Giant robots. Spaceships. Amazingly powerful villains, with limitless amounts of nameless, faceless henchmen. Sacrifice. Politics and hidden agendas. How can any show have all that, yet be so awful? If it's called 'Heroic Age,' then the frustrating refusal to meet expectations and potential is inherent, and the ease with which it flushes all its good elements down the toilet seems to come automatically.
The tragedies of the Greek Gods, particularly Hercules (Heracles to some), pale in comparison to the tragedy of an anime series that borrowed liberally and randomly from them. It isn't the fact that Hercules is now in space, and can harness one really, really big freaking robot, so much as the fact that the show goes from boring to really, really boring far too fast. Reading that, I myself almost perform a double take. Can I really be saying a show about space and robots and starships, with mixes of time travel theory, and blunt mythological references, with battles that span numerous entire episodes is boring?!
All that, and, painfully, so much more.
'Heroic Age' is interesting, in theory, in that it is just like humanity: always dwelling on the past to see what the future holds. This is the story of tribes, and not the kind with spears and huts. Golden (who are much like gods with their powers of creation), Silver (war hungry jealous brothers, in a sense), Bronze (faceless, nameless space bugs resembling glowing maggots), Heroic (beastly warriors who have slaughtered their kind until their population has dwindled to the lowly rank of five), and Iron (humanity, the youngest species) Tribes, to be precise. Each Tribe has their entangled relationships with the others, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The Heroic Tribe is restrained, hidden away inside the bodies of five other beings, one of which happens to be Age, a young savage boy found in a ruined world, who fits the Iron Tribe's prophecies. He is to undergo twelve Labors (the same amount as Hercules), tasks with varying structure and importance, while the other four beings possessing Heroic Tribe members have their own contracts with sets of Labors. In the quest to become gods, the Silver Tribe, in combination with the Bronze Tribe, have nearly wiped out all of humanity, but with Age on their side, and a heroic princess and dedicated crew of the spaceship Argonaut (ugh), this war that has existed for as long as each Tribe has will reach its head.
With a deep, multi-faceted background, powerful villains with dark pasts and tasks to perform, and the human spirit, capable of both great goods and evils, everything is in place for great success. Perhaps that makes the pain of the great twenty six episode long failure more agonizing. There is so much wasted potential here that it's damn near criminal.
Cliche is in full effect, as only anime can deliver, with the young boy destined to save mankind, flying around in a giant freaking robot, transforming into him, even, as the most powerful human weapons pale in comparison to his singular might, and that isn't so much a bad thing as it is a welcome element, as familiarity with this theme makes it easier to associate with the character. That said, Age isn't that great a character in the first place. A god-child, living in the wreckage of a spaceship, chowing down on the regrowing tentacles of his best friend? Meh. A savage, with no understanding of numbers or other basic human concepts? Meh. A nearly indestructible being? Meh for the third time. There is no inner conflict, no deep emotions within the character. He looks at his twelve Labors, the rules of legend for the Iron Tribe's messiah, and doesn't once wonder his fate, or his place in all of it. Why him? He doesn't wax philosophical about predestination like the other beings endowed with Heroic Tribe power inside them. He doesn't question fate, so much as he saves the day more often than the random vehicles in '2012.' He's supposedly such a mystic being, that the sheer frequency of coincidence doesn't once pique his interest?
The humans of the Iron Tribe are less than intriguing, either. If anything, they feel like a horrid 'Star Trek' rip-off. I take that back, they feel like a junior high gag video on Youtube that portrays gag versions of 'Star Trek,' complete with a few 'Star Wars' figures for yucks. Princess Dhianeila (think DNA-luh) is the guiding light, a powerful character who can only be within proximity of those pure of heart without fainting, making her the perfect target for regal rape. Iolaous is a brash warrior for the tribe, who is one of the few males capable of being in proximity to Dhianeila, who eventually grows to be a sidekick to Age. Kevin Sorbo would not be pleased. Mobeedo Mehelim is a somewhat cliche pilot/commander, a figurehead who is very regal and old fashioned, predictable and honorable to a tee. Nilval Nephew? Well, she's in play to make sure that G-cups are well represented in space. Lastly, to insert unnecessary drama and squabbling, two Princes, Meleagros and Atalantes, are thrown in the mix, to second guess their near infallible sister, and give idiocy a face or two.
The Nodos (characters who possess members of the Heroic Tribe in them) are a wide assortment of ridiculous character designs, who have awkward motivations and rationalizations. With Karkinos, Mehitak, Lecty, and Yuty all having powerful beings inside them, they take turns like tag team wrestlers deciding on who will fight Age next. When they decide to double team, though, watch out, as these Nodos go crazy, much like an out of control Eva unit. The technical term for this event? Going berzerk (much like Olaf in 'Clerks'). So, so thrilling!
