Heat Guy J: Volume 1 Review
The following review is dedicated to Bob Papenbrook (voice of J in the English dub) who passed away on the 17th of this month, aged fifty. A talented actor whose wide range of works included prolific anime titles such as Macross Plus, Lupin 3rd and Tenchi Muyo, along with children's shows The Power Rangers, Transformers: RID and a number of popular television dramas. Rest in Peace Bob.
The world of Heat Guy J appears to be one of vastness, a place seemingly set far into our future where pollution has taken its toll to such a degree that natural energy sources have been outright banned. Now, on a man-made island the city of Jodoh is home to criminals all over; the City Safety Management Agency governs a Special Unit whose job it is to stop future crimes from happening. Technology is advanced and androids, despite being illegal still trouble the city. Enter Daisuke Aurora and his partner J. While Daisuke is a regular, laid-back Joe, J is a hulking machine with the façade of Ron Perlman on steroids who is connected to Daisuke through a device known as “Telemate”. Bonded by their passion for justice they are aided by admin officer Kyoko Milchan, scientist Antonia Bellucci, Section Chief Shun Aurora – Daisuke’s brother, the mysterious informant who goes by the name of Shogun and a young photographer called Monica, who may not be quite as innocent as she looks.
When gangland boss Don “Vampire” Leonelli dies his crazy-assed son Claire takes over the reigns, adopting the mantel of “Vampire” himself. As Claire carries out his criminal activities Daisuke and J are there to put a dampener on his fun, but the city is alive with even more foes…
This cynic in me might have dismissed Heat Guy J right off the bat: Another cop buddy series about two friends who clean up the streets and fight against injustice, whilst learning a little about each other along the way. One is a head-strong, gung-ho teen and the other is a bloomin’ huge android who wants to know what it is to be a real man. Sure there’s room for one or two clichés in all of that, in fact make it three or four – or five. It doesn’t really matter because the creator of this 2002 series Kazuke Akane (who incidentally directs the adaptation based upon his own popular manga) has a little toy around and ultimately comes up with a show that embraces such clichés while adding some spice to the broth, which makes it quite steamy. Not steamy in a porn kind of way though.
First impressions is that Heat Guy J is a rather attractive series, featuring character designs from Nobuteru Yuki – famed for his work on Escaflowne: The Movie. The unmistakable facial features instantly conjure memories of that extraordinary anime and its movie adaptation, a style that isn’t all too often seen and therefore instantly recognisable. Likewise its locale is a refreshing sight, primarily because Judoh offers a unique approach in that it’s an oceanic city. While it retains particular Japanese aesthetics it’s suffused with a European sensibility, with its pleasant marketplaces and canals. Elsewhere a grimy city, buried deep underground harbours those whose lifestyles are a little different to the citizens above, a sprawling community, lit by neon which resembles the noir-ish world seen in Blade Runner. Indeed the design work is impressive; this is an extremely colourful show that constantly remains visually pleasing. The series goes a little further by utilizing CG to enhance mechanical devices, whether it be Daisuke’s huge motorbike or J himself, sans skin. Much of the mechanical physics on display are very interesting, particularly those of the various androids that show up from time to time and display some magical acts of concealment. But where the standard animation duly impresses the CG portions come out a little worse for wear, in no way being nearly as effective as Stand Alone Complex’s blending of the two mediums. Still, Heat Guy J doesn’t milk its effects too much and on the whole there’s a lot to like.
As far as the plot goes the series does a very good job in setting up various institutions and introducing a unique history for itself, which isn’t greatly tapped into but from which it spawns a few curious ideas. The first of which is in relation to Judoh’s strict laws. The android regulation act sees to it that all androids are made illegal, the reason being that an android can turn on a human if programmed to do so. There are of course two types of android – bad and good, and either status can be reprogrammed without any difficulty. We learn about a couple of past events but nothing that significantly suggests why this law came about, rather it leaves us to ponder the cause for now, which I shall briefly drop into shortly. Naturally androids are still in abundance, and in order to get by in the city they keep low profiles, which is where J comes in. But to step away from this we also have the bizarre, yet intriguing law whereby in the capital of Magnagalia any criminal who is sentenced to more that one hundred years is forcibly given a beast face, so that they can regret their acts until the day they die. This brings in to play Heat Guy J’s secondary foe; escaped felons who bear the markings of wolves or cats. Some enhance their bodies to become stronger, yet run the risk of shortening their life span, while others mask themselves with holographic visages, and in addition some of these are illegal immigrants. This makes for a concept that gives the series a vitalised lift above the norm that we’ve come to expect. Through various episodes other little bits and pieces surface, fleshing out Judoh’s policies and giving us several fresh ideas.
