The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Heavy Object ?
Quick, what's more important: saving a girl's life or not “defiling” her boobs? Also, what's the best way to tell a story, through showing or excruciating explanation of a fictional world's detailed history? If you chose the second answer both times, congrats, you are far more likely to enjoy Heavy Object than I did.
That really isn't an entirely fair statement, of course – Heavy Object does look likely to break away from some of the problems plaguing this first episode. The story takes place in a future world where human casualties of war have all but been eliminated thanks to the invention of weapons known as “Objects,” which can withstand a nuclear bomb. Since humans will be humans and the urge to go to war simply can't be eradicated, this has made warfare much “cleaner,” to use the show's term, and members of the military are now more engineers than soldiers. It's been that way for as long as our ridiculously named protagonist Qwenthur and his buddy Havia can remember, and both are feeling rather disappointed by their military service thus far. In fact, when we meet them after seven solid minutes of explication, they're engaged in the thrilling pursuit of shoveling snow, because apparently all technology is now military and snowploughs and snowblowers are lost to history. We get a brief break from expository dialogue when the guys decide to go hunting and we learn that Havia can't tell the difference between a deer and an elk, moose, or reindeer. Then it's back to explaining how things work in between noticing the (young) women's figures before we get a hint that things are going to change in terms of warfare very soon.
The major issues I had with Heavy Object's first episode were largely that it spends entirely too much time on exposition and that the pacing feels very choppy. One minute Qwenthur is talking with Princess (the first Stoic Girl Pilot of the season) and the next he's being disciplined by his commanding officer. I don't need to see each step of the process that took us from point A to point B, but a lot of the transitions, this one included, feel far too abrupt to really work. The attempts at humor via Qwenthur's musings/attractions to Princess' body also fall flat, largely because they feel too obvious in terms of lightening the atmosphere...or just flat-out dumb in terms of “I won't save her life because I'd have to touch her breasts.”
On the other hand, the scenery is beautiful, and while the character designs and animation aren't spectacular, this does look quite nice on the whole. While the Objects themselves aren't especially interesting to look at, the detail that goes into explaining how they work is probably very interesting to people with more of an investment in technology and war machines that I have, and I do admire the degree to which the Objects were thought out...even if I found it dull personally. And as I said before, this really may pick up quite quickly, as Qwenthur looks to be getting a taste of old-style warfare in, if not the next episode, sometime soon. Now if it can lay off the telling, that might be worth watching...but that's an “if” I'm not willing to risk.
Heavy Object is available streaming at Funimation.com.
In the future world of Heavy Object, traditional war has been made obsolete by the invention of the Objects, massive all-purpose war machines that essentially decide by proxy all battles between the four major superpowers and their various fragmented substates. Because of this, old-fashioned footsoldiers don't really have all that much today, and so our protagonists Qwenthur and Havia spend their days shoveling snow for an air force that's no longer relevant and attempting to hunt deer in the woods of their Alaskan military base. Havia's just there to build up credibility to inherit his family title, and Qwenthur's planning to study the engineering of future Heavy Objects. This puts him in pretty constant contact with the Princess, the pilot of their base's Object, “Baby Magnum.” But of course, these peaceful days are likely soon to come to an end.
I include that almost speculative final sentence there because not much happens in the first episode of Heavy Object, so I basically have to pick up the dramatic slack. The first five minutes are entirely consumed with laying out the Object premise, a choice made irrelevant by basically every other conversation in the first episode, and problems of unnecessary exposition follow the episode all through to its last moments. It's clear this show's been adapted from the kind of light novel that really, really likes technical info dumps, and the transition to anime isn't exactly a graceful one. That said, not all the conversations here are bogged down by monologues on the nature of Objects - in fact, the banter between Qwenthur, Havia, and the Princess can sometimes feel very natural. This first episode is essentially a compromise between the slow burn of a drama that knows it has two seasons to tell its story and the ramblings of a light novel that has no understanding of narrative economy, and whether it intrigues you or bores you entirely will likely come down to your base interest in this kind of pseudoscience-heavy fantasy stuff. There's also a scene where Qwenthur freaks out about boobs, and another where technical jargon is layered over a shower scene, so take those as a plus or minus as you will.
