My Review of Heroic Age

Space… It was once considered by the people of Earth to be the final frontier. A boundless, infinite universe stood just beyond the reaches of our ever advancing technology. We expected there to be life out there in the universe, but we had no way of knowing that by leaving the comfort of our blue planet, we’d be setting foot into a game of celestial thrones that was already eons in the making. As we entered this conflict, forced into the struggle for galactic dominance, we were dubbed the iron tribe. But with the regal albinos of the Silver tribe and the larvae-looking Bronze tribe teaming up against us, we were faced with the inevitability of not just defeat… But extinction.

That is, until one fateful day when Dhianeilla, the princess of the human race, and the crew of her space ship The Argonaut stumbled across a half-destroyed planet, inhabited predominately by terrestrial squids. Living amongst the squids, they found a childlike young man; Savage in appearance yet kind of heart, his name was Age, and he alone possessed the ability to defend us against the worst that our enemies could dish out. But will this curious young savior be enough? Is he strong enough to bring about an end to this horrible war? Is he heroic enough to do so with as little bloodshed as possible? Or will he fail, dooming us to obscurity? One thing is certain: Without Age, this frontier truly will be our final one.

Studio Xebec is a name that I’ve often heard spoken in painful, frustrated tones by many different reviewers. And hey, it’s time to add my name to that list. If animation studios were being sold in the supermarket, Xebec would be the store-brand option… I’m talking Great Value levels of cheapness. They’re the same company that produced Love Hina and the first Negima series, and the 2D animation in Heroic Age is a slight improvement over those works, with much better use of coloring, but as far as basic animation goes, this is pretty much the same stiff, lifeless crap that we’ve become used to seeing from them.

Having said that, I’m still going to give credit where credit is due. The animation looks awful whenever characters are on screen, or with any shots that take place on land or inside the space ships, but when we leave those setting and venture out into open space, the switch in visual quality is like night-and-day. The 3D animation in Heroic Age is nothing short of beautiful. This series came out in 2007, so the CG looks a little dated, but it still holds up really well. The spaceships themselves look awesome at all times, but what’ll really catch your eye is the expansive outer-space backgrounds, which are full of life and color… Although when it’s sharing screen time with the 2D characters, the styles really don’t mesh well together.

As far as the character designs go, there’s very little inspiration or originality here. The silver tribe… The primary antagonists of the series… Are emotionless, so of course they all have long white hair. Yeah, if you haven’t seen an anime where the villain had long white hair, then you don’t watch much anime. There are several characters who appear to have had their aesthetic lifted directly out of Leiji Matsumoto’s sketchbook, and thinking back, the only designs that really stand out are that of Age and a few less humanoid aliens, such as the bronze tribe and his squid friends.

Oddly enough, the one aspect of the character design that stands out in my memory is the sheer number of baffling choices that the creators made in regard to the female characters’ uniforms. On the low end of the scale, you have several members of Dhianeila’s crew… Including the princess herself… Who are wearing uniforms so skin-tight that you’d swear they were painted on. I actually kind of wish that were the case, because otherwise, those poor girls are experiencing the most uncomfortable wedgies in human history. That, and somehow the suits indent enough to show off their belly buttons. On the high end of the scale, there are a few high-ranking female characters whose outfits were designed to have gaping, cleavage-baring holes in the front, and I would LOVE to hear the practical applications of this dress-code choice. I highly doubt they did that for the sake of sexiness or fan-service, because with Xebec’s art quality, one poor character’s cleavage looks more like ass-cheeks than anything else in most shots.

The music is your standard sci-fi fantasy fare… If you’ve seen any anime like this, you’ve heard soundtracks exactly like this…  But the English dub, on the other hand, is much more unique. I’ve heard quite a few bad dubs from Funimation before. I’ve heard them release dubs that were written poorly, directed poorly, or cast poorly. But through it all, I’ve always felt that they were at least trying. No, phoned-in dubs were always more of an ADV thing than a Funimation thing. Heroic Age is the first dub I’ve heard from them where it sounds like most of the people involved just didn’t care.

In a cast full of late-2000s Funimation regulars, there are several actors who didn’t have to reach very far into their bags of stock voices to find the right one for their respective characters. Monica Rial plays her usual squeaky-cheerful voice, aged up slightly for the dual roles of the twins Mail and Tail. Luci Christian raises her voice ever so slightly for the role of Dhianeila’s personal attendant Aneasha, and Greg Ayres does his usual Greg Ayres thing for the meek Mehitak. Think Negi Springfield, but without the accent. Colleen Clinikenbeard plays another deep-voiced tough woman, Christopher Sabat plays what he likes to call a ‘coffee break role,’ and so on and so forth.

