Review for Heavy Object: Season 1 - Part 1
War! What is it good for? Entertainment, that’s what! You can keep the real thing with its tragedy, heartbreak, and loss, but when it comes to movies, TV, videogames, and indeed anime, a little fictional conflict goes a long way, where the only pain is that caused by a ruthless critic, where the only blood lost is that when the blisters on your gaming fingers burst. Heavy Object is the latest anime to indulge in a little imaginary warfare, letting armchair otaku generals blow off some steam without setting off any actual ordnance.
In the not too distant future, despite the advances of human civilisation, war still exists, although the nature of warfare changed once someone invented the Objects. These are the ultimate expression of the tank, gargantuan, spherical weapons platforms that are so strongly armoured, that they can survive a nuclear explosion and still be able to fight. All it takes is one Elite Pilot and an Object for a battlefield to be dominated. War has become refined into a battle between Objects, while the rest of the military’s role has been reduced to supporting those Objects. If a battle is lost, the convention is to simply surrender and retreat, leaving the territory to the victors.
That is the convention, but that turns out not to be the reality in a battle between two Objects in Alaska, the Baby Magnum versus the Water Strider. The Baby Magnum is piloted by elite pilot Milinda, and on her support crew are Qwenthur and Havia. When the Baby Magnum is destroyed, and Milinda ejects, they think it’s over, that all they have to do now is retreat, but the Water Strider continues its attack, the forces behind it intent on destroying their foes at any cost. At the last minute, Qwenthur, Milinda and Havia manage to figure out a way of destroying the enemy Object. They’ve upended conventional thinking, they’re heroes, and Qwenthur and Havia in particular think that they’re on the road to fortune and fame, and a quick way out of the army. They’re wrong. For now that they’ve destroyed one Object, the Army wants them to keep on doing it!
The first half of Heavy Object is presented here across two Blu-ray discs as part of this combo release, the first twelve episodes.
1. Rank and File Soldiers Who Tie Down Gulliver – The Snowy Deep Battle of Alaska I
2. Rank and File Soldiers Who Tie Down Gulliver – The Snowy Deep Battle of Alaska II
3. Rank and File Soldiers Who Tie Down Gulliver – The Snowy Deep Battle of Alaska III
4. Tom Thumb Races Through the Oil Field – The Battle of the Gibraltar Blockade I
5. Tom Thumb Races Through the Oil Field – The Battle of the Gibraltar Blockade II
6. The War of the Ant and the Grasshopper – The Invasion of the Oceanian Military State I
7. The War of the Ant and the Grasshopper – The Invasion of the Oceanian Military State II
8. The War of the Ant and the Grasshopper – The Invasion of the Oceanian Military State III
9. In An Obstacle Course Race, It’s Normal to Get Covered in Mud – The Battle for Supremacy in Antarctica
10. Three-Legged Mountain Climbing is Life-and-Death – The Artillery Battle in the Igauzu Mountains I
11. Three-Legged Mountain Climbing is Life-and-Death – The Artillery Battle in the Igauzu Mountains II
12. Three-Legged Mountain Climbing is Life-and-Death – The Artillery Battle in the Igauzu Mountains III
Heavy Object gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these Blu-ray discs. It’s a splendid transfer, presenting the animation as clear, sharp, and with strong, consistent colours, with no visible signs of compression, or even noticeable banding. It’s just what you’d expect from a digitally sourced animation. It’s good too, as Heavy Object has a lot going for it when it comes to the animation, likeable character designs, a nice semi-futuristic world design, and some very strong and detailed animation. The Heavy Objects themselves aren’t exactly eye-catching, just gargantuan spheres armed to the teeth, or variations thereof. For a show about war, there’s a whole lot of fan service to contend with however.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate audio track. Given that this is such an action intensive show, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Funimation didn’t give the English dub one of their usual 5.1 re-workings. I went with, and was happy with the original language audio, the subtitles were accurately timed and free of typos, and the casting once again proffered the expected voices for the archetypal characters. I merely sampled the dub to check that it exists. It does.
The discs present their content with static menus.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Code Geass.
