Review of Heat Guy J: Complete Series 1 Box Set
Petty annoyances are… well petty for want of a better word. The world may be teetering on the abyss due to resource depletion, over population, climate change, wars and reality TV, but it is the little things that get us complaining. It`s human nature to whinge at the neighbour who keeps playing Run To You at all hours, stress about parking under a tree where pigeons can only act as nature dictates. The world of DVDs is no different. There I was collecting the Star Trek movies, and when The Motion Picture is finally released, completing the set, Paramount announces the two disc special editions. Then there were the Harry Potter films. The first two get novelty slipcase digipacks, then Azkaban gets a simple Amaray case, destroying the prettiness of the collection on my shelf. These are issues which really shouldn`t be affecting my blood pressure, but a layer of enamel is worn off my teeth whenever something so minor, but so infuriating occurs.
Last year Manga Entertainment added to the irritations with their Heat Guy J release. This enjoyable series had its first two volumes released early last year, and all that was left to come was the final volume. Apparently, sales weren`t stellar, so at the final hurdle Manga Entertainment released all three volumes in a boxset. There was no individual volume 3 release, but a price point not much higher than that for the single volumes balanced this. Still, while cheap, this was still unfair on fans that had collected the series thus far. To see the final volume meant buying the first two over again. It`s slightly irresponsible of Manga to essentially double up volumes 1 and 2, it certainly isn`t environmentally friendly, and in this day and age where we ought to reduce packaging and waste, this seems like a waste indeed.
Rant over; it`s on with the review. With reviews for the first two volumes already on site, there will be more of a bias towards volume 3 here.
In the future ocean metropolis of Judoh, androids have been banned. That is with the exception of J, a powerful machine that has been put to work in the City Safety Management Agency`s fledgling Special Unit. Consisting of just three members, Daisuke Aurora who partners J, and Kyoko Milchan who deals with the administration, their mission is one of crime prevention, stopping the worst from happening before it comes to the attention of the police. The series begins at a turning point in Judoh`s underworld community, as the head of the Leonelli family is laid to rest, and his son Clair dons the mantle of Vampire, threatening to bring a new wave of anarchy to the city. In a world where criminals are punished by genetic alteration and the transplantation of animal heads, Daisuke and J will have to keep their wits about them to stay one step ahead.
The death of the previous Vampire leads to a power vacuum in the city`s underworld, but this doesn`t concern Daisuke much, as he has an investigation to conduct into a murder that ties into the recent arrival of three illegal immigrants. They may be smuggling contraband, but their interest in J goes beyond idle curiosity. However their sponsor in the city will go to any lengths to ensure their silence.
With Clair Leonelli succeeding his father to the position of Vampire, he is determined to have the respect of his rivals, despite his relative youth. Soon there is a stink in the city, literally so and people start complaining of respiratory ailments. Daisuke and J have to race against time to stop a devastating explosion.
A serial bomber is making his presence felt in Judoh with a series of escalating attacks. Meanwhile there is a new fad for trading cards sweeping the city, with candid shots of the city`s more attractive female residents proving very popular. Kyoko is a little put out that she hasn`t been snapped for a trading card yet. Meanwhile, the bombs keep going off.
A gang is celebrating its ill-gotten gains when they are interrupted by a mysterious lupine figure. The `werewolf` Boma demands the whereabouts of `his Usagi` and deals death to those who can`t answer. This sort of talent attracts the attention of Clair Leonelli, who realises that Boma can rid him of the hindrance to business that is the Special Unit.
An old man is left bereft when Clair takes his young son away from him. Meanwhile J is acting suspiciously, causing Daisuke to call on the assistance of Dr Antonia Bellucci, J`s creator. It may be too late when J takes a swing at the same young child when encountered in the street, and the city`s administration is on the verge of ordering J`s destruction.
A new fad sweeps the city once more, this time the citizens are engrossed in the stock exchange and commodities market. But Clair is up to no good again. Daisuke`s investigation leads him to the middle of a tomato field, but this time he`s dancing to Clair`s tune.
A criminal holding a grudge attacks Daisuke, and as usual J intervenes. In the process however, Daisuke loses the pendant given to him by his father. He decides to venture into Judoh`s sewer system to find it, and in the process discovers a city beneath the city, an underworld both in name and nature.
Daisuke`s having a row with his brother over the seriousness of the Special Unit, and he doesn`t leave in the best of moods. When he discovers a gang terrorising a young musician, he isn`t in the mood to be lenient. However Kia Freeborn doesn`t stick around to show his gratitude. Meanwhile there is an illicit gun factory operating in the city.
The rumour going around is that there is a brisk trade in forged passports, something supposedly impossible in the computer-controlled city of Judoh. When Daisuke investigates, what he learns is troubling. Apparently those without family or close friends are kidnapped, murdered, and their biographical data is rewritten to create the forgeries.
Bomb threats on Central keep turning out to be hoaxes, and the police are tiring of the investigation. Daisuke decides to investigate a nearby military base, where else would a potential terrorist obtain high explosives? J finds evidence of tampering with the inventory.
