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Anime Info

Creator: A XEBEC Production
Director: Toshimasa Suzuki
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 26 Episodes

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Summary

+ Bland animation
– Boring characters
– Too many flashbacks
+/– Protagonist is too strong

Overview

Sometimes the creators of an anime series try too hard. In their enthusiasm to create an epic scale space opera based on Greek mythology, the creators of Heroic Age may have spent too much time creating the premise, the world, and the mythology and not enough time working on essential elements such as interesting characters, animation, and story elements. However, it is not uncommon for anime series to be reworked years later as OVAs (Original Video Animation) with better animation, better writing, and better developed characters. If there are any Japanese animation students out there reading this, please, please re-work this otherwise interesting premise into something a little more interesting. It really is a good idea.

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Score of 3 out of 5
3 out of 5

Heroic Age Anime Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 1/20/2009

Introduction

In 1941, science fiction fan and author Wilson "Bob" Tucker coined the term space opera to describe the genre of science fiction which deals with grand scale, melodramatic adventure. Popular space operas include the Lensman series of novels by E.E "Doc" Smith; the comic strips Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon; the Star Wars franchise; Star Trek and its spinoffs; Battlestar Galactica and its recent remake; and Babylon 5. It is also a popular genre in Japan, with many Japanese science fiction films, manga, and anime series fitting squarely in the space opera genre. Popular anime such as Samurai 7, Macross, Space Battleship Yamato, and Gundam with their galaxy spanning adventures and fantastic technology fit easily into the genre. To that list we can add the 2007 anime series Heroic Age. Produced by the anime studio XEBEC, Heroic Age is space opera in the grand tradition. Set in the far future, after humanity has finally gained a foothold in space, Heroic Age tells the story of Princess Dianeira's quest to find the messianic being that has the power save the human race from extinction.

Review

While certainly an entertaining series, Heroic Age doesn't contain much that can be described as original or fresh. It's a good idea that wasn't as fully realized and will seem overly familiar to science fiction fans who've ever owned a TV, seen a movie, or read a novel. Knowledgeable viewers will see in Heroic Age shades of Battlestar Galactica, Dune, and other anime series as well as the obvious allusions to Greek myth. Each episode of the story begins with a brief prologue that will seem familiar to those old enough to remember Babylon 5 (if you're not old enough to remember B5 stop reading this review for a moment and put it in your Netflix queue, we'll wait). It describes the mysterious and powerful beings known as the Golden Tribe. The first race to develop sentience, the Golden Tribe possessed many awesome powers including the abilities to create planets and see into the future. They sent out a message inviting other races to join them and explore the universe. Three other races accepted the invitation and were named by the Golden Tribe: the Silver Tribe; the Bronze Tribe; and the Heroic Tribe. Just before departing our galaxy to explore the rest of the universe the Golden Race received one more answer to their call -- on a tiny backwater world known as Earth, human beings, whom the Golden Tibe called the Iron Tribe, had finally achieved space travel.

Heroic Age borrows so much from Greek mythology, one wonders why the producers of the series didn't go ahead and create an anime series about Greek mythology. As the series proper begins, it soon becomes apparent that the story is a retelling of the myth of Hercules redressed as a science fiction epic. Humanity is at war with the insectoid Bronze Tribe. Hurling themselves across the cosmos in giant spacefaring hives, the Bronze Tribe has decimated Earth and scattered her inhabitants. The Argonaut, A human ship similar in size and complexity to the Battlestar Galactica, has left the main spaceway in search of a legendary messiah. They are led on this quest by Dianeira, the teenaged princess of their Tribe. Following clues scattered throughout her family's history and mythology and aided by telepathic powers, Dianeira leads the Argonaut to the ruined planet Oron, it is here she believes humanity will find their savior.

