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From time immemorial the Tribe of Gold ruled space. Apparently bored all by themselves, they extended an invitation to the universe's other three tribes: “Come join us in space.” These three tribes they named the Tribe of Silver, the Tribe of Bronze, and the Tribe of Heroes. Eventually they were joined in space by a fourth tribe: humanity. The Tribe of Gold named them the Tribe of Iron. The Tribe of Heroes, the most powerful of all the tribes, loved strife and waged war on the universe and each other. In their rage they brought the other tribes to the brink of destruction and reduced their own number to a mere five individuals before the Tribe of Gold stepped in and bound them to agreements in which each was placed inside a member of a lesser race and made to serve that tribe. The most powerful of these new beings, called Nodos, was given to the Tribe of Iron. Secluded on a far planet, he was raised under the name Age by the Tribe of Gold before their departure from the universe. There he is discovered by Dhianeila, telepathic princess of the humans, and is enlisted in humanity's struggle against the despotic Tribe of Silver.
Wordplay alert! The hero of Heroic Age is named Age. You know, a hero named Age. Heroic Age. Get it? That sad bit of wordplay is pretty representative of the kind of depth you can expect from Heroic Age. Festooned with mythical trappings, ham-strung by a badly under-written cast, and lacking in any real sense of purpose, it is, not to put too fine a point on it, junk. Pretty junk, and diverting at times, but junk nonetheless. It wants very badly to be a feeling person's space opera, but hasn't the smarts or the skills to be anything but a space-based waste of time.
It has ambition enough. With its mythic undertones—based loosely off of the classical Greek worldview—and millennia-spanning back-story, there's no denying that. But that's about all it has. And what good are ambitions without the skill to make them work? The series tries unwisely to communicate the awe and epic sweep it strives for with explanatory voice-overs, and is so aimlessly plotted that it has to rely on a glorified Wile E. Coyote chase (with Age, Dhianeila and her crew as the Roadrunner and the Tribe of Silver as the Coyote) for forward momentum. And the writers seem to have forgotten that compelling characters are as essential to an epic as they are to any other story. They fail to give Age any personality beyond a happy-go-lucky exterior, and seem content to let the rest of the cast act out robotically their parts in the grand narrative. For all the galactic scale of it—something about ancient contracts, aged prophesies, and eons-old racial rivalries—the whole thing feels strangely flaccid.
The series only really feels properly heroic when Xebec's background artistry hijacks the show from its writers. In that way, the Wile E. Coyote chase is actually a blessing, as it provides plenty of opportunities for space-faring exoticism. Each system that Dhianeila and her crew (imaginatively named the Argonauts) visit features new and positively gorgeous settings. The shattered planets, asteroid fields and alien landscapes are wonders of detail, lighting and texture; works of genuine art that glow with a painterly beauty not often seen outside of the works of Makoto Shinkai. And when they dominate a sequence, the series comes very close to the kind of epic wonder that its big but meandering plot never manages.
Unfortunately the sensation never lasts long. Inevitably the eye-watering 3D landscapes give way to Hisashi Hirai's painfully two-dimensional character designs and a lot of silly Godzilla-styled Nodos battling (the Nodos transform into uninspiring bipedal monsters when fighting). The Nodos battling, silliness aside, makes tolerable use of the settings, but the two-dimensional artistry is so mechanical and poorly integrated that the characters and their surroundings could easily be from two different (and only nominally overlapping) universes.
You can't really blame Funimation for phoning in this dub. Fighting the dullness of this series with nothing but dubbing spunk is futile, and likely the English cast and crew know it. So they phone it in. If continuity between dub and sub is what you look for in an English adaptation, then rejoice. The rewrite is a basic, with few changes that aren't necessitated by lip flap and no attempt to dress up the purely functional dialogue of the original. The roles are cast and acted with accuracy, and the slightly lifeless quality of the performances matches nearly perfectly (Accident? Design?) that of the Japanese cast. There are hiccups of course—Caitlin Glass struggles a little with the sensitive princess mannerisms of Dhianeila—but professionalism, if not enthusiasm, rules the day.
Naoki Sato's rich, apocalyptic score does what it can to make up for the ho-hum acting. It tries desperately to inject into the show the stirring, epic energy that the cutout characters and slushy plot can't bring to bear. But like the dubbing battle that Funimation chose not to fight, it's a futile struggle.
And without that rousing edge, that extra epic resonance, Heroic Age is little more than yet another anime series about a super-special teenager whose amazing powers are destined to save humanity. And a teenager who transforms into a lame mecha-monster-thing no less. Given the beauty of its art and the ambition of its premise, that that's what it boils down to is positively embarrassing.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Art direction that captures the majesty and wonder of alien worlds.
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