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This Week in Anime
Is Hero Mask Worth Watching?

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Hero Mask is the newest sci fi crime thriller anime on Netflix, but in an overcrowded genre, does it bring anything special to the table? This week, Nick and Steve find out the hard way.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

The end of the year has really crept up on us, hasn't it? Why it feels like just two months ago we were buried under half a dozen new Netflix series all dropping over a couple weeks! Yet here we are again for what's apparently going to be our new year-end tradition.
Boy I hope Netflix kept the receipt for this one.
Yeah the term "dump" hasn't been this fitting since Sword Gai: The Sword Guy. Like I don't know if I'd call Hero Mask that bad but it's close.
I honestly think I prefer Sword Gai, if only for the fact that its first season had three fewer episodes. But yeah, Hero Mask is bad. In no way could I recommend Hero Mask. I wish I didn't watch Hero Mask. But I did, so let's talk about Hero Mask!
Hero Mask is an original project, not based on anything, and while I can't tell for sure if this was produced by Netflix or just something they swooped in on, I can say that it feels like the only driving creative idea behind it was "make an anime Netflix would want to buy".
For fuck's sake, the main character is a loose cannon cop named JAMES BLOOD. And I assume SSC stands for for Super Sci-fi Cops.
I actually took the time to capture this because it's somehow even stupider than that.
I like my version better.
I mean, it's a good thing there's a police division in their universe that deals with crime. They nailed that. Mostly I'm upset that they took a name as incredible as JAMES BLOOD and made him an absolute nothing of a character.
JAMES Blood is the epitome of a Hollywood Action Movie Hero in that he is nigh-indestructible, has an infinite amount of ammunition hidden on his person, and all his fights are edited like somebody took a hatchet to The Bourne Identity.
God, the editing is one of this show's cardinal sins. It tries so hard to be a Hollywood film to the point of copying the horrible way most modern action scenes are cut. It turns every fight, every car chase, every moment where something "cool" happens into an unintelligible mess.
Just try to count how many cuts are in this one segment. And for bonus points, try to suss out a single thing that's happening in it.
It is phenomenally bad, and every single fight feels like having an overdose while watching Mission Impossible. There's technically enough information to communicate what's happening, but it's so rapid fire and poorly edited that you have to replay it a dozen times to figure out where anybody is in relation to each other.
That would be bad enough for an action series, but Hero Mask also has the problem of its plot being an even more chaotic jumble of blockbuster thriller cliches.
It's like it can't settle on a single one, so it cycles through a bunch until it has nothing left but a boring corporate conspiracy plot that takes up the entire latter half of the show.
By the end, I was actually looking back fondly on the beginning, since it at least had a villain who seemed like he was having fun.
The initial setup is very familiar if you've seen any sci-fi cop anime in the last 30 years, but it at least has a hook to start off: mad science origami masks give people super powers, but then a bunch of prisoners escape and now the cops have to stop them while uncovering the mystery behind the masks!
But then after encountering a grand total of two mask users, the plot screeches to a grinding halt as our heroes instead spend seven episodes figuring out that the obvious bad guy we've known about since the beginning of the show is in fact the bad guy.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why they abandoned the magic paper mask thing so quickly. Could they not think of any super powers beyond "changes appearance" and "has bullet time"? The pacing of the entire show is so weird. It's worth noting that it's both written and directed by Hiroyasu Aoki, who hasn't helmed an entire project like this before. I'm all for Netflix throwing money at new voices and taking chances, but somebody should have noticed that this story didn't have enough material for its length.
It's inexcusable that this is 15 episodes long.
The sheer length of this show is baffling. There's maybe just enough story to fill a standard 12 episodes, but with that extra hour of screentime, we get to witness the screenwriting equivalent of packing peanuts.
Not only do we get an episode-long sequence of a character piecing together the super-obvious clues of this conspiracy...
...but that sequence is also intercut with the bad guy catching up on work e-mails.
Yeah, this is how the show looks and feels when an action scene isn't happening.
There's no dialogue. No music. It's literally just a 15-second shot of a dude walking to a car.
Oh yeah, I love Nostalghia.
I hope you get haunted by the ghost of Tarkovsky tonight for that joke.
Ha ha, good luck with that. Just thinking about this show will put me into a dead sleep right away.
Hero Mask by no means starts out great, but the decline in quality over its bloated runtime is palpable. Even the villains get downgraded from the magic mask guys to a string quartet assassin group headed by Dick Cheney.