The problems with 'Heroic Age' aren't so much the bland, uninteresting characters, but the story and fashion in which it is told. That's saying a whole lot, considering how damn awful this crew of characters is. Animation is recycled so frequently that it becomes a joke. Remember watching 'Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers,' and watching the same transformation take up space in each episode? That. At one point, the same clip of action is shown three times in under five minutes. I understand twice, since it was in an episode concerning time travel, and the variations and differing outcomes based off intervention, but the third time was just cheap and lazy, and felt completely out of place. The Bronze Tribe, and their constant mass demise, always feel like recycled filler material. It gets so bad that I'm amazed day shots didn't get reused at night, as can be found in some of Ed Wood's works. Then again, this may only be due to the fact that there is so much time spent in space, they can get away with recycling anything.'Heroic Age' feels repetitive not only in animation, but in theme. There are so many mecha animes out there, that one must bring something new or unique to the table to not just be another rip-off, and 'Heroic Age' would rather take some of the stronger elements from existing shows (think 'Robotech'), mix them up, and call it a day. What's truly amazing is 'Heroic Age' actually, at times (very rare times), can show flashes that it can buck convention. The opening themes for the show change throughout, and there are numerous episodes that have actual conversations between characters, real interaction, over the credits, rather than the same old theme song twenty six times. This may not sound like much, but it's effort. Perhaps that is what makes me so damn upset about 'Heroic Age:' it could have been something special. Instead, it revels in mediocrity, climaxes an entire episode too soon, and feels that it has to explain every single detail like the viewers at home are simpletons.
There's irony in a stupid show acting like its audience members are the ones with a few broken light bulbs in the thinking department. In other news, a new tribe has been discovered, and a spin-off series will be made, chronicling the adventures against adversity of the Jean Shorts and Nachos Tribe. Stay tuned!
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Heroic Age' comes to Blu-ray from FUNimation in a three disc set housed in a two standard cased slip-box. Each disc is a BD50 Dual Layer Disc, with reported Region A locked status. Each disc has a single pre-menu trailer, which are not skippable through the next chapter button.
'Heroic Age' is presented with an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p (in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio) that screams upconvert. If that is the (likely) case, this isn't the worst upconvert in FUNimation's Blu-ray library...however, it is a troubled offering no matter the truth behind the video.
Colors can be strong (when they aren't horribly anemic), and backgrounds (particularly those of the varied patterns and arrays in space) can be outright gorgeous and vivid. The usual suspects (for a FUNimation anime collection release, that is) are all in play, though, and can be frustrating at times. Artifacting is minor, but somewhat prevalent. Some scenes are fuzzy, with no real sharpness or clarity to them. Banding isn't as awful as it was in some other releases, but it is, of course, present and accounted for. Macroblocking? You betcha. An incredibly hot aesthetic creates the appearance of color bleeding, but it appears to be natural and intentional. Aliasing is an issue off and on, as some pans create absolutely revolting wavering and shimmering, like ripples in water after a rock is thrown in/at it, in addition to disappearing lines from the same effect.
In space, no one can hear you scream...
In 'Heroic Age,' no one can avoid screaming at how inconsistent space looks, rarely dark and deep, usually a dark blue loaded with noise.
Like a few other recent FUNimation releases, the native Japanese track is presented in a lossy Dolby Digital Stereo track, while the in-house English dub track is the default on each disc, presented with a splash of lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Due to the discrepancy between tracks, and the importance of both experiencing the souped up track and the natural language, both mixes are being taken into account in the overall audio score.
English (3.5/5) - "Thank you for being so delicious." The default track for 'Heroic Age' is a solid, though unspectacular bit of audio goodness that presents the biggest selling point in this release. Dialogue is clean, with absolutely no feedback, discernibility issues, or, for that matter, ability to hit any speakers beyond the front channels (it doesn't dare stray from its comfort zone, daring to go only where it has already gone before). Movement effects are light, and somewhat infrequent, but effective with the random spacecraft and weapons moving through the room at ease. The high end of the range feels stunted, as blaring trumpets are meager, almost muted, despite how amazingly high the notes can get. It's not just dialogue that tends to be more comfortable in the front channels, as the entire mix is somewhat front heavy, with the score being the predominant rear element, over the light rear noise. Bass levels were surprising, making up for the lack of serious rumble with a consistent light roar. Explosions are massively underpowered, and would have benefited from some serious subwoofer activity. This track is enjoyable, and not overly distracting or poorly dubbed. It's not a sonic wonder, but it does the job.
Japanese (2.5/5) - The lossy stereo track is still a fraction of what the English track is on all aspects, but it isn't exactly horrible, either. Dialogue is fine, somewhat tame, with a few horrible line reads here and there (where entirely wrong sentences are given emphasis, not matching the meaning or action on screen). There is about as much range on display as Michael Cera has shown in his filmography (that's not a good thing). Bass levels are incredibly light, and the entire track feels restrained. Space battles are where the biggest difference is, as they lose any real bombastic charm and become quite a mess, fast.
'Heroic Age' isn't for everyone. It most certainly wasn't for me. It's brave, but horrifically repetitive, cheap, and lazy. As a Greek parallel, it fails miserably, but it can be enjoyable for the patient, forgiving types who enjoy space dramas...even mediocre space dramas. With somewhat average audio and video, and a weak smattering of extras, this release is a dangerous blind buy, and as such, it is most definitely for fans only.