Heavy Object's aesthetics are reasonable but not remarkable. The color work in the backgrounds is probably the biggest highlight - there are some nice shots of the Alaskan wilderness, and Baby Magnum's hanger is lit up in surprisingly beautiful oranges and greens. On the other hand, all the shots of the Objects fighting are depicted in mediocre CG, and their actual design isn't particularly compelling (they're really just big circles). The traditional animation isn't much better, though it honestly doesn't have much to do in this episode - loaded down with so much overwritten exposition, the show really doesn't have time to do more than introduce its characters. Overall, while this premier demonstrates a couple notable strengths (some fine banter, a sense of long-term scale), it's too slow and uneven in its execution to really recommend for anyone not thrilled by tech-talk.
Review: Let's be clear about one thing up front: despite what the name of the series and its advertising blurbs might suggest, this is actually not a mecha series – or at least not a conventional one, anyway. If you come into it expecting to see yet another tale about young people operating giant humanoid combat suits, you'll be only partly correct. The “suits” are instead massive, often spherical armored balls of death bristling with weapons; the one depicted in the screen shot is fairly typical.
As a substantial introduction explains, these Heavy Objects first appeared in the mid-21st century and utterly changed the nature of warfare, as the first one could remain operationally intact enough even in the face of a direct nuclear strike (though it did sustain heavy damage) to still wipe out conventional forces. As their development spread across the four major alliances which split the world in the wake of the UN's collapse, the way wars were fought also development. With conventional forces largely ineffective against them, the Heavy Objects dominated the battlefield, so battles typically became one-on-one matches between rival Heavy Objects which were generally understood to be to the point of operational incapacity rather than to the death – in other words, a sort of sanitized warfare by proxy.
That suits soldiers Havia and Qwenthur just fine. The former is only doing it because he's a noble and needs to earn military standing in order to inherit the family assets, while the latter sees maintenance work on Heavy Objects as a potential path to quick wealth. Both stand well below the girl who is only ever referred to as “the Princess,” who is an Elite by virtue of being a Heavy Object-qualified pilot. Some low-key events like a hunt for better food in the Alaskan wilderness where they are all stationed, Qwenthur having a conversation with Princess out in the snow, a mishap with a pilot restraint belt during maintenance in the hangar, and a barbecue with the sexy young base commander take up most of the episode after the intro, with only a snippet of true current-time battle at the end.
Both the opener (here used as the closer) and certain elements of the first episode suggest that Qwenthur and Princess may eventually hit it off despite their differing social ranks and will definitely form a trio with Havia as the stars of the show. The first episode also makes it very clear that fan service is going to be a significant part of this scenario, whether it is sexy shots of Princess in the shower, observations by both the camera and Havia about the base commander's figure, or the way the restraint belt issue squeezes Princess in a way that emphasizes her breasts, which is no end of distraction for Qwenthur. The production merits headlined by J.C. Staff are pretty high, however, and the eclectic musical score give it a tone which gravitates towards lightly dramatic. Character designs are quite attractive, but it is the designs of the Heavy Object which truly make the series stand out.
Very little about the first episode beyond what the Heavy Objects look like stands out, as both the scenario and the characters operating within it are familiar ones. That one distinguishing factor is a big enough one to warrant some attention, however, and for some the fan service component will give it an added boost. The series may end up being just another mecha-like series, but at least it has one heck of an attention-catcher.
In the not too distant future, wars are fought “cleanly” using heavily armored, egg-shaped super weapons called “Objects.” The introduction of these weapons has completely reshaped war on an Earth where the United Nations no longer exists and the borders between countries are regularly redrawn by battle. An elite few pilot the Objects while the rest of the armed forces, including student Qwenthur and nobleman Havia are left shoveling snow on aircraft runways that will likely never be used.