The characters of Heat Guy J are also interesting in that while they are derived from stereotypical archetypes they have a strong sense of individuality and feel fitting in their environment. Daisuke, for all his laid-back coolness, don’t give a shit demeanour and lack of enthusiasm for doing paperwork is surprisingly a solid lead player; he’s a good guy, an officer of the law, dresses sharp and regularly chats to a trio of prostitutes, the latter of which adds that extra layer which as of yet hasn’t been built upon. Ordinarily he’d be a model cliché, but there’s just enough extra sprinkling to ensure the creators don’t fall to the wayside. Some of his bigger storylines seem to consist of the loss of his father at the hands of an android (yes, another big cliché, now he works with one) and his relationship with his brother, who oversees the special unit. There’s the occasional bickering going on, but the kind that’s brought up over silly agency issues. J on the other hand is merely a learner. At just three years of age he is the only android known to be in operation alongside the police, and as such his identity is to remain a secret. That’s not so easy when he towers over most people and is built like a house. He was developed by the sexy Dr. Antonia Bellucci (who he has a soft spot for, but then so does Daisuke) in order to fight back against Jodoh’s ongoing threat of android injustice; his job is to aid Daisuke and get him out of any serious situations that he might put himself in. Daisuke’s irrational behaviour is the cause of grief for Bellucci who reminds him that he must be careful, otherwise he risks J’s safety also. Not much is divulged during the first eight episodes here, although hints are dropped.
|The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.|
|While we don’t get the specifics on how Daisuke and J’s partnership came about there is something which crops up for episode seven “Circulation”. When Daisuke remembers the time his father gave him his pendant his father can be heard talking in a way that isn’t unlike J’s speech mannerisms. This relates to J’s constant reminder to Daisuke of how a man should act in certain situations, which leads me to believe that J is programmed in Daisuke’s father’s image, or perhaps more.|
The secondary characters of Shun, Kyoko and Bellucci are each explored in various ways, providing a decent amount of insight into each; some have more ambiguous personalities than others, but that works in the series’ favour, for now. Elsewhere we meet three other key players. First up is assistant inspector Ken Edmundo, an old fashioned cop who solves crimes in old fashioned ways; he’s there when a crime happens, usually after Daisuke has called him in. Daisuke also relies on the word of two informants: Monica and Shogun. Monica is a young street photographer who cons her way through life by telling people she has a sick mother, while the elderly Shogun has a far more interesting background, having once been a member of Company Vita which now sits in the hands of the maniacal Clair Leonelli. Speaking of whom makes up much of Heat Guy J’s main arc.
Heat Guy J, like many other anime, mixes up its storylines from time to time; it can get a little convoluted early on, but once it settles it begins flow fairly well. Much of the series so far features Clair Leonelli and his secretive adviser Mauro. Clair has some kind of agenda, although it could be contested that he’s simply mad. His hatred toward the Daisuke and J has yet to be elaborated on, and for the most part his evil schemes consist of simple operations. Other characters begin to form subsequent arcs and at present a mysterious fellow named Boma, who is on the search for his “Usagi” and has the face of a beast makes the occasional appearance. So despite the character appearing regularly most of the series is made up of straight forward, stand alone content. The storylines themselves are engaging enough and there’s more than enough well executed action sequences to keep genre fans happy. A few plots bare no relation to Company Vita, while others revolve around the special unit, posing problems for Daisuke, particularly when it’s all too tight in handing out firearms and ammunition, due to its current trial stage which rules out extra funding for additional men and weapons. So it becomes rather fun to see how Daisuke will get himself out of a pickle with just one or two bullets. While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if he’ll come out OK it gives the writers a few decent opportunities to have him hit some seemingly impossible targets. But these standalone episodes also rely on bouts of forced exposition and more than a couple of outrageous coincidences; nevertheless they’re fast paced and strangely compelling.