Ever since Frank Hebert's Dune was published in 1965, epic scale science fiction stories of this sort have included a messianic savior. The supposed savior in Heroic Age is a seemingly human teenager named Age (Get it? The title is a horrible pun) who was raised by the Golden Tribe -- the gods of this mythology. Age is a Nodos, a vessel entrusted with the essence of a Heroic Tribesman. In ancient times the titanic and war like Heroic Tribe fomented a devastating interstellar war which wreaked havoc across the galaxy. Angered by the devastation, the Golden Tribe captured the remaining members of the Heroic Tribe and forced them to serve lesser beings by contractual agreement. These contracts contain multiple clauses, referred to as labors, which describe the duties that the Nodos is to undertake. Like Hercules, Age is assigned 12 labors by his contract with humanity. Also like Hercules he is immensely powerful -- shortly after his first contact with Dianeira and her crew, the Argonaut is attacked by the Bronze Tribe and Age, transforming into his Heroic Tribesman form, manages to destroy the Bronze Race's hive ship with his bare hands. He is also incredibly naïve.

Show More He refers to the computer onboard the wrecked spaceship he used as shelter on Oron as "Mother" (although this could be an inside joke -- a reference to the computer from Alien) and has little understanding of the finer points of human language -- simple concepts such as "numbers" escape him. While the Golden Tribe may have had some form of communication other than spoken language (telepathy perhaps) it seems odd that beings capable of creating planets wouldn't have concepts such as mathematics, quantity, and numbers.

Age isn't the only character taken from Greek mythology. Most of them are. The Iron Tribe's Princess Dianeira, for example, is derived from an ancient Greek princess of the same name who became Hercules' third wife. According to mythology, Dianeira was a hot blooded warrior princess desired by both Hercules and the river deity Achelous. She became Heracles' wife after he defeated Achelous in combat. She later inadvertently caused Hercules' death by presenting him with the poisoned Tunic of Nessus (a dying centaur's revenge against Hercules). In Heroic Age, Dianeira isn't nearly as interesting. She is a telepath able to read minds and generate spiritual projections. She's also about as passionate about her mission to save Earth as a warm cup of low fat milk. What this story demands is an iron willed warrior, what we get is a nursery school teacher. She is unable to withstand impure thoughts of men, all male crew members are forced to maintain a ten foot radius from her at all times. The only male characters able to come closer to her are Age who is excessively pure minded due to his childhood among the Golden Tribe and early life leading a primitive existence on Oron and the young soldier Iolaus.

Another example is Age's friend, Iolaus. Named for a Theban hero and "friend" of Hercules, Iolaus is the leader of a squadron of robot fighter pilots. He is an uptight but responsible leader and one of Dianeira's most loyal followers. Although initially jealous of Age's friendship with Dianeria, like his ancient Greek counterpart, he soon becomes Hercules'…excuse me…Age's closest friend. Iolaus is gifted with the ability to teleport himself and others short distances such as from orbit to the surface of a planet -- he makes use of this ability throughout the series to get himself and his comrades out of tight spots during the series' many battle scenes. Iolaus's mythic counterpart was Hercules' nephew and lover, aided Hercules in some of his labors, and upon Hercules' death, lit Hercules' funeral pyre. Hero Age's version of the character owes more to Hercules: the Legendary Journeys than to mythology, only without the sense of humor provided by that series' Michael Hurst. If there is one thing this version of Iolaus needs it's a sense of humor. Every time we see him he is either brooding about something or shouting orders to his men.

The villains of the series, the sneering, arrogant, Silver Tribe consider themselves the successors of the Golden Tribe. If the Iron Tribe represents the Greeks then the Silver Tribe could be considered the Romans. They are domineering conquerors rather than the parental guides that the Golden Tribe tried to be. Although they have given the planets they rule over the secret of orbital space travel, they do not permit them interstellar travel, and live off tribute from said planets. Somehow badgering the Bronze Tribe into acting as their military arm, it is the Silver Tribe that instigated the war between the Iron Race and the Bronze Race in an attempt to exterminate humanity in order to control all five of the Nodos and maintain their place as masters of the universe.