Some things remain the same. MREs still taste horrible and commanding officers are still terrifying. As two soldiers who have never seen the face of war, Qwenthur and Havia decide to abandon their post in favor of hunting down some real food in the Alaskan forest. Little else happens in real time in this opening episode, because the narrative instead opts for heavy exposition on what Objects are (super powerful weapons!), what its armor is composed of, and on how battles are fought (remotely!). The episode finds a way to fill the 20 minutes by explaining the same concept in three or four different ways when it should be better establishing its characters.
The dialogue can be equally forced, with Qwenthur casually asking his comrade to remind him of his noble heritage for the sake of the audience. Outside of that fact, the episode doesn't manage to differentiate the two friends' personalities much from one another. I expected a straight-man, funny guy dynamic both seem equally wacky. Qwenthur is prone to delving into frantic, humorous thought monologues whenever he's around “Princess” Milinda, the stoic blonde operator of the Alaska base's Object, Baby Magnum. Milinda's status keeps her from doing the meaningless grunt work of her peers, but it's hard to say whether she'll evolve beyond the fanservice niche she was placed into this episode.
Her personality reads “highly-competent” but the episode introduces her in a steamed up shower scene and later she almost suffocates while the bungled harness system squeezes very, very tightly around her breasts. Qwenthur, who was doing maintenance on Baby Magnum and caused the malfunction, is unable to do anything because 'boobs.'
Despite Heavy Object's rote world building and mismanagement of episode time, it does leave some enticing promises of things to come. The opening sequence (played as the ending for this episode) shows the trio battling other Objects in different locations. It will be interesting to see how two soldiers who have never seen the face of war end up going with Milinda into battle and adapting to what they discover. Hopefully this first episode waded through the majority of the series' “world building,” because a bit more armored weapon action and space for the characters to realistically interact with each other would liven things up.
Watching Heavy Object is the anime equivalent of reading a technical manual for a tank. Believe it or not, I don't mean that in a totally negative way. (Just, you know, slightly negative.) Some people enjoy reading technical manuals for tanks, and this show is obviously made just for them. You'll have to forgive me for being more bored out of my skull instead, though.
No need to bury the lede here, Heavy Object is a series for military otaku. The first full five minutes of the show are devoted to explaining how the titular "heavy objects" work. They're an ultimate weapon that looks like a giant ball with laser turrets popping out of it, and they're so indestructible that they are the only weapon our globe's four remaining, splintered mega-nations can rely on to protect their multiple fractured borders. After that hefty block of setup, the remainder of the episode features our protagonist, Object-Engineer-in-Training Qwenthur Barpotage (yes really), explaining further details about the hierarchy of war, the inner workings of weaponry, and how he sees his place in it. This show is about the furthest from "my thing" you can possibly get, but I was pretty okay with it for two big reasons.
First of all, it isn't bright, flashing, nationalist propaganda, and it very well could have been. War itself is not glamorized in the show (yet), other nations are not demonized, and our protagonists aren't even coded Japanese. (At least Qwenthur Barpotage, Havia Winchel, and Milinda Blantini don't sound like Japanese names to me, and the show takes place in not-Alaska). It's perfectly reasonable to find fault with the glamorization of machinery made expressly to create death and destruction, but it's also okay to find the inner workings of these machines fascinating, and Heavy Object doesn't seem to be in love with aggression, just the enormous metal gun-balls themselves.
The second point in its favor piggybacks off that first one. Similar to Log Horizon and a few other anime that are written more like worldbuilding encyclopedias than straight narratives, Heavy Object's cast is largely chill, nondescript nerds talking about their interests in a down-to-earth and fairly intelligent manner. Their dialogue is bad and forced, but not because they're saying stuff no one would ever say. Rather, they're completely focused on things most viewers might not care about, and I do mean completely. When Qwenthur first becomes smitten with Object-Pilot Milinda, he can't even keep the technical jargon out of his infatuated internal monologue. He stops to explain that the girl's sexy blue eyes are only that color because they were lasered to interface with her Object, and her sexy skintight bodysuit is actually weatherproof and maintains a constant temperature even in the tundra. The entire script is like this. The entire episode is like this.