Crime boss, Don Leonelli is dead. Company Vita now needs a new chairman to take on the name “Vampire” and run its organisation; the natural choice seems to be Leonelli’s son Clair, but there’s a problem – he’s an unstable mess. Meanwhile Daisuke and his partner J over at the City Safety Management Agency’s Special Unit have other problems to attend to when the arrival of a trio of immigrants, headed by an android named Misia spark a smuggling investigation.
Clair is officially sworn in as head of Company Vita, much to the anger of several members. Elsewhere Judoh is starting to smell really badly, and its citizens are beginning to complain.
A new fad has taken over in the city of Jodoh. “Beauty Cards” have been circulating throughout Judoh’s underground. These cards show beautiful woman who have unknowingly been caught on film. While Daisuke looks into this case assistant inspector Edmundo is tailing a random bomber, which eventually involves Daisuke and J. When J is damaged trying to protect Daisuke his creator Dr. Bellucci gets slightly upset.
An underground Russian Roulette game gains the attention of Clair, who takes part a challenge against a man who has never lost a game. His name is Boma, a criminal with the face of a werewolf who seeks his “Usagi” and dishes out death to those who cannot help him.
When J chases and threatens to bring down a small child Daisuke begins to worry about his state. In fact J has been acting a little strange lately, which soon causes concern amongst the city council.
The stock market is gaining a huge response from citizens all over. Clair sets out to exploit the market by fixing tomato shares and then seeing to it that Daisuke takes the fall. Unfortunately for Clair Daisuke isn’t as stupid as he thinks he is.
Daisuke loses his father’s pendent during a struggle against an enemy that he thought had perished in a previous investigation. This enemy is a genetically enhanced beast-face who vows to see Daisuke dead. Soon Daisuke and J head deep underground into Judoh’s forgotten city in the hopes of retrieving Daisuke’s pendent.
Daisuke has an argument with his brother Shun over the agency’s lack of funding, which doesn’t end in the best possible way. Daisuke learns of an illegal weapons manufacturing ring and whilst on the street he runs into a gang of thugs who are beating up a young musician. Daisuke intervenes and the man disappears. Later Daisuke learns that the man is Kia Freeborn, son of the famous musician Dullia, but Kia is harbouring much hatred for his father, which may soon escalate into violence.
Manga Entertainment seem to be experimenting a little lately, since their Robotech releases. Foregoing extras in favour of eight episodes for regular retail price, Heat Guy J makes its UK debut on a double disc set.
The series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Digital banding, Edge Enhancement, ghosting (which I take to mean NTSC-PAL) and compression artefacts bring the quality down. The transfer nicely compliments the series’ extremely bright and colourful surroundings, but it’s during action scenes that a tiny amount of break up occurs. The series also has a lot of diffused animation, which brings out that soft and hazy look that seems to be all too popular in anime lately. It holds up well and should be taken as a sign of the source material.
A choice of three audio options accompanies Heat Guy J. Both the English and Japanese tracks have DD 2.0, DD 5.1 and DTS. I decided to check out the DTS option and for the most part it’s quite similar to its 5.1 counterpart, with some added bass. Some decent separation fleshes out the action, while rounding up the overall feel good factor of Heat Guy J is a great score built up of an assortment of light jazz, rock, techno, new age and even Scottish overtones. The music here is often used subtle as it underscores a lot of moments involving dialogue. The tracks here don’t bring it out much more than need be, but they are solid and there aren’t any glitching problems. In terms of dubbing, both tracks are particularly strong, with the English dub having fine actors in place of their Japanese counterparts. A lot of Pioneer’s dubbing here is faithful to the Japanese actor’s portrayals, particularly with its primary characters. In general I usually find Pioneer dubs to be better all round efforts when compared to other dubbing houses, but then this stems back to my fondness for early Pioneer series such as Tenchi Muyo and Moldiver.
Optional English subtitles are included and these read fine for most of the duration. A couple of grammatical errors surface such as “them we will kill him”, during episode two, while the series’ opening and ending themes have not been translated – strange.
Heat Guy J manages to take a bunch of clichés and do something good with them; it retains a good sense of style and indeed Judoh is wonderful place to look at. Ultimately the show has a very high feel good factor about it, which makes the episodes a breeze to get through, even at eight a pop. The first volume leaves some good impressions. Heat Guy J offers a lot of undemanding fun, but also some interesting plot developments that should begin to open up for the next eight episodes. Manga has done a good job in presenting us with a release that’s value for money, even if extras have been entirely foregone.