestive complications in the Heroman/Joey bond and the first, and only, Skrugg villain to lay claim to both deadly menace and aesthetic appeal (of the evil insectoid variety). You couldn't ask for a better cap to the series' first arc: thrills, fun, and a conclusive end to alien hostilities. As such, it's a little ironic that it is the episodes that follow, rather than the big finale itself, that truly prove the series' mettle.
With the ending fireworks of the Kogorr fight, the series tosses aside its alien invasion crutch. The characters become the series' pillar of support, and its focus shifts to more complex and insidious threats than giant cockroaches. It's the first real test of the series' quality. Anyone can do a spectacular alien invasion story—even Roland Emmerich. It takes real spine to trust your cast to carry the plot once the uglies are gone, and real skill to parlay realistic reconstruction—when aliens blow your town up, it attracts a lot of official attention and really piles on the construction work—into a tense cat-and-mouse game. It's a big risk. While fun and generally more intelligent than you'd think, the series has shown no signs that it would weather such a shift well. It's to the series' everlasting credit that the gambit works spectacularly.
The post-Kogorr Heroman is a quieter, more complex affair than Skrugg-smooshing Heroman, and infinitely more interesting for it. The enemy this time is not straight-shooting, unmitigated evil, but rather the devious and very fallible American government. Super-agent Hughes, Joey's primary opponent, is a fan of stratagems and no one's fool; he is also very obviously a reasonable and upstanding man...though a ruthless one when need be. That makes the struggle between him and Joey—as much a battle of wits as an outright battle—a lot less predictable and a heck of a lot more interesting than that between Joey and those big cockroaches.
It also reveals as much about Joey and his team o' misfits as it does about Hughes. It is only when Hughes forces Joey to lay aside his humanitarian mission and defend himself that the boy's nose for martial trickery and combat decision-making become clear. And it is only through the stress of possible government intervention that we learn that Dr. Denton, contrary to his mad scientist affectations, has his head very securely screwed to his shoulders. Mix things up a bit with the overprotective (and gleefully sadistic) meddling of big sis Holly, as well as the connection that is very quietly hinted at between her and Hughes, toss in Lina's capable shouldering of the series' melancholy undercurrents, and you get a series that is richer, more amusing, and just plain better than the simple action vehicle it once was.
Aside from maintaining the series' stellar animation and effective mix of American and Japanese aesthetics, these episodes also introduce some sex appeal—in the punked-out form of Holly. Strictly PG, of course, but no less effective for being less than blatant, and all the more so for the effortless confidence she exudes. During a dockside concert Holly also exposes a heretofore dormant lyrical streak in the show, transforming it for a short time into something almost poetic. The cadence of that sequence, even more so than Heroman's mane of electric hellfire or Kogorr's sinister lope, is what really sticks after the episodes have run their course. Well, that and the magical-girl elaborateness of Joey's orders to Heroman. I know repeated animation is a staple of mecha series, but really, some staples should be skipped.
Up until the Skrugg invasion's abrupt end, Heroman showed no signs of aspiring to anything other than retro alien-busting action. By the time episode thirteen has thrown its last curveball, the series is a whole new ball game. And a considerably better one. It's still primarily a youngster's show, but where episodes one to nine were pitched at the preteen-to-teen demographic, by episode thirteen the show has effectively pried the ceiling off its demographic. With any luck it won't nail it back on anytime soon.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Skrugg invasion ends and something more complex and ambiguous, not to mention character-driven, emerges from its ashes; still a blast to watch.
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