Vic Mignona plays a scheming antagonist, which is fun to listen to, but he barely gets any lines. The only actors who seem to have brought any genuine effort to the table are Cherami Leigh, who plays the tortured Lekty, a member of the Silver Tribe who slowly learns affection and emotion with the help of a fellow Nodos who’s been tasked with protecting her… Cherami put out a compelling amount of pain through this character’s development… And Brina Palencia, who gracefully dances the line between adorable mascot and helpful navigator in her role as the ship’s AI system, Bee No Bee.

And then you have the two main voice actors. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. J Michael Tatum plays the titular character, and it’s probably the only time I’ve ever heard him attempt to do a high-pitched, wistful voice. Thank God for that. Every single line he utters sounds like he’s making fun of Johnny Yong Bosch. Tatum generally has a very pleasant, soothing voice, and his performance as Age is proof that he should stick to that voice as often as possible.

And yet, his female co-star is still worse. Caitlin Glass plays the role of Princess Dhianeila, and I am sorry to say this about any character voiced by her, but she will put you right the hell to sleep. She gives monotone a new meaning with her soft-voiced, droning delivery. She sounds like a lazy LOTR-style opening narration, which makes it even more grating to the attention span when she doles out exposition about long-winded prophecies or soliloquies about Age’s feelings.

Together, these two voice actors turn the series into a boring, dull slog that’s often a chore to watch. They have absolutely no chemistry, which is insane because… And I can’t stress this enough… They’re the voice actors for Isaac and Miria in Baccano. Yeah, these two one-note windbags are directly linked to the most electrifying and entertaining couple in anime history. This is the only thing that ever surprised me about this series. The Japanese actors for both characters are far superior, able to hit the same basic tones while showing so much more personality in the process.

The show had a whole slew of people working on the adaptive writing, and yes, it feels it. There were several different writers and ADR directors taking turns like a revolving door, and out of the three script writers attached to the project, two of them were actually good. I’ve always known Monica Rial to be a talented writer, and she’s always been able to adapt material in such a way that it’s accessible without losing it’s intent or meaning. I’m new to Brandon Potter, but he did a decent job as well.

It’s when we talk about the third writer… J Michael Tatum… That we run into some serious problems. He’s a generally well-liked actor, and rightfully so… But when it comes to scripting a dub, he’s become notorious for over-writing. My least favorite kind of writers are the ones who think they’re better than the material, and take every possible opportunity to make themselves look like the cleverest person in the room, which Tatum does by replacing subtle and in-character dialogue with over-used cliches, purple prose, and bizarrely out-of-place idioms that make a mockery of the text while, in some cases, changing the intent of it all together.

Here, I’ll give you an example from episode sixteen. At one point, one of Age’s enemies is defeated, and brought onto the Argonaut. When confronting Age, he expresses reluctance to the idea of fighting him again, and is relieved when he hears that they don’t have to. This makes sense in character, because this guy’s always been pacifistic throughout the story, and the idea of engaging in an all out brawl with Age in the middle of a populated spaceship will cause countless casualties. But in the dub, Tatun changes his line to “So, you’re not going to hurt me?” Down-grading it from a sentiment of compassion to a sentiment of selfish cowardice. And yes, there are worse examples in here. Definitely stick to the subtitles on this one.

I’ve been putting off reviewing this series for a few years now… No exaggeration there, I’m dead serious… And in that time, it’s always been floating over my head as something I would have to tackle eventually. But there were two problems. The first one was that I didn’t know if I’d be able to watch it all the way through a second time. And the second was that, as many problems as I have with it, I had no idea how I was going to present my biggest problems with this series. So now that the time has finally come, I think I’m going to start with the problem that I like to bring up whenever someone asks me why I didn’t like this series… Let’s talk about the title character.

Age is a kind-hearted, childish savage who’s not human by birth. He’s one of the last surviving remnants of a tyrannical race of warriors that were almost completely wiped out by a more powerful force. He’s picked up by a crew consisting of mostly humans, and a lot of quirky hijinks ensue as a result of their many differences. It’s eventually revealed that he has the ability to transform into a giant, ferocious monster with it’s own name that’s unique to his, and he has to fight the other few remnants of his species if he wants to protect the human race from extinction. In other words, he’s Goku. Yup. Just Goku. He doesn’t have the personality, depth, or charm of Goku, but when you get right down to it, he was ripped wholesale out of the DBZ universe.

