Anime Theater: Heat Guy J

Believe it or not, most of these people are male. And one of them is an android! I know, crazy, right?

We are all familiar with the concept of the “Buddy Cop Show”. Typically, a young buck of a detective, usually with potential yet-unfulfilled is partnered with a gruff veteran whose patience and experience serve to keep the young’n in check, and eventually make him better at his job. Over time, the youngster will come to look up to the veteran as a symbol of what he wants to be, and may even adopt him as a father figure. As for the vet, he’s probably weary from all his years of service, but his time with his partner will re-ignite the spark of passion he once had for his job, and both will eventually part as equals.

The reason I start this review with this description is because Heat Guy J is, essentially, a “B.C.S.”, with alot of the tropes associated with said genre. Oh, except the vet is a tall, trenchcoated android and the whole thing takes place in a futuristic city. Despite the cynicism oozing from the above paragraph, Heat Guy J stands as a sterling example of how a combination of good writing, high production values, and well-developed and likeable characters can make even the most stale premise great.

                                                       Heating Up

We find ourselves in the quasi-futuristic city of Judoh. It is a world of  tomorrow, where gasoline is no longer in use, bikes can turn into boats and the ability to create artificial humans is commonplace, though outlawed. But it is also a city of crime, for all intents and purposes ruled by corrupt politicians and powerful mafia gangs.

Enter Daisuke “Dice” Aurora, investigator and pretty-boy extroirdinaire, and principal member of the very small “Special Division” of the Bureau of Urban Safety. Headed by Daisuke’s older brother Shun Aurora, the Special Division’s job is to investigate any signs of potential crimes before they can happen; in other words, they are city funded detectives. Among the other two members of the division is Kyoko Milchan, a pink haired young woman who acts as liaison to the rest of the Bureau and supplies Daisuke with the tools he needs to do his job, not to mention constantly strives to keep him in line.

The last and most interesting member of the division is the tall, trenchcoated android known simply as J. Despite Judoh’s strict ban on androids, Shun managed to convince the higher ups to allow a civilian-built android to work for the division as a sort of experiment. J is unique among his peers in that he has been encoded with moral and ethical guidelines, as well as the typical information database all androids have. This allows the sets to clash and therefore makes him more human. Despite this, he is still an android at heart, and cannot always see the more abstract human side of a situation, which is why he needs a partner he is compatible with, one who can spark that conflict between his “brain and his heart” so to speak, and that’s where Daisuke comes in.

J is not just an effective investigator, though. His physical abilities are vast, being able to punch through solid steel, sprint up buildings(despite his hulking size) and jump several stories and land without damage. After any fight, though, his body heats up considerably and he must expel the excess in the form of two vents that come from his shoulders. These vents make a howling sound, and also lend him his nickname: “The Heat Guy”.

But as mentioned above, the city is ruled by numerous mafia gangs. At all times, the head of one of the families acts as leader of the bunch, an “Over-Don” if you will, and carries the title of “Vampire” (just a title, which I suspect refers to the ritual of ascending to the position that involves drinking from a chalice that has drops of blood from all the other Dons). The former Vampire, who was also the head of the Leonelli family, passed on recently, leaving a vacancy that is to be filled by his intelligent, ambitious, and spectacularly mentally unbalanced son Clair. Clair also has a strong dislike for robots, and can’t help but get particularly annoyed when a certain android keeps interfering with his plans.

Outside of the division, there is a motley collection of other characters Dice interacts with, including Detective Ken Edmundo, a competent but surly investigator who has no small dislike for Dice and his little group, seeing them as kids who interfere with his job. Shun Aurora, Daisuke’s unsettlingly pretty older brother and the head of the Special Division, who is constantly trying to handle the politicians who oppose them. Antonia Belluci, the brilliant scientist who created J and is more than a little attached to her creation, being constantly exasperated by the danger Daisuke gets him in to. And Monica Gabriel, a little girl photographer who isn’t as sweet as she appears and supplies Dice with any information she gets (for a price). 

There’s also Shogun, an old man who owns a shop Daisuke frequents and who seems to know almost everything going on in the city. Boma, a proffesional killer with a wolf’s head (it makes sense in context) that he hides with a hologram of a face, who is desperately searching for his sister Bunny. And finally there’s the mysterious Serge Echigo, a man who little is known about but who casts a long shadow over the crime in the city, and whom even the mafia leaders are terrified of.

                                                        Hot Bods

On the technical side, Heat Guy J is a wonderful looking show. The color palette is pleasing and the animation is smooth, particularly during fight scenes: characters will run, jump, punch, swing, shoot, dodge, glide, fly and cut in gloriously smooth motion. This was obviously a high budget production. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is a slight framerate glitch when the show introduces any CG into a primarily hand drawn scene. For instance, some particularly “smash-bang” situations will end with J’s outer skin burned off, revealing the mechanized body underneath. He looks good, and animates well usually, but there were times in wide shots where his movements became slightly jerky. There are other examples (Daisuke’s bike comes to mind), but all in all the CG is just as well done as the traditional animation, and doesn’t detract from the high budget feel of the show.

