Mania Grade: A-
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- Audio Rating: A-
- Video Rating: A
- Packaging Rating: B+
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: B
- Age Rating: 12 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
- MSRP: 29.98
- Running time: 100
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Black Heaven
Black Heaven Vol. #1
By David Owens
February 06, 2002
Release Date: October 31, 2000
Black Heaven sort of sprang up out of nowhere, at least as far as I can tell. I heard very little about it, except that people seemed to hate the preview that Pioneer had served up a few months ago. Then, I heard that the preview was just the opening animation and wasn't indicative of the series, and that the music was done by John Sykes. Okay. So I was significantly confused: was it good or bad? What the heck was going on? After the initial reports came in, they seemed pretty good, so I took a chance and purchased the DVD.
This seemed like a leap of faith at first, honestly, because the cover for it is pretty...weird. It's a nice cover, with a little foil insert hidden in it (similar to the Trigun covers) but it looks rather bizarre, and is very dark. Get over that, though, because the DVD is totally worth every penny.
Popping the disc in, I was pretty surprised at the music on the main menu. Whoa! Guitars! Heavy metal-sounding guitars! This was about the weirdest thing I ever expected, so much that I almost thought I'd accidentally put in Heavy Metal. Aha! Just kidding, but it was pretty cool for a guy who grew up with '80's metal and hard rock like Whitesnake and Scorpions and stuff (and just wait till I get onto that topic!). The menu isn't really flashy or anything, but it's serviceable and quick-responding. No major complaints here about it: it gets the job done.
The extras are nice, overall. Basically, it's just a creditless opening and ending theme (both of which are pretty interesting contrasts to music), and a conceptual art gallery of 40 line-art drawings of the characters. Nothing major in the conceptual art, but it's kind of neat (and useful for figuring out which of the three "bobsy triplets" are which).
The sound and music on Black Heaven is awesome! I don't know if John Sykes wrote just the opening theme, "Cautionary Warning", or if he helped out with the entire score for the series, but it's really good music. Many of the instrumentals are built off of the main theme, but there's also some very cool pieces played on classical guitar (such as the "emotional piece" which pops up, usually when Oji has a heart-to-heart with his wife). Overall, I really like the music in Black Heaven!
The video quality, you ask? Mwahahah! Sweet sweet sweet! Ranking right up with
Gasaraki and Dual, Black Heaven has incredibly good video quality, with sharp, sharp lines and perfect colors. There are only the slightest bits of problems floating through, but they didn't even begin to put a dent in the overall quality of the video. If companies keep spoiling us with great video like this, I'm going to find it painful to re-watch some of my older DVDs...
The story of Black Heaven has been touched on in a few places, but there's not a lot of info about it, so I guess I'll give a basic plot synopsis for once: Black Heaven is about a 9-to-5'er named Oji, formerly known as Gabriel of the band Black Heaven. He was their guitarist, back in the "glory days", and he loved his music. His idol? None other than '80's guitar god, Michael Schenker. But now, he's in the humdrum life of an office manager, or "assistant section head" as they somewhat bizarrely call him, and he longs for his glory days once again.
Can you say "midlife crisis"? That's what it amounts to, but it's the best midlife crisis I've seen in a while. Oji is joined at work by a fairly hot new co-worker, one Miss Leila Yuuki, who seemingly has the hots for him since his previous life as guitar virtuoso. Oji has to put up with a frumpy-but-cute wife who is constantly throwing out his stuff (including his favorite Gibson Flying V guitar), and his kid, Gen, who happens to think that autographed Michael Schenker albums look like great spaceships! (Well, Schenker was in UFO, so...)
Eventually, we find out that Miss Yuuki is a little bit more than she seems (go
figure), and those three whacked out girls doing calisthenics outside his home are more than they seem (and that's a miracle). Black Heaven has a good mixture of comedy, lightheartedness, and actual themes too, especially for some of us older folks. Oji's wife begins to worry about him cheating on her because she doesn't respect his hobby of music, Oji goes about his midlife crisis yearning to play guitar again, Yuuki proves that groupies can be found pretty much anywhere, and Kotoko, Eriko and Rinko prove that tabloids are really, really dangerous.
What more could you want?
As for the English dub cast, it's not bad. Wendee Lee would seem to be Oji's wife, and Oji himself is voiced by Jet Black's VA (whose name eludes me right now), which isn't a bad choice since he does sound significantly older than the standard anime VA with a voice of a twenty-year-old. Both of them put in good performances, especially during the emotional segments. The bobsy triplets of Kotoko, Eriko and Rinko are voiced by, respectively, Lia Sargent (Akari from Battle Athletes Victory), Sherry Lynn (Sasami from Tenchi Muyo), and Reba West (Minmei from Robotech). Whoever decided to put these three together did a pretty good job, cause they make damn good airheads, especially when they get a hold of a copy of a cheesy tabloid. All in all, the dubbing is pretty good overall.
If you're about twenty-five or older and like reminders of your cheesy teenage years, this may be a good series for you. Even if you're not, Black Heaven has a lot of good elements, and seems a little more fresh than some series lately, so it might even be well-liked by everyone in general. I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest of this series, and not just so I can see just how many Michael Schenker plugs they get in. ;)
Pioneer Elite 610 HDTV, Pioneer DV-434 Prog-Scan DVD, Pioneer VSX-D509S DD/DTS Receiver, Pioneer ISO-drive speaker setup, Monster component cables