Monday, August 16, 2010

ANIME REVIEW: HEAT GUY J, 2002, Creator/Director Kazuki Akane, Character Design Nobuteru Yuuki, Music Try Force

Heat Guy J tells the story of the city state of Judoh, one of seven cities managed by a high tech cadre known as the Celestials. In the future, war and other largescale conflicts between nation states have been eliminated by careful management of high tech human societies. Judoh and the other city states have all the amenities and many of the problems of real world cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Tokyo, or London: pollution, traffic jams, crime, racketeering, and poverty, but the affliction of disease and the threat of open warfare and imperialistic aggression have all been curbed.


Control of technology. The Celestials are the only human group with the know-how to maintain the machinery and sophisticated computer architecture that allows Judoh and the other six city states to continue to function. The know-how to build firearms, armored vehicles, mechs, nuclear missiles and other weapons of mass destruction has been excised from public knowledge.

Some people opt out of this system. Outside the boundaries of Judoh is the wilderness of Sieberbia, where people go to live in seemingly Edenic tribal bliss, growing their own organic food, living in open air huts, and dressing like San from Princess Mononoke. Others live in the subterranean Underworld of the city state, a kind of managed zone of illegality where people in the know go to cut loose, deal in contraband technologies, and operate businesses outside of the offical tax structure.

But, as is almost always the case in anime, all is not well in the perfectly engineered future. War has been eliminated, but human desire has not. And human desire for greater power and control over fellow humans still exists.

Heat Guy J starts out as a conventional episodic police procedural in a sci-fi setting: brash young hero-cop Daisuke Aurora and his hulking android partner J. battle the mafia, led by the psychotic Clair Leonelli. Clair has inherited the leadership post known as "Vampire" for the Vita Corporation, which is the respectable, tax-filing face of the Leonelli mob. Clair has inherited the position from his newly-deceased father. He shows up at dad's funeral with a grenade, and the intent to hurl it in after his father's coffin, in lieu of flowers I suppose.

Daisuke and J, along with their office manager Kyoko, form the Special Services Bureau, a kind of anti-organzied crime task force under the direction of Shun Aurora, Daisuke's brother. Daisuke is in his early twenties and is the classic hotshot cop. J is a towering, Gigantor-like robot who acts both as Daisuke's protector and as the young man's conscience. J is constantly spouting pre-programed axiomatic statements relating to the nature of manhood, duty, and justice, however, as the series goes on, it seems that his AI begins to pick up on things and formulate standards of ethical behavior on his own. Kyoko is mostly stuck in the office, but her verbal sparring with Daisuke provides humor and counterpoint to Daisuke's playboy nature. Later, Daisuke and J meet Kyoko's unusual family . . .

One of the amusing elements of the series is how it plays with cop show conventions. Daisuke is cast as a kind of hotshot cop, and yet he is only allowed three bullets for his gun on any given assignment. And he has to ask permission in advance from office manager Kyoko, who is the only one with access to the combination safe where the bullets are stored. Sometimes, he doesn't have any bullets. This forces him to rely on the superhuman speed and strength of J., but even then the problems they face aren't necessarily resolvable through brute force.

Almost all of the characters in the course of the series reveal something unexpected in their natures and this in turn illuminates some complex facet of the fictional world they inhabit. Daisuke's constant wrangling with Kyoko over ammunition ties into the dilemma of illegal arms smuggling in Judoh: who's bringing in the weapons? how are they being manufactured? Why? Daisuke's high tech gun also has various kinds of high tech ammo: stun rounds, high explosive rounds, traditional ballistics, etc. Is the solution to crime to let the hero bring heavier artillery to bear on the perps, or is it a matter of eliminating the presence of deadly weapons altogether? Is it possible to wholly eliminate arms in human society? What about self-defense? If you are being threatened what is the appropriate amount of force to bring to bear in self-defense? How does technological innovation tie into all this?

The notions of defense, control, and technology on both an individual and societal level permeate the series as it shifts gears from cop show situations to the larger world-political situation in which the cop show elements are but one piece of the puzzle.

What's life like in other city states? This question is addressed in part by the character of Boma, a fearsome, lycanthropic swordsman who shows up as a kind of sword for hire in the Underworld. In other nation states, criminals are punished with genetic tampering which causes them to grow animal heads and exhibit feral qualities. Is this what's happened to Boma? Boma's situation and the revelations surrounding his character make for one of the most interesting developments in this series.

Other important supporting characters include hard-boiled homicide detective Edmundo, who seems like an anime version of Columbo; Dr. Bellucci, the beautiful roboticist who helps maintain J in working order; Monica a ten-year old street urchin who takes pictures of tourists and whose best friend is a donkey named Parsley; and the prostitutes Cynthia, Janis, and Vivian, whom Daisuke hangs out with for information gathering purposes much to Kyoko's consternation . . .

The characters, major, minor, supporting, are all interesting and have simple, but memorable designs. In many ways, Heat Guy J could be interpreted as a reincarnation of Escaflowne, and this would not be too far off. Kazuki Akane was involved with Escaflowne as was character designer Nobuteru Yuuki. Fans of Escaflowne, such as myself, might also be intrigued by many of the parallels between the two series. On the surface, Heat Guy J is a kind of high tech cop show, and Escaflowne is a high fantasy swords and sorcery type deal, but both series deal with the complexities of human conflict and schemes of control and oppression in intriguing ways.

Highly recommended.

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