 Artwork, on the other hand, is kind of weird. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing particularly wrong with the art style. But some characters seem like they belong in different shows. J is a fairly masculine design, and Daisuke never was too pretty to not buy him being a detective used to scraping in alleys with criminals and the like. And most supporting males, like Edmundo and Boma (slightly less on that second one) look like pretty standard anime guys. But on the other hand, you have Clair, who with his button-down shirt, multicolored hair, tight pants and lip ring looks like he accidentally stepped out of a yaoi into the wrong show.

Clair wonders why the "Punk-Abercrombie and Fitch" look isn't working for him.

Shun, as mentioned above, is disturbingly feminine looking, greatly resembling Sir Integra from the manga and anime Hellsing. The problem is not that he is overly girly looking, I am an avid anime wacher and have come to accept this as a side effect of the form, but look at hime! He’s just so disproportionately pretty when compared to the rest of the cast.

He's a dude! With a penis!

Meanwhile, actual female characters are kind of strange. The prostitutes that Dice sometimes consults for information (yes, they are very obviously prostitutes, and yet since the show is light on the sexual angle, they act more like girls with crushes on Daisuke than seductive women of the evening) look kind of manish in some shots, while other girls are perfectly cute looking. Main female character Kyoko looks alright, save for her weirdly large nose. Still, it’s not a bad art style, and it doesn’t detract from the show, it’s just occasionally distracting.

                               “He said “Hey! Boy! Looking for your soul?”

What really stands above and beyond in terms of quality is the music. As opposed to the typical noir-ish jazz stuff you would usually find in this kind of show (nothing wrong with that kind of music, of course), Heat Guy J has easily one of the most unique soundtracks I’ve seen in my time with anime. The whole soundtrack is a weird mix of electric guitars, drums, and of all things, bagpipes. Yes. Bagpipes. And the weirder thing is it totally works.

The theme that kicks in whenever J is about to kick ass never ceases to be awesome, with it’s strong lead in and epic pressure. 

While on the villains side you have “Tribe”, which is basically the theme to scheming evil, and with it’s heavy beat and use of the pipes, not to mention slight use of lyrics of some sort, make it a strange mix of menace and coolness.

All of the music is like this, and it really lends the show a wonderful personality, far removed from its seemingly stale premise. The opening and closers are also quite good, with opening “Face” by Try Force, despite its ridiculous title and occasionally goofy lyrics (the title of this section is pulled straight from the song), proving itself to be a great, high energy song to start off Daisuke and J’s adventures. This is in no small part thanks to Tokusatsu prince Hironobu Kageyama’s extremely enthusiastic delivery. Seriously, from about 1:10 of the opening on, he sounds like he’s going to blow his lungs out.

On the opposite end, we have “Kokoro no Sukima” by Wyse, the show’s first ending. The song itself is a melancholy little number that, of course, has fuck all to do with the show it is a part of. But there’s something about the somber lyrics and the soulful voice of the lead singer, juxtaposed against the background of the sun slowly setting on the highway as Dice drives on, that really hits you, and it is definitely one of my favorite enders in recent memory. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a high quality video showcasing the ending, but you can see it starting from 2:11 in this video.

The second ender “Hikari”, sung by Kyoko’s seiyuu Saeko Chiba, is pretty enough but lacks the extraordinary nature of the aforementioned pieces, and comes off as slightly generic.

                                           “A Man Never Complains”

After one too many "Are you hungry like the wolf?" jokes, Boma prepares to cut some fools.

A show cannot survive on production value alone, however, and the show would be meaningless if the cast didn’t bolster it the hell up. Luckily, the characters of Heat Guy J are some of the most endearing rogues I have ever seen, and they make the show a joy to watch.

Daisuke, with his blond hair and cocky attitude, could have become nothing more than a generic anime protagonist, but he manages to stay well off the edge of annoying. He is always trying to help anyone he can, regardless of who they are, and is bright and personable. But he is also capable of being exceedingly dark when the situation calls for it, thanks in no small part to issues in his own past. All this is shown grandly by voice acto Steve Staley, who manages to make Daisuke young and likeable but never feeling like he doesn’t belong.

Meanwhile, big brother Shun is terribly aloof, acting only as the guiding hand for the Special Section at first. He always exudes an element of mystery, but does honestly care for the success of his charges. At first Lex Lang is somewhat hit and miss, occassionally making him sound too disconnected, but when Shun’s character develops in some unexpected ways later on, Mr. Lang is more than up to the challenge. Kyoko, on the other hand, is probably the most underdeveloped character in the show. She’s pleasant enough, and has personality to spare, but she just screams “LOVE INTEREST” from the moment she scolds Daisuke, and doesn’t really DO anything (okay, in a few episodes she plays a role, but in the grand scheme…). Still, Kari Wahlgren does her best given the decidedly un-meaty role.

