Stan Lee has been responsible for a bevy of awesome superheroes and growing up I watched and liked the cartoon adaptations of his X-Men and Spiderman franchises. So, the fact that this anime is based on a comic that Stan Lee started serializing in the Japanese manga magazine Monthly Shounen Gangan was enough to make me interested and then I heard that Bones was doing the adaptation. This made it even more interesting to me because they’re one of the top animation studios in terms of quality animation and they are well acquainted with making an action anime series with Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood being but the latest example. Did this fusion of trans-pacific talent yield a shining new hero, as I hope, or will Heroman turn out to be just a Loserman?
Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 3/12 D
Anticipation Level: 0.5/5 Very Low
Set in a smog-free copy of Los Angeles, dubbed Center City, our protagonist is Joey Jones – an androgynous, back-boneless middle school boy – who gets picked on by an All-American beefcake of a guy, Will, because Will’s younger sister is a cheerleader who’s into weak, androgynous, back-boneless boys. Luckily for Joey’s health his best friend, Psy, can protect him from Will. Watching the first episode it was obvious that something about Psy unnerved Will; though, I’m not sure if it’s the crazy hairdo or because Psy was obviously picked to be the token minority character or because Psy was also picked to be the token handicapped character or all three.
One day Joey finds a broken Heybo robot, the hot new toy from Japan, and decides to fix it up because he really wanted one but is too poor to even think about buying one. After he gets it repaired something very unexpected happens, it gets hit by lightning and the toy robot can now transform into a life-sized robot with superpowers and only Joey can control him. This is pretty cool and Joey thinks so too but, before Joey can start contemplating what he should do with this robot, aliens show up to take over the world and it quickly apparent that the world needs Heroman to save it.
The Fine Print
I really, really wanted to like this but no level of wanting is enough to plaster over it’s many faults. If it was a total failure, I wouldn’t feel so disappointed but there are parts to the show I do like. There’s the animation; it’s your typical high-quality Bones effort. I love the design of Heroman, it makes him look so cool and his red-white-blue paint job tickles the patriotic part of my brain. I also love the setting for the show; Center City is obviously an American city and it feels refreshingly different from the standard Japanese city setting that’s the default in anime. (I’m not saying I expect Japanese anime to be set in America but the difference is a nice change of pace.) Not all the characters are annoying; strangely, I like Will the bully and find little fault in him trying to keep Joey away from his younger sister. There’s also the Professor, Psy (who would have made a better main character), and my favorite, Joey’s grandma.
As I see it, there are two big problems with this show that combined sink any chance of this show succeeding. The first problem is the choice of enemies for Heroman to fight. An alien invasion is just too vast of a enemy for a single super-powered hero to fight so the aliens have to be unbelievably gimped to give Heroman a chance. There can’t be too many aliens to fight, especially since Heroman isn’t that super-powered compared to the aliens, so the aliens only bring one lousy ship to invade an entire planet with. If this is the summit of alien war planning, they’d’ve been wiped out by other aliens long before coming to bother Earth. Nor can the aliens be too effective in their destruction of Center City and presumably the world, so after shocking us with their amazing disintegrating rays they follow up with … wait for it – giant marbles. Seriously. The only way to make this a winnable contest for Heroman is to let the aliens fight with maybe 5% of their capability and that’s no fun to watch. The obvious answer to this was to pick a smaller threat for Heroman and Joey to fight.
The other major problem to Heroman is the complexity of the show. It’s very, very simple and shallow and the characters are so brain-numbingly one dimensional. If this was the first time I saw something by Stan Lee, I’d think he was a second rate hack that must of blackmailed someone important to get this anime made. Luckily for me, it’s not and I’m well aware of his earlier and much better work. It’s so below the typical quality of anime, especially for a Bones show, that I’d be tempted to say it was made as if it was for the American market but I’ve watched plenty of quality superhero series over here so I know it’s seriously under-performing even for an American market show.
And saying it’s a kids show so it’s supposed to be simple is not a valid excuse. The makers of Gurren Lagann said it was meant for kids and it’s one of my favorite anime of all-time. There’s also Kemono no Souja Erin, it’s also a kid’s show and it displayed no lack of depth and complexity and is one of my top titles of 2009. There’s also Studio Ghibli movies like Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, meant for kids but is every bit as good from an adult standpoint. Looking closer to home, Pixar films are kids shows that adults love and cherish as well; I seriously thought UP deserved to win best picture last year and I’m so excited about seeing Toy Story 3 when it comes out this June. And a look at comics, even if one just restricts themselves to other Stan Lee comics, shows that Heroman fails to even come close to the depth and complexity that’s pretty standard in comics.
I could go on but this show really isn’t worth wasting any more of my time. Heroman becomes the first and, so far, only spring anime that I’m dropping.