Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Heat Guy J
DVD 1: Super Android
To combat the rise of super criminals and a mafia more powerful than the entire police force in the oceanic city-nation of Judoh, the government built J, an android cop. He may appear human to the naked eye, but underneath, he's a cybernetic crime-fighting machine destined to rid Judoh of the criminal element. Together with “Dice” Daisuke, J hunts down the perps with amazing accuracy. The mafia won't take this sitting down, though, and as the criminals toughen up and the stakes keep raising, J finds himself matched in more than one battle.
In the long and shameful history of gimmicky cop shows, the “cop with unorthodox partner” story is perhaps the least respected. Usually, the partner is a chimp or an 8-year old or a little old lady or something else equally ridiculous. In the case of Heat Guy J, it's an android. Thankfully, this show manages to avoid the pitfalls set by its predecessors and emerges as an entertaining, solid little action series with a lot of style, and maybe even a little substance.
Story-wise, the show is pretty basic. Crime is on the rise in Judoh, so the government builds J, a super android cop. He has a spunky partner and together they fight crime. Sounds simple, right? Well, the episode plot progression is. A new scheme is cooked up in each episode that J and Daisuke have to thwart, but amazingly enough, this show manages to seem fresh by adding in the mafia element. J's biggest foe is the Leonelli family, Judoh's largest crime syndicate, which is run by Claire (who must have been teased a lot in school), the bloodthirsty, insane new don who takes over after his father is murdered. Claire is a few bullets short of a full clip, and his crazy, unpredictable nature (and oh-so-stylish lip ring) makes him a very interesting villain. He also happens to look a lot like the King of Fanelia, Van Fanel. I'd always wondered what Van did with himself after Escaflowne. The interaction between Daisuke and J is very entertaining and well written. By the end of the first episode, you'll have grown fond of both main characters, which is a rare thing. By the second episode there's a full-scale mob war going on, which is also a rarity in anime. Outside of Sanctuary, it's hard to find series that deal with mafia politics, and Heat Guy J certainly delivers. All in all, this is a surprisingly clever series, especially considering the premise.
Aesthetically, Heat Guy J is a mixed bag, but there's a lot more good than bad. Nobuteru Yuuki's endlessly pleasant character designs are rich and full of life, and although they look a heck of a lot like the Escaflowne movie designs, they're a joy to watch in motion. Daisuke's face is very expressive, and even J has a sort of ruggedly heroic look about him; he's surprisingly appealing for an android character. The backgrounds are beautifully painted, and it's clear no expense was spared bringing this world to life. The city seems to be teeming with the various and sundry routines that make up metropolitan living; J's world is not static. That said, the CG in the series is a bit on the awkward side. Daisuke's motorcycle sticks out like a sore thumb in a parade of healthy thumbs, as does J's android form. A little more money could have been spent integrating the CG with the traditional animation, considering that the CG framerate noticeably drops whenever there's a 2D character on screen. It's distracting, and while I'm not sure it would have been possible to realize the mechanics of Heat Guy J with pen and ink, a larger effects budget would have helped this show.
For the most part, the animation is gorgeous and very fluid. Yuuki's character designs never fail to please and seem to be designed for extra-high-quality animation (as opposed to something like Slayers, where the sheer lack of detail belies knowledge on the part of the character designer as to the animation budget of the show). The combat scenes are very well-rendered, using some artistic flashes (like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as J smashes the face of a rival android in) and displaying occasional moments of brilliance. While they may not have had the money for top-notch CG, they certainly did their best to make the traditional animation look its best.
The music for this series is very unique, and it's easy to see why Pioneer released the soundtrack CD. It's an eclectic blend of modern rock, some traditional Scottish overtones (which complement J's decidedly Scottish appearance), and a few almost Yoko Kanno-ish pieces that really bring the score together. The dub is just as good. Daisuke and J are both gifted with talented English performers that really seem to have a solid idea of who their characters are and give spectacular performances across the board. Daisuke in particular sports an English voice that seems more fitting than the Japanese one. J has a suitably rough and rugged tone, and while he's no Burt Reynolds, the voice seems particularly fitting. The minor characters (including one scumbag in the first episode who seems to be channeling Danny DeVito) are mostly up and down, with the better-than-average quality overall. This is a show you'll be able to enjoy just as much in English as you would in Japanese.
For your money, there's no better android-buddy-cop anime series on the market today. Heat Guy J is surprisingly unique and well put-together. In an age of excessive panty shots and over-the-top violence, Heat Guy J is a refreshingly down-the-middle action series that won't insult your intelligence or make you regret spending that all-important thirty dollars.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Great animation, cool storyline, fun characters
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