You’ll also find a commentary here accompanying episode 9. ADR Director Jeremy Inman is joined by Morgan Garrett (Frolaytia), Justin Briner (Qwenthur), and Micah Solusod (Havia).
Disc 2 autoplays a trailer for Aquarion Logos.
There is a video commentary on this disc for episode 6, where you can see Justin Briner, Morgan Garrett, and Alexis Tipton (Milinda), be just as ‘wacky’ as they sound on the audio commentaries.
Finally you get the textless credits and trailers for Re:Cyborg 009, Drifters, Ninjaslayer, Death Parade, Overlord, and Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist.
I like Heavy Object. I really do. It’s a decent story, well put together, paced energetically, and with a sense of humour that clicks with me. I was entertained by Heavy Object, and looked forward to each new episode. I also recognise that Heavy Object really isn’t that good. When you take a look at its constituent parts, try and justify its entertainment value, it falls short in nearly every regard. It’s by a coincidence of serendipity or just random chance that takes this hodgepodge of inferiority and makes it work.
The very concept itself doesn’t bear up under consideration, warfare being redefined by Objects, essentially gargantuan, megaton tanks. They’re not exactly discreet, they’re unwieldy, and they make little logical sense. All that a nation apparently needs is one Object, and it can do away with its army, navy, and air force when it comes to war, except for the veritable armed forces required to support and service such a gargantuan device. That’s before you get into questions of how much it would cost to build and run an Object, just what kind of motive force you’d need, what kind of power plants, engines would go into moving what is essentially a small mountain. You wind up with questions like how much did it cost to build the Death Star in Star Wars. As for the tactics of Object warfare, Girls Und Panzer this ain’t!
The tactics that intrigue and entertain come into the point behind the series, that two men turn conventional military wisdom on its head when they devise a way to take down an Object without another Object. It’s the narrative equivalent of using a pea-shooter to stop a nuclear bomb, and is the driving force behind the series, with elements in the military wanting to test this new paradigm of warfare, and with other elements insisting on the same only to see the two, Havia and Qwenthur fail, and have their original worldview vindicated. Either way, it means that the show’s protagonists get no respite from battle, no heroes’ welcome for their exploits, just one death-defying situation after another.
This brings us to the second weak point in the show. There’s a complete lack of peril, no sense of danger to the whole thing. It’s all about war, about people killing each other in as expedient a way as is possible, and people do die, there are fields of corpses at some points, but never do you get the feeling that any of the protagonists are threatened by what’s going on. There’s a devil may care attitude to them, a sense that the trivialities of the world are of greater import than what lies in front of them, and they can witness horrible things, war crimes even without being fazed by any of it. Whatever challenges they may face, it’s all a puzzle to be solved, and any consequences are wholly impersonal. Let’s face it; these warriors will never come back from any battlefield with PTSD. It is as ephemeral as Girls Und Panzer, but in that show, the tank battles were war games.
Finally there is the egregious fan service in this show. Most of the female characters have physical attributes guaranteed to get the blood flowing in our red-blooded male protagonists, and the ‘cameraman’ will take advantage of that. Take our dominatrix commander, Frolaytia. The camera will pan up her body in most scenes, most likely back down again, and if they’ve got a few spare seconds, pan back up too, to get the full value of the legs, butt and breasts of the character. It’s fair to say that all female characters, save the head mechanic will get the same treatment. At first it’s fan service, the usual anime approach, but after a while it just gets ridiculous, but by the end of this collection, you’ll actually miss it if they forget. That’s coupled with the usual wholly unreal sexual politics that always seems to play to the mainstream fandom (in one scene Qwenthur gets Frolaytia out of an arranged marriage by enthusiastically groping her boobs),
Take these elements in isolation, and you have a very average, middle of the road, action anime. But for some reason, put together in Heavy Object it all works. It may be the pacing, it may be the direction, certainly the quality animation has a big part to play in it, but Heavy Object is fun. I would much rather watch an episode of Heavy Object than some other, more critically acclaimed shows. Heavy Object isn’t a good show, but it’s an entertaining show, and sometimes that matters more.