It's bland paste to me, but I sorta get the potential appeal. If the show had been otherwise the same except the heavy objects were weird animals instead of war-machines, and the show explored their morphology and behavior in-depth or something, I would be fascinated. So I get it. There's something here for an extremely specific subset of anime fan, and that's valid.
So I was going to give this a 3/5, until the 17-minute mark, when Heavy Object basically flushed the mild good will it had engendered with me straight down the toilet. Qwenthur screws up a maintenance check on the Object, causing the pilot seat's belts to constrict Milinda until she is literally being crushed to death. Qwenthur could save her by pulling the belts away from her chest, but he can't bring himself to do this because it would mean touching her boobs, so he just watches as her bust squooshes further outward and she writhes around in pain. This extended non-joke was so painfully bad that I had to pare my benefit-of-the-doubt back down to a 2.5, and even that may be too generous if future episodes are filled with comic relief that awful. Also, the ED song is jaw-droppingly terrible. My standards for anime theme songs aren't high or anything, but they're definitely higher than that. Ouch.
I have zero interest in watching more of this show, but I can definitely see it appealing to fans with a firm focus on the back half of that STEM acronym. Fans of the author's previous work on Scientific Railgun and Index might also be interested. (From what I recall, those shows were all about extremely intricate and specific "magic systems," so I guess that's more the front half of the STEM acronym.) For everyone else, this is probably just a snooze.
War. War never changes.
At least, it doesn't change much after the widespread proliferation of the Object, an unstoppable war machine self-powered through incredible military technology, originally created by Japan. It was literally nuked in its first battle, but that wasn't enough to stop it; the Object still managed to wipe out the allied forces. Humanity is building vacation colonies on the moon, but on Earth, the struggle for sovereignty plays out in battles between Objects around the globe.
Anyway, this show is about two things: one, obsessing over the technical details of fantasy military weaponry, and two, the adventures of Qwenthur (yep, you heard that right, Qwenthur), a low-level soldier with dreams of becoming an Object engineer, and his buddy at the bottom of the totem pole, Havia. Together they lament their shared uselessness as soldiers in a war fought by machines, while ol’ Qwenthur winds up working maintenance on the Object piloted by Milinda, a soft-spoken girl with a bob cut who wears a skin-tight pilot suit at all times. That's about it – there's a bunch of excessive technical detail and exposition about how war has changed due to the Objects, because this is a show for military otaku first and foremost. Nothing else happens until the final minute or so when it's clear that Qwenthur is in for a real Qwenventhure when Milinda's Object gets blowed up and he realizes he never even considered the idea that he might actually fight in a war someday.
As I already mentioned, Heavy Object is a show for military otaku, which means this first episode is chock-a-block with military jargon and technical manual details about the Objects and how they function. If you're not really in to that, and find it less engaging than, say, watching grass grow (like me!) then there's virtually nothing here for you aside from some very pleasant, well-designed characters. Almost nothing happens in this episode – they're in no rush to move the story along, presuming instead that you're just as engaged by the tech stuff as the show is, which means if you're not into that, this is a real slog. There are a few minutes of fanservice (aside from Qwenthur and Havia's commanding officer, an 18-year old with boobs bigger than her head) when Milinda gets trapped by the restraining belts on her Object and Quenthur struggles with his inability to “defile her innocent boobs” which are conveniently popping out thanks to the belts. They spend a lot of time on that – presumably to fill time, as I suppose there's only so much fake military banter you can spill in a 23-minute timeframe with no real story to push along – and it gets kinda awkward.
I'm not a military guy so this show isn't for me, and it isn't based on real historical military tech like other hit shows aimed at that niche (Girls und Panzer worked with real tanks and Kan Colle, weird as it was, did involve actual Japanese battleships) so I'm not sure how much traction Heavy Object will get, but I came dangerously close to dozing off during this show, and if you're a military otaku, I'm not sure it'll Qwenthur thirst for in-depth techie stuff. Worth a look if you're really into that, maybe, but this is definitely skippable if you aren't.
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