Legend of Black Heaven – Review
What, 10,000 times?! Oh my god, that’s like… being 5,000 times stronger but only twice as much…!
“Hard Rock Saves Space”: There aren’t many animes out there who think that you can win a space-war with anything else but determination and a natural-talented whiny brat of a shounen-hero. Instead this series tries to portray a 40-year-old salesman going back to his early days as hard-rock-musician – to make use of an ultimate weapon. Because the aliens who build that weapon are music-noobs which leaves him being the only one left to save their sorry asses in the war against “The Enemy”.
Original running time: 1999
Plot-Synopsis: Oji Tanaka has a wife, a child and a mundane job as a salary man in Tokyo’s modern society. But life wasn’t dull for him to begin with; 15 years ago, he was known as “Gabriel”, leader of a short-lived heavy metal band called Black Heaven. Oji’s life gets a sudden change in direction when he is invited by a mysterious blonde woman named Layla to pick up his Gibson Flying V and once again display his “legendary” guitar skills, not knowing that his music generates power for a massive weapon in an intergalactic war.
The tragedy of his life was that he wanted to stay young but got old instead. Really, being forty is something to be pitied as far as this series is concerned.
In the last episode Layla says to Tanaka: „It was a long journey – but a short trip.“ And I think that sums up the best and worst parts of this series. Of course when you look at this series the first thing you see is its focus on hard rock and the soundtrack definitely reflects that. But it doesn’t really try to appeal to anyone else but this one music-genre and most of the core-melodies are repeated many times. If you don’t like the music you hear in the first episode I can imagine you won’t like it better having heard it again and again… I really would’ve liked the series to have a more varied soundtrack, not only in terms of music in general but also in terms of the used songs. The BGM used different melodies from time to time but for a plot that focuses on music the soundtrack seems rather limited in its approach to hard-rock. And the limits that are apparent in this regard are what defines the whole series, I’d say.
Another thing that really bugged me while watching was how it went about delivering its message and what the message was. The story was about adults in their 40s having settled down getting back to their wild days as Hard Rock Band but this series didn’t really have much to say about that concept. Basically this series had the rather generic message that one shouldn’t forget ones dreams while getting older. You’d expect a series like that to really get into the mood of Hard Rock and begin to talk about the music history of that genre and normally series or movies that concentrate on a particular music-genre really itch to express their idea of their music not just being music but also a way of life. But there’s nothing deep or pretentious (whatever you like more to call it) about this series treatment of music. Even music in general doesn’t get a very dramatic or artistic presentation with the plot. It treats the aliens that are in need of Tanaka’s music as idiots as far as music is concerned but not only that, their idiocy is used as dramatic exposition for even the most simple music-terms like the difference between a ‘solo’ and a ‘band’. And because of that you seldom get a real sense of passion for the music this series is talking about. I understand that the series tries to appeal to a greater audience than just the Hard Rock fans but this series really makes it seem that it’s more about using music as a sci-fi-weapon instead of music being an art like that. The way this series describes how great playing music is seems so obvious and one-dimensional that there’s no real sense of intimacy with the music of this series. It just sort of is played and the characters like to play that music – and that’s about it.
And the sci-fi-elements are another great problem area of this series because it’s bad. It has this kind of Star-Trek-vibe where people throw around a lot of jargon and numbers which in the end just mean nothing because the context is so vague that the enemy is ‘The Enemy’ and the good aliens are ‘The Space Defenders’ (or whatever). They are at war because… well, it happened before the first episode so the series thinks that it doesn’t need to mention that part. And like that much of what is going on sci-fi-wise is so generic and vague that it might as well be ignored because it doesn’t matter at all. What really matters to this series is Tanaka trying to reconcile his passion for Hard Rock and his family and that slice-of-life-part of this show is really the saving grace of this series because it’s really good.
It’s always good for an anime-series if it chooses to take an adult as main-character. Animes tend to concentrate so often on teenagers that they totally forget that animes really change when the main-characters are older and with that the topics that are now important for that kind of character. Of course that doesn’t mean that having teenagers as main-characters is inherently bad but it’s the rule and with that one gets stuck in a lot of conventional stereotypes while adult characters are often the chance for a breath of fresh air as far as the motives of a series are concerned. And this series has the nice direction that while the main-character is figuring out how to save space with his Hard Rock his wife gets excluded from that whole thing because he keeps it a secret from her. And naturally she feels like he doesn’t want her to be a part of his life. This gives the whole secret-identities-trope a nice twist when keeping your hero-business a secret from everyone means that you begin to exclude this people from your life in general. And what’s also interesting about Tanaka’s journey of finding a happy life is how it all ends with him reuniting his normal life and his life as Hard-Rock-musician. This series doesn’t try to say that one thing is better than the other and therefore doesn’t get too preachy by saying that the Tanako’s daily job is more important or gets too dreamy by saying that his music is more important. With that it really strikes a nice balance of keeping its message plausible and acceptable. But what also keeps it entertaining is its humour.
Many anime-series really rely on stereotypes of jokes, at least I feel that way. It’s really like someone wrote a book of how to make jokes once and animes constantly do them then “by the book” (to make a bad pun out of it). This anime isn’t a masterpiece with its humour but in some moments it really shines with a good joke. And more than with the sci-fi-part of the plot, the slice-of-life-part gets really self-conscious with its humour and many of its mistakes turn into jokes instead. One of the jokes that might be aimed at the sci-fi-side and was a nice reference to that, was the incident of “the Enemy” digging up Watanabe’s corpse and having two characters appear who are parodies of Mulder and Scully from the X-Files with Mulder calculating with his bare eyes the volume of the crater that “the Enemy” made with their technology and finding out that it’s radius is exactly 14,14 meters which is the square root of 2 (of course it’s actually 1,414 and so on but I guess it just shows how absurd the conclusion of “Mulder” is). But it’s a pity that the pop-culture-references were rather rare with exception of the Power-Rangers-series which Gen, Tanaka’s son, followed. This series was made fun of in one scene as Tanaka talks about how the group was about to split up because “Red” liked curry not the way “Yellow” wanted it to cook.
Like that the series concentrated itself most of the time on its comedy and slice-of-life-aspects than its sci-fi-aspects. And that’s where the series has a problem to come together in the end as a coherent story. The sci-fi-scenes really seem like an unnecessary distraction from the slice-of-life-plot even if plotwise the sci-fi-elements help to keep things simple which is necessary because of the short length of the series but in the end it doesn’t help the series to tell a really good story. Add to that the rather lackluster approach to its music-tropes and the series seems far too short to make use of all its good ideas.
Legend of a Black Heaven is one of these series that are fun to watch but don’t try to impress its viewers with anything extraordinary. If you’re a fan of Hard Rock and Animes you definitely should check it out. The rest should think twice about it because while sometimes quite funny the series is neither deep nor very dedicated to keeping the viewer in the loop with the sci-fi-stuff. But its interesting aspects outweigh its mistakes and with that the series should surely deliver a bit of good-natured short-lived fun.