A New Hero for the 21st Century: Heroman review
Many otaku in America seek anime to find something that isn’t present in typical American programming. Some point to the wonderful aesthetic appeal, others venerate the storytelling, but overall many point to the sophistication and artistry of anime as entertainingly refreshing. In comes Heroman to upset these notions. Though it’s origins are foreign, you’d be hard pressed to find something more Western, or more specifically, more American.
Joey Jones (seen fistpumping) lives in Center City, USA. Orphaned and living with his grandmother, he attends school, works in a cafe, and hopes to become stronger. Wanting a new robot toy called the Heybo, he rescues a broken one tossed by a bully and tries to repair it in vain. Instead of getting an ordinary toy, lightning strikes Heybo, turning him into Heroman, a giant robot that may just be capable of saving the world. Joey and his new ally will be put to the test: Professor Denton, his science teacher, makes contact with extraterrestrial life, only to signal a hostile invasion.
It sounds like a typical Saturday morning cartoon set up, and indeed it is; however, its execution is what distinguishes it from most dreck. Animating the show is Studio BONES, well known for their high end work in terms of budget and quality. Character designs are appealing, showcasing the studio’s typical rounded look. Heroman is quite lovely just to watch, as its animation is fluid and dynamic, with nary a corner cut to be seen. While the pacing slows down a bit mid way through in the forms of seemingly unrelated, but character developing, self-contained episodes, they are enjoyable enough in their own right.
The voice cast itself is great with standard archetypal acting, creating a show that’s quite easy on the ears. Everyone does their parts well, but if I had to pick a stand out, it would be Chō (formerly known as Yūichi Nagashima) as Professor Denton (bespectacled) for infusing such a joyful abandonment in pursuit of SCIENCE!! The acting occasionally goes over the top, only doing so with delightful chewing scenery characters such as Dr. Minami, an egocentric scientist bent on proving his greatness. Though Heroman never becomes as pulpy like its comic books origins would suggest, its roots are still there, present for all eyes to see.
This comic book-like feel, and more importantly, the elements of Western individualism can be traced to this guy:
This man is Stan Lee, and recently he’s turned toward the East for his comic creations, developing the concept for another manga, Ultimo, then writing the original manga of Heroman, and outlining the basic plot of the anime adaptation. Suddenly the singular child-hero saving the world plot fits into place, but while the setting and storyline are steeped in Western comic trends tropes, they are bent with Eastern ideas as well, such as a larger focus on community.
Though the focus of the series is Joey, he isn’t the sole hero: Heroman isn’t just a puppet, but his partner in world saving. The same goes for his (pseudo-) crime fighting team of Prof. Denton and Psy (orange vest and crazy ‘fro); they often play a vital role in guiding and aiding Joey and Heroman. Lina (cheerleader), Vera Collins (red hair), and others occasionally help out and are present as well supporting him. Unfortunately, the show can be tedious in its penchant for trying to include many characters in the action. Joey is only one with a super robot, so there are only so many times where he yells to another person (most often a female character), to run away from a battle for safety. I suspect this tension may arise from the Western tropes and Eastern values changing and accommodating to each other.
It’s notable to recognize that the city reinforces this message itself. Center City is a mosaic of America, containing rich businessman, such as Lina’s dad, to the working class coal miners. It’s geographically located near mountains and Pacific coast. It’s not called Center City for nothing, and the feeling of the community living their is strong and resilient to any threat. Ultimately, this reliance on community pushes back the Western notion of upholding justice for its own sake; ultimately, the show affirms the need for others for justice to prevail.*
Heroman is avaialble to stream for free at Crunchyroll. Word is the show will be localized soon for broadcast in the states. It’ll be a real treat for many viewers out there looking to revisit the joys of Saturday morning cartoons.
*A chapter in the book Manga and Philosophy analyses why there aren’t superhero manga in Japan in terms of heroism as we know it in the West. The author concludes that it is the focus on community and family rather than abstract ideas of justice that explains its absence in manga.