Roy Bello, an unsavoury individual with a lengthy criminal record has been murdered. He isn`t the first such criminal to meet a violent end, and Edmundo has been assigned the case. All the witnesses identify the assassin as female, and then his ex-girlfriend Alisa Ryan calls him, worried that she is suffering from memory loss.
The Celestials` ship has docked at Judoh, and it is a time for celebration. It is the Celestials` technology and generosity that keeps the city functioning, and every 18 years they visit to repair and maintain the city`s vital systems. Only Daisuke doesn`t feel like celebrating. He isn`t the only one though, as a Celestial delegation is attacked, 12 of their number are murdered, and the remainder go back to their ship, refusing to come out until the danger has passed.
Clair has got his hands on a Celestial, while the city`s systems are beginning to fail. Daisuke`s brother Shun arranges for Clair`s security system to be shut down, but Daisuke only has a few minutes to break in, find the Celestial and get out again before it reactivates.
A new lead has surfaced in an old case, requiring Daisuke and J to head out of the city and go Offshore, to the independent lands of Siberbia. This case has special meaning for Daisuke as it involves his father`s murder. But on their way out of the city, a Siberbian princess making her way into the city on foot sidetracks them. When she states that she is going to the city to find her grandfather, Daisuke decides to delay the investigation and help her search.
The trip to Offshore still beckons, but before they can leave, Daisuke and J have to deal with Clair Leonelli`s desire for revenge. After having his headquarters destroyed by the pair, Clair has hired some extra heat that are more than a match for J`s android strength. This time Kyoko will have to rise to the occasion and attempt a rescue.
An assassin`s bullet finds Shun in his office. Daisuke races to be at his brother`s side in hospital, and waits nervously while his life hangs in the balance. He orders J to take care of the investigation, but without his partner at his side, J is getting nowhere fast. Meanwhile Edmundo decides to put some pressure on the Leonellis, but for once, Clair isn`t behind the hit.
Daisuke and J finally make it to Offshore, and head for the Siberbian village. The smell of nature is unsettling to the city dweller, but the society in the village is practically alien. Individual independence is paramount, cooperation is frowned upon, and offering assistance a sign of shame. Conducting an investigation would appear to be impossible, but in the primitive village based on self-sufficiency, there are signs of high technology.
Daisuke is back from Siberbia, but he hasn`t time to report to his brother before it`s all change for the Special Unit. It`s shut down, J is returned to Doctor Bellucci`s lab, Kyoko transferred to head office, and when Daisuke refuses to go along with his brother`s plans, he is fired. Daisuke is determined to find his father`s killer, `Shop` Echigo, and continues to investigate alone. Meanwhile Judoh`s crime bosses are hunting for the fugitive Clair Leonelli. They need his retinal print to access Company Vita`s fortunes. As they begin to fight amongst themselves, the city is more dangerous than ever.
Daisuke is trying to recruit Boma to his side, but the werewolf is still untrusting. Meanwhile the Beastmaster who gave Boma his wolf`s head in Magnagalia is now in Judoh to hunt him down. Boma`s memories are finally beginning to clear, and he will have to face the bitter truth about his Usagi. As the net closes on Boma, he becomes more savage, and it falls to Daisuke to confront this genetically enhanced killing machine.
With the current uncertainty in Judoh, companies have started going out of business, and J`s creator Dr Bellucci find herself unemployed. Daisuke`s got bigger problems though, as a major figure in the city has been murdered, and the prime suspect is the only android allowed to exist in the city borders, J.
Edmundo`s partner Romeo is pursuing an investigation into money laundering. But the mafia guard their secrets jealously and Romeo`s curiosity turns fatal. Soon Edmundo has a friend to avenge, especially as the police label Romeo`s death an accident in the line of duty and brush the whole matter under the carpet.
A mysterious woman with murder in mind climbs out of the ocean and enters Judoh city. Soon sailors are being found crucified, pinned by harpoons. Following a rumour, the Special Unit seek out the mysterious Witch Island, home of this lethal woman.
Street photographer Monica`s livelihood goes up in smoke when her caravan is a target for arsonists. Soon she is turning to crime to make ends meet. Her brief career is halted when Daisuke pulls her up outside the bank. Soon the Special Unit has another employee. But the financially motivated Monica is soon wreaking havoc in the office. Daisuke`s life gets more complicated when he receives a message from his dead father.
The future of Judoh is about to be decided over a dinner table, and the citizens aren`t invited. Shun Aurora`s life is in danger again, but this time Daisuke is in a position to protect his older brother. But J`s programming has been subverted, and all hell is about to break loose in Judoh.
The tanks roll into Judoh as the military coup advances. The old guard is brutally disposed of, and the new government tightens its fist around the city. Now that the mastermind behind the plot has been revealed, Daisuke must confront him. But with J`s AI subverted, the only way to save the android may be to destroy his memories. Rather than lose his friend, Daisuke chooses to fight alone this time.
Judoh has an unlikely hero in the fight for freedom, Clair Leonelli. Meanwhile Daisuke faces the hardest fight of his life, and despite his need to protect his friends, it`s a fight that he can`t win alone.