The best character in the show just might be the titular android J. At first, I thought he was going to be a normal “robot-type” character, ignorant of human social customs and contributing little except for occassional comments about how “odd” humans are. Instead, we get some strange fusion of a 50’s dad, a classic detective, and a robot. J was built to react humanly to any situation, but he was also programmed with unique likes and dislikes, and even some personality quirks. Most notably, he has a veritable library of manly morals to shower on Daisuke for any occassion, running from “A man never needs thanks for a job well done” to “A man never complains while working”. He’s always complimentary to women (though not in a creepy way, although it was jarring the first time) and cares very much for his partner. All this is portrayed fantastically by the late, great Bob Papenbrook, who manages to give J the requisite gruff, throaty growl his type demands, but also gives him just that hint of emotion to make him likeable.

As for the supporters, they all do their jobs well. Edmundo is your typical world-weary detective, although he does gain a bit of development in one episode that focuses on him, and as such is perfect for actor Kirk Thornton’s strong but weathered voice. Monica is a brat with an edge, acting sweet when it suits her but not averse to telling people to screw off if they bother her. Sandy Fox, who’s high-pitched voice makes her perfect for these types of roles, fits into the character like a glove. 

As for the more morally questionable cast, we have main villain Clair Leonelli, played with relish by Johnny Yong Bosch. From practically the moment we see him, we know Clair is batshit, as in the first 3 minutes of the first episode, he throws a grenade at his father’s grave while muttering “You loved fireworks, Papa” and cackling insanely. In addition to being psychotic, he isn’t a fighter by any means, but he is smart and utterly fearless, which makes him able to think so far outside the box that he appears to be several states away from said box. Johnny uses a higher pitch to his voice in this show (understandable, since Clair looks about half a vagina away from a woman anyway), which thankfully avoids him sounding like Ichigo from Bleach yet again. Clair actually undergoes quite a bit of character focus, so it’s good that he’s fun to listen to. 

Lastly, we have wolf-headed assassin Boma. Boma is your typical no-nonsense type, caring only about his own goals and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve them. The storyline concerning his sister is actually pretty interesting, and has a few twists, but it suffers since nothing actually happens with it for a good half the series. Also, there is the issue of how he goes about looking for his sister. Wolf head or no, there isn’t a character in existence who can say the phrase “I’m looking for my Bunny” and not sound slightly goofy. Richard Cansino, one of my personaly favorites, manages to give him the distinctly low register and exhausted monotone that the character needs, but thankfully emotes when the time calls for it. As a side-note, I should mention that the character’s dead serious nature is used for one of the funniest gags in the whole series later on, but I won’t spoil it here.

The cast is filled with funny, endearing, entertaining, revolting and loveable characters, and really make the show fun to watch even through it’s mostly episodic first half. When the main story kicks in during the second half, the show fares both better and worse. On the better side, said story takes some decidedly interesting turns, eventually involving the entire cast and the city itself, and it really keeps you guessing till fairly late in the game. In addition, almost every character hits some sort of climax with their personal tales, and most anyone who has been on the fringe of the story plays some role. Seeing how all the characters we’ve met and loved fit together is really satisfying.

On the bad side, there are a few major plot points that just kind of happen. In the universe of this show, technology is controlled by these beings called “Celestials”. This is how technology and electricity are plentiful despite the city not having any particularly present energy infrastructure. Said beings travel to all the cities of the world, and judge them to see if they are worthy of continuing to enjoy these benefits.

This in itself is a pretty interesting idea, but it leads to one of the most confusingly underutilized plotlines in the series. The connection Daisuke and Shun have to these people is a big deal, but said connection is kind of just forgotten until about 10 episodes later, just before the story kicks into high gear. Granted, said usage of that plot point pretty much effects the story of the whole series, but it just feels kind of weird how we are given so little information about the background of these semi-mystical beings, and therefore they feel like a cheap plot device. Also, the ending, although acceptable, feels kind of rushed. The story climaxes, and we get a barebones aftermath featuring a few of the survivors, end credits. It’s not a bad one, it just kind of comes and goes.

                                                 “You don’t be afraid”

Ironically, Heat Guy J is mostly remembered for, well, how little it’s remembered. Geneon payed a buttload of money to bring the show over here back in the day, about as much as Funimation did for Fullmetal Alchemist. Unfortunately, whereas the latter took off and became a smash hit in the states, Heat Guy J didn’t even show on most radars, and sold next to nothing, leading to it being fairly unknown in these parts.

Which is a real shame, because it really is a wonderful little gem of a show. It’s production values make it a thrill to look at and even more of one to listen to. The American cast all do spectacular jobs, making this one of the best dubs I’ve ever heard, and the characters that make up the beating heart of the show are some of the most loveable, memorable and just plain awesome rogues I’ve had the pleasure of spending 26 episodes with. Some story issues notwithstanding, Heat Guy J is a deeply enjoyable experience from start to finish, and is a great example of what an anime fan can find if they step off the beaten path, and how great a seemingly stale premise can be if injected with a tremendous amount of heart.

A Burning Soul: 10/10

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