Shelf Life Heavy Object Part 1
by Paul Jensen,
I look even more disheveled than usual, I've doubled my caffeine intake, and I've barely left my apartment in the past few days. Yep, it must be Preview Guide time once again. So far, this season's shows are covering a pretty wide range from "really good" to "thoroughly awful," so we've got plenty of variety already.
Also, a bit of New Year's housekeeping before we move on: I've started using "Discotek" instead of "Eastern Star" in the new release listings for titles that Discotek Media puts out under its Eastern Star label. It seems like the more recognizable of the two names, so I figure it makes slightly more sense to make the switch. Now that that's out of the way, welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Heavy Object part 1
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Shelf Life Reviews
I'm taking a trip to the land of giant robots (or at least giant spherical war machines) this week with a review of the first half of Heavy Object.
Given Heavy Object's specialized appeal, it's perhaps fitting that the main characters aren't even pilots. Qwenthur and Havia are low-ranking members of a maintenance crew, charged with repairing and supporting a massive vehicle called an Object. Since Objects are overwhelmingly powerful and nearly indestructible, there's very little for the average soldier to do during a battle besides take cover and watch the fireworks. This all changes when their Object loses a fight and the enemy ignores their attempts to surrender, forcing Qwenthur and Havia to find a way to beat their opponent on foot. They manage to win the battle against all odds, but their victory has the unfortunate side effect of making them war heroes and getting them dropped into even more dangerous situations.
Most of the show's story arcs take up two or three episodes, and there's a consistent pattern to the way they play out. The baddie of the moment always has either a cunning plan or a more powerful Object, so Qwenthur and Havia must take a “brains over brawn” approach and figure out the enemy's weakness. If you enjoy thinking about how a fictional piece of technology might actually work, it can be a satisfying process to watch. With a couple of exceptions, the tactics the guys use to win each battle are pretty interesting and at least vaguely plausible. The second half of this set also brings in some intriguing thoughts on how these underdog victories are changing the big picture in the show's world. Simply put, Heavy Object is built to let the audience geek out over every little detail, and it can be good fun if that's your thing.
For a more general audience, the picture isn't quite as rosy. The constant flow of information about weight distribution and long-range targeting systems makes for a lot of expository dialogue and drags down the pace of the story. Heavy Object's attempts at personal drama also tend to be fairly underwhelming, and it doesn't have much to say about the human side of war that other shows haven't already stated more eloquently. Worst of all, this series has a bad habit of trying to shoehorn in a surplus of sex appeal. The visual direction includes a lot of leery shots of Object pilot Milinda and commanding officer Frolaytia, and the script goes out of its way to put them in compromising situations. Throwing some fanservice into the mix is all well and good, but the way it's presented in Heavy Object is so blatant and clumsy that it derails the story more often than not.
The one thing that the series really gets right as far as its characters go is the chemistry between Qwenthur and Havia. There's a classic “buddy cop” vibe to the way they bicker about one another's ideas and commiserate over the suicidal odds they face. By casting its heroes as ordinary mechanics instead of giant robot pilots, Heavy Object is able to set up big mecha battles without having an angsty teenager for a main character. The show is at its infrequent best when it plays around with this dynamic; there's something inevitably fun about two goofy guys griping about their jobs as they mow down bad guys and blow up enormous war machines.
From a visual standpoint, Heavy Object excels at two things: detailed backgrounds and big explosions. Wide shots of military bases and Object hangars are filled with neat stuff to gawk at, and the spectacle of the show's massive fireballs drives home the scale and power of its high-tech weaponry. The Objects themselves are big, lumbering monstrosities with little in the way of grace or style, but at least their appearance is in keeping with the show's hard sci-fi approach. Funimation's English dub is well cast, but it tends to sound a bit stiff whenever the dialogue gets heavy on the technical stuff. This set includes a couple of episode commentaries along with the usual clean opening and closing, and the opening sequence has enough punk-rock energy that you might actually want to watch it on its own.
There's no getting around the fact that Heavy Object isn't a show for everyone, but it has a good handle on how to appeal to its specific audience. There's a truckload of technical details to obsess over, and the banter between the main characters keeps the flood of expository dialogue from getting too dry. If you've ever found yourself on the winning side of an argument over how a real-world giant robot might work, this is your show.
There's no Shelf Obsessed entry this week, so that wraps things up for now. Thanks for reading, and remember to send me photos of your anime collections at [email protected] if you'd like to show them off to the world!
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