Now, is unoriginality a bad thing? Not necessarily. Bleach ripped it’s initial premise straight out of Yuyu Hakusho, and I actually like the first three seasons of Bleach MORE than it’s predecessor. But then you have my next problem… Heroic Age is really stupid. This show knows about as much about outer space physics as I did in elementary school. There are plenty of rules you’re allowed to break in science fiction… Sound and color don’t exist in space, but very few Sci-fis care about that. Heroic Age breaks the rules you’re allowed to break, as well as the ones you aren’t. Not only do many of the characters move through open space as though they were swimming under-water, but in episode two, we see the main character digging a hole through the hull of the Argonaut in order to attack the villains waiting outside.

Hey, do you remember Jason X, the Friday the 13th movie where Jason Voorhies kills a bunch of people in outer space? Pretty cool, huh? One of the characters was killed when Jason broke a hole in the hull from outside, and she was sucked through that hole. That was the dumbest movie in an entire franchise of dumb movies, but even THAT story knew that when you compromise the hull of a space ship, shit goes terribly wrong. Also, I get that Age and the other Nodos can breathe in space, but an inhuman biology doesn’t explain outer space wind blowing through their hair. Someone had to animate that.

But much like unoriginality, stupidity is not a deal breaker. There are plenty of shows that were awesome, despite having the IQ of mayonnaise, but they usually offer up some redeeming qualities to make up for it. Gurren Lagann is stupid, but it has so much energy and confidence that you just can’t help but believe in it. Knights of Sidonia is incredibly stupid… Probably even more so than Age, now that I think about it… But it’s so creative and sincere that it honestly just comes off as fun and adorable. Heroic Age doesn’t have anything like that. In fact, rather than making up for it’s stupidity, it compounds that problem with it’s insistence on looking smarter and deeper than it actually is.

At the start of this review, I gave a heavily simplified(and not 100% accurate) plot summary of this series. What I left out was all the over-complicated pulp. Heroic Age goes up it’s own ass to establish a long-winded and often self-contradictory lore about the many tribes vying for control of the universe, which never serves as anything other than an explanation for the setting. There are scattered references to Greek mythology, namely to the five ages of man, but these references are in name alone, and the tribes named after them have little to nothing to do with the ages they correspond to. The only reason Age is a descendant of the Heroic Age is because the creators wanted to emphasize how heroic HE was, never mind the fact that they’re also comparing a brutal race of murderers to one of the most noble ages of the five. The tribes could just have easily been named after different ice cream brands, with the show being called Haagen-Daas Age, and it would have had just as much depth to it.

But is pretending to have depth or meaning a deal breaker? Not on it’s own, but I’m sorry, ‘stupid’ and ‘pretentious’ are not good bed-fellows. This show would have been a lot easier to watch if it had dropped all attempts at undeserved profundity, and had just told the simple story that I mentioned earlier… Only it wouldn’t, because of this series’ final, and biggest, problem. Heroic Age, at it’s core, is just very badly written.

There are a ton of characters floating around in it, but Age is the only one who even gets the slightest hint of a backstory, and not one of them have any complex motivations. The two main characters… Age and Dhianeilla… have no personality outside of the fact that they’re good people who are always right about everything, and everyone else just exists to support or oppose them. I’ve seen this show twice, and I cannot describe a single one of it’s characters with anything more than a two-sentence explanation of what they are and who they’re connected to.

And it apparently isn’t enough that I don’t feel invested in any of the characters… I can’t even enjoy the action of these epic space battles because of how muddled and poorly edited these multi-episode set pieces are. You’ll notice quickly that during these long battles, there is a LOT going on, at many different locations, involving many different characters, often at different times. You’ll get a few seconds of Age fighting his brethren, followed by a cut to Princess Expositia explaining to us what he’s going through, followed by a cut to the political squabble involving her scheming brothers, to a cut to the other Nodos’ loitering around and discussing their lot in life, to a conversation someone had with Age earlier, and by the time they finally cut back to Age’s fight in current time, I’ve all but forgotten what he was doing there in the first place, which is the final nail in the coffin for a series I had to struggle to care about.

Herioic Age is available from Funimation. The old releases are still available in relatively affordable halves, but you can get a much better deal by going with the SAVE release, which you can find pretty much anywhere for between fifteen and twenty dollars. The manga, which released it’s first volume during the initial run of the series, is pretty much the same story told from another character’s perspective, and it’s not available in the states.

I don’t like Heroic Age. I also don’t hate Heroic Age. Hell, I don’t anything Heroic Age. I gained nothing from this series, and in exchange, I lost way too much time on a series that I’m going to forget in less than a week. It’s biggest crime isn’t the fact that it’s stupid, pretentious, badly animated, or generic. It’s biggest crime is that it’s boring. I can stare at the screen for several episodes in a row, with no distractions, and I still have to constantly rewind to pick up on what the hell I missed in regard to what’s happening. I’m glad to finally put this turkey behind me, and I look forward to forgetting it exists. I give Heroic Age a 3/10.  


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