Movie: Cop buddy shows are a staple form of entertainment in movies and television series (they have been for decades) so it should come as no surprise that Pioneer would take a promising anime series from Japan, Heat Guy J, and bring it to the American market. I haven't seen nearly enough of Pioneer's releases lately so I was hoping this would live up to the marketing hype.
The series is set in the future, a future where gasoline powered vehicles have been outlawed, along with a great many other things, for environmental reasons. The concept of countries is now obsolete and the setting here is a city-state of Judoh. Times are tough and the local police operate with a great many constraints, including budgetary limitations that make recent money crunches pale in comparison. The series concentrates on a specialized group of police, a three officer unit at that, which handles future crimes. It is made up of an administrator, Kyoko, the primary detective, Daisuke, who is considered a young upstart by the regular crime detectives, and J, a machine with highly evolved abilities that are used to assist in any way possible.
Episode 1: Guy:
The show started off with the funeral of an important mob boss, Vampire, who's son, Claire Leoneli, is a bit of a psychopath. While Claire is the natural successor to the throne, other gangsters may decide to fill in the vacuum so the team watches them closely. At the same time, other criminal elements hope to eliminate J, the main threat to any criminal enterprise in the city.
Episode 2: War:
Claire's credentials as a nut is even more firmly established and rival gangs decide to kill him and his crime family to gain more power.Daisuke (called "Dice" by those who know him) and J fight some surgically altered criminals who also have enhanced powers that attempt to kill him, destroy J, and blow up the city.
Episode 3: Bomb:
The city is terrorized by a serial bomber who indiscriminately blows up buildings in the city, killing and wounding many people. Dice works on some hunches while his counterparts on the regular police force attempt to figure out a pattern. It's made clear that the usual rivalry between them needs to be put aside in order to collaborate and solve the case.
Episode 4: Chaos:
The Werewolf Boma, a skilled and enhanced, assassin is out to kill J. Dice attempts to save his partner in a turnabout of the usual course of events (J is typically saving Dice from harm). A strong theme of the preferability of unpredictability over certainty emerges from each of the leads here.
I liked this one a lot. Each episode could be viewed by itself or as part of a greater whole, which is not the case in many other anime series. The story was also slightly different with each language and the combination of anime styles (traditional and CGI) made this look as impressive as it's anamorphic picture would allow. The voice acting was solid and the stories above average too.
I had thought this was going to be centered solely on the android, J, and found that while he was an important part of the show, the central character of Dice made it more interesting on repeated viewings. J seemed to be a combination of the T-800 from the Terminator series, a dash of Inspector Gadget (but thankfully all serious), and the straight guy from every movie you've ever seen. Dice, on the other hand, was footloose and fancy free-following his guesses and working the streets using his multitude of contacts and informants to assist his hunches.
I'm rating this one as Highly Recommended because so much care was obviously put into every episode and the whole show shined because of it. It had enough to appeal to the sci-fi buffs with all the futuristic technology, the fans of comedy with the interplay between the characters, and to the fans of cop & robber shows by virtue of the basic premise (strip away all the trimmings and it's a cop show, pure and simple). Good job!
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen with a ratio of 1.78:1. It looked very well made and the dvd transfer was very solid with no artifacts or major problems. In a couple of scenes, there was a touch of minor noise in one scene but nothing to fret about.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either Dolby Digital English or Japanese with optional English subtitles. Both tracks had their own appeal and I really didn't favor either one of them. They were crisp and clear with no problems (I even tried them with the headphones on and thought the separation was well done).
Extras: There were a few trailers and a paper insert, that's all. If you really want extras, the limited edition release is said to have plenty but that wasn't provided to me so I can't comment intelligently on it.
Final Thoughts: I wish there were more extras on the basic edition-I'm not a fan of the dual releases so many anime companies are making these days. It's one thing to provide a box and t-shirt in a special edition but I hear the other extras were pretty cool and not getting to see them is a pain. Otherwise, the dvd looks and sounds good, and has a lot to offer anime fans. I look forward to seeing more of this series in the future.
Related note: There is also a CD soundtrack for the series, Heatguy J: Original Soundtrack: Burn. I lucked out and got ahold of a copy to add to this review. It struck me as a very original release with 20 tracks over nearly a full hour of music. Most of the music fit a certain tech-noir theme (think of it as classic retro with a twist of modern synth-pop). Big fans of the show will want to invest in a copy as it was solid on it's own merits, unlike so many other anime soundtracks these days. My biggest complaint is that a number of the cuts here could've been fleshed out a bit more but it was good as released. The paper insert discussed the group, Tryforce, that made most of the music, a bit about the show, and the lyrics for the one song that wasn't simply a scored piece.