Ah yes, the squad of elite killers whose skills include:
1. shooting guns
2. having bombs
3. one is a contortionist maybe?
But at least those guys are a threat in the abstract, and their actions move the story along in some fashion. What really drags down the back half is that it's all about our clueless cops trying to figure out how the most obviously evil company ever might be involved in the evil things that are happening.

Also, I have no patience left for cop shows that preach about the dangers of science and technology in the hands of corrupt corporations, when absolutely nobody in the show questions that they use a universal surveillance system to identify and track people.
Yeah, that's probably the only other notable part of Hero Mask. The show's flaccid attempts at commentary are all pretty bogus.
They mostly boil down to Don't Do Mad Science
and Don't Get Emotional

Neither idea is explored enough to be worth analyzing, but they're attempts at themes all the same.
And despite fifteen episodes worth of plot, we don't get a single clue about the big villain's motivation or philosophy, except that it's all part of some "game."
But you know what we do get? A totally unnecessary episode-long flashback on why the ancillary chief of the Super Cops wants to catch the villain! Like that's probably the weirdest choice of this whole show. It has the climax two full episodes before it ends, where they catch the bad guy and arrest him, and then we spend the rest of the time flashbacking about its third or fourth fridged woman to explain why a guy we don't know wants to kill this other guy we don't know.
Hoo boy does Hero Mask love the dead wife/girlfriend trope.
I imagine that comes along with all the other action movie cliches it's using but yeah, at some point you just start expecting every woman with a significant other to get blown up whenever they're on screen. Anyway, the show's main emotional cornerstones are Gun, Bomb, and Gun that Shoots Bomb, in that order.
Also, suddenly being old.
By the end, it even seems bored with that. The whole science-paper aging you rapidly thing is barely an afterthought so we can fully commit to the lengthy proceedings of getting a warrant to detain a guy for half an hour.
Though to be fair, there is precisely one relatably human moment in this show:
More like a relatably feline moment, amirite?
If I have any compliments for the show, Theo's arc does kinda resemble a story with setup and payoff, and that final scene with his daughter is bittersweet and affecting.
It's just a shame that his arc also includes two episodes of him being stuck in traffic in real time.
Fuck me, I forgot about the traffic jam arc. Like yeah, Theo's the only character with anything resembling a complex narrative; he went to jail after taking a surgeon hostage and forcing them to perform surgery to save his daughter's life. He's a criminal, but obviously a good person who doesn't regret his choices. The show never does anything with that, but it's enough to make him feel like a more rounded character than anyone else. And then his entire plotline is predicated on a police officer getting stuck in rush hour for 45 minutes of screentime.
I had to laugh because the traffic jam arc literally ends with them running out of gas. It's due to sabotage, but it felt like divine intervention, as if the powers-that-be decreed that this scene simply could not continue any longer.
That's the crux of Hero Mask's failings. With a tighter script and better direction, it could at least strive for bare-bones genre entertainment. But it just ended up being interminable in every sense of the word. Hookless, dull, incomprehensible, and totally pointless.
Its only exceptional aspect is its level of tedium. You actively don't want to watch it the whole time. Hell, even if you want a Netflix Original sci-fi police procedural about conspiracy and supernatural powers, I'd still recommend B: The Beginning before I'd deign to think about Hero Mask. However, I do recommend you watch its trailer, which is a bizarre shitpost of a supercut of every scene in which someone pulls out a gun or drinks coffee or drives a car.
I can just picture the editor throwing up their hands over how to sell this show. It's remarkable.
There's only one way in which I could recommend watching Hero Mask, and that's if you just really want to pretend it's season 5 of BBC's Sherlock, starring Anime Benedict Cumberbatch.
Alternatively, just watch the first scene and trust me that it somehow gets worse than this extremely cursed image.
The ghost of 2007 just reached out of my computer and punched me in the mouth. But hey Steve, look on the bright side. We're obviously starting Netflix Holiday Dump off at the bottom of the barrel, so it's gotta be all uphill from here, right?

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