Show More
One of the major problems with the series is the character of Age. Unlike other messianic figures found in science fiction such as Paul Atreides from Dune, who often seem mature for their age, Age seems like an annoying little kid. His unbelievable naiveté, although occasionally cute or funny, makes him seem like a mentally retarded version of Tarzan. While his ape-ish behavior and scenes of him learning about human society are meant to be humorous, they mostly come across as a desperate attempt to inject much needed humor into a somewhat bland melodrama. He's also too powerful. Whenever he engages in battle with swarms of Bronze Tribe warriors, there is no sense of real danger, the warriors are like the buzzing of flies to him and he can destroy their hive ships with one punch. For there to be any sense of drama, the audience needs to feel that the hero is in danger, that he might even be killed. Age is also too pure and innocent; there is never any sense of internal conflict. The Greeks, who created Hercules, would often give their heroes internal failings such as pride, envy, or wrath. Whether or not the hero would overcome his weaknesses or be destroyed by them is what drove the story forward and gave it its meaning. Savior figures were especially prone to weaknesses and temptations. The ability to overcome is part of what makes a savior. It's the difference between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, one fell to the darkside and one didn't. Age has no real weaknesses, never has any doubts, does what's he's told, and rushes headlong into adventures. Even Jesus was tempted by the devil.

Another problem with the series is its tendency towards "cutesy-ness". The awe and majesty of space travel is often undermined by cutesy characters such as Iolaus's twin sisters Tael and Mael and the Captain's robotic assistant B-Navi. Perhaps loosely based on Castor and Pollux from the story of Jason and the Argonauts, Tael and Mael are two of Princess Dianeira's closest assistants. Skilled engineers and mecha pilots, Tael and Mael are also gifted with telekinesis (everyone on board the Argonaut seems to have some sort of power).

They are also annoyingly childlike (although they seem to be in their late teens or early twenties) and irresponsible with the habit of finishing each other's sentences as if they were one mind split into two bodies. They, of all of Dianeira's assistants, are put in charge of teaching Age and making sure he stays out of trouble. Instead they often get in trouble right alongside him such as getting into a paint fight in the ship's store room. The series' first episode begins with the Captain complaining about how low they are on supplies. It doesn't seem likely that high ranking crew members such as Tael and Mael would waste resources; the scene was included for the sake of cuteness. No one is seriously punished for the offense and it is excused on the grounds that Age is the savior of mankind and may be unstable. A more realistic series would likely have had all three characters confined to their quarters for the rest of the voyage. Second only to the twins in Saccharine and annoying cuteness is the Captain's robotic assistant B-Navi. Now cute robots have been a staple of space opera since Star Wars but anime takes cuteness too far. B-Navi looks like a bright yellow, round fish with big round eyes, like something you'd see in a Pokemon game and not a robotic assistant to a tough-as-nails interstellar space captain. To make matters worse B-Navi tends to deliver its lines in a high pitched whiny voice that grates on the ears and undercuts any sense of danger the ship finds itself in. Would you trust a yellow fish thing to give you status reports on enemy positions?

When it comes to anime just about any weakness can be overcome by good animation. Too bad Heroic Age doesn't have good animation. It has passable animation. There aren't many obvious mistakes and to quote Homer Simpson, "Things look like the things they look like". Although the scenes of space travel occasionally achieve a kind of grandeur and majesty, that grandeur is ruined by the scenes of space battles that have a weird retro feel to them with swarms of enemies being cut down by heroic mecha warriors, sometimes it's like watching an episode of Robotech from the early 80s and not a series produced in 2007. Also, whenever Age takes on the form of a Heroic Tribesman, he looks enough like an Eva from Neon Genesis Evangelion that Gainax should sue. Another problem with the animation is the character design. All of the characters run around in the same generic jumpsuits, have nearly identical haircuts, and similar facial features. With the exceptions of the Argonaut's Captain and Age, if the characters didn't repeatedly call each other by name it would be impossible to tell the them apart. There is one animation mistake that stands out. In one episode, the animators gave the leader of an alien race the same face and beard as the Argonaut's Captain. If weren't for the aliens crinkly looking forehead the two men could have passed for twins.

Conclusion

Age and Dianeira Heroic Age is an entertaining but flawed series. A space opera in the mold of Babylon 5 and the Lensman series, it undermines its own interesting premise of retelling the myth of Hercules in a futuristic setting by using dull animation, peopling its story with uninteresting characters, borrowing too heavily from both its source mythology and other science fiction, and including too much cuteness. If the producers had spent more money on the animation, if Age was less powerful, if Iolaus was less moody, and if Princess Dianeria was more passionate, then Heroic Age would be an excellent series. As it is, it's a time waster, fun while it's playing but ultimately forgettable.

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