Heat Guy J gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, and by and large the transfer is clear and colourful. There is a hint of an NTSC to PAL transfer, and the occasional minor compression artefacts pop up during moments of frenetic motion on screen. The animation is accomplished well, combining 2D and 3D elements to good effect. Heat Guy J has a relatively muted palette, with the show having a bright hazy feel to it. The CGI is combined with traditional animation almost impeccably, with the characters fitting into the environments seamlessly, allowing for some grand camera moves. That said, the limitations of the 2D animation become apparent in quieter moments, during dialogue scenes for instance.
Manga Entertainment does its usual `filled to the brim with soundtracks` routine presenting DD 2.0, DD 5.1 and DTS Japanese and English soundtracks, with optional translated subtitles. Listening to the Japanese DD 5.1 track, I found it to be fairly vibrant, but not too dynamic. I feel that Manga missed a trick by not subtitling the songs during the credit sequences. The music for Heat Guy J is good though, with a couple of toe tapping credit sequences and some good incidental music. The English dub is one of the better ones, with the voices suiting the characters and the translation natural and flowing well.
You get three double Amaray cases inside a cardboard slipcase, with plenty of the show`s artwork to look at on the packaging. Each volume has an eight-page booklet inside, complete with character profiles and episode synopses.
The only extras on disc are on Volume 3. They are the usual Manga trailers, this time for The Art Of Anime, Ghost In The Shell: Innocence, Ghost In The Shell: 2nd Gig, Karas, Millennium Actress and Streetfighter Alpha Generations.
With one disc with five episodes, and the other with four, you would expect the trailers to be on the latter, but they aren`t. Odd that.
Heat Guy J proved to be successful when broadcast on MTV in America, and it is easy to see why. It`s an action packed series, with interesting characters and a degree of wit. It`s also a cop show that appeals to a wide demographic. The pairing of Daisuke and J makes for an unconventional partnership, with J something of a cross between the Terminator and Robocop, striving to relate to humanity with the use of trite maxims about how a man should behave. Daisuke is the easygoing hero of the two, rising to all occasions, but managing to stay cool about it.
The series begins with a fairly relaxed introduction to the world of Judoh, with a progression of stand-alone episodes in the first volume that introduces us to the main characters and the future world that they live in. The second volume offers more of the same really, but begins to build on these elements with an over arching storyline. The story comes together as more of the characters` pasts are revealed and the second volume ends by shaking up the status quo, indicating that the main storyline is about to take precedence.
With the nine episodes of volume three, we see these plot threads resolved, but the show never really strays far from its stand-alone ethos. The first seven episodes of volume three each have their own story to tell, with the larger plot developing in the background. It`s when you take the series as a whole that you can appreciate how the plot develops. Of course the final two episodes are devoted wholly to the series climax.
Daisuke has learned the identity of his father`s killer as the final volume begins, and from then on he`s devoted to bringing him to justice. This isn`t going to be easy, as the power struggles in Judoh have made the city a far more volatile place. The first thing he has to do is to gather his friends and allies around him, which means that the subsequent episodes are character episodes specifically. The strongest of these is the first, Truth, as we finally learn of Boma`s past. It`s probably also the most violent of the episodes, which indicates why it wasn`t aired on American television. Fake and Tears look at Dr Bellucci and policeman Ken Edmundo respectively, all within the series formula of crime and mystery. We take a break from the character study for a plot advancing episode, then we return for a light hearted episode with street urchin Monica.
Now that Daisuke has his unconventional team assembled, it`s time for the series finale, which makes sure that we get the obligatory plot twist, all the series characters get a look in, and there are plenty of pyrotechnics and eye-candy to hold the viewer attention until the satisfying climax. What makes Heat Guy J stand out above the crowd is that what looked like the series villain turns out to be one of the good guys by the end, although Clair doesn`t lose that psychopathic streak.
If I am sounding slightly jaded, that isn`t my intention. It`s just that cliché lies at the heart of Heat Guy J. One man and his droid fighting against the forces of evil is hardly the most original concept in anime. The dystopian future, the characters, and the plot are all familiar. The stories are hardly going to win any awards, and even if you have never seen anime before, you`ll still find Heat Guy J recognizable. It`s just that the show is so much fun. The characters are all lively and likeable, the soundtrack enhances the vibrant pace of the show, it maintains a sense of humour throughout, and there is an energy that is infectious. It`s this lightness of tone that I find so attractive. This could so easily have been one of those dark depressing visions of the future, but it`s like comparing The Fifth Element to Blade Runner, both depict imaginative visions of the future, but the end result is completely different.
It may not be original, and it certainly isn`t thought provoking, but finding this much fun crammed into an anime box is difficult, and you`ll be left wanting more. It`s a shame that despite this boxset being labelled `The Complete Series 1`, there isn`t as yet a Series 2. What makes this series doubly attractive is the price point. Normally you`d be expected to pay close to three figures to collect 26 episodes of anime on DVD. At an RRP of £24.99 this boxset represents outstanding value. I got it on sale at a price well below £10. Well, you`d be insane not to. Heat Guy J is top class entertainment at a budget price. Make your way to the Pricecheck facility and avail yourself of ten and half hours of anime fun.