Mania Grade: B+
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: A
- Packaging Rating: B+
- Menus Rating: B+
- Extras Rating: A
- 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 Kenneth Lee
February 06, 2002
Release Date: October 31, 2000
One of the biggest sleeper hits of the year is Pioneer's new anime series, Black Heaven. Suffice to say that there was very little marketing done on this title; the only reason this reviewer found out anything about it was due to mention of it by Nakazawa-san, the lead artist, at last year's Anime Expo 2000. Originally released in Japan as "Kachou Ouji" ("Section Chief Ouji"), this is proven to be one of the most refreshing anime series to come out of Japan in the last year.
The audio is solid 2.0 Dolby Stereo, nothing special, but very satisfying. Since this show places a lot of emphasis on music, solid mastering is important, and that comes across perfectly. The guitar riffs and just acoustics in general come through splendidly, as does the spoken dialog on the original Japanese 2.0 audio track.
The video transfer is just flat-out gorgeous: solid, clean, without any artifacting or rainbowing. This is the advantage of the show going digital (meaning it was done all on the computer without any cels), with sharp vibrant colors, and just a crisp, clean transfer. This ranks right up there with ADV's Gasaraki DVD. It's just beautiful.
The packaging deserves special mention: Pioneer uses the special "Chromium Covers" just like their Trigun DVDs (available only with the 1st pressing of the DVD), and it proves to be stunning. The cover art is the most important aspect, with a very vivid, eye-catching, painted style that has more in common with western fantasy artists like Frazetta than traditional anime art, which is actually very cool and fitting.
The DVD Menus from Pioneer continue to rock: Beautiful, animated, effective, and with one of the most bad-ass music tracks from Black Heaven running in the background.
This first DVD contains the textless Opening and Ending songs which is sweet, and you get an Art Gallery (always nice to have). Very solid Extras for the first disc.
As Chris and other reviewers have mentioned before, Black Heaven is about Oji Tanaka, a 30-something year-old Japanese salaryman, stuck in his daily rut of work and routine. He has a family and responsibilities outside of himself. Through the course of the first episode, we find out that Oji is one of the most down-trodden, worn-out, main protagonists ever to grace an anime series... until he meets up with Layla Yuki, a beautiful new office assistant.
We find out that he used to be known as "Gabrielle" Tanaka, lead singer / guitar player for a short-lived, ultra-popular heavy metal band called "Black Heaven." He was a legend that basically settled down and lived the "family life," getting married and having a kid.
On the surface, this may sound like one of the most boring anime to come out in a long time, but that background merely serves as the perfect foil for what Tanaka will become: Layla claims that she used to listen to him playing with Black Heaven long ago, and that she wants to "take him to heaven." Oji, a tired, worn-out man, decides to give in to this "affair," only to then be transported to a giant stage with his legendary Flying V electric guitar waiting for him. She asks him to play, and voila!, the magic comes back. He begins jamming on his guitar and life begins running through his veins again. Oji is reborn.
From here we find out that Oji produces a special "sound" that can enable this alien race (that Layla is part of) to overpower their enemies and wipe them out. Sure there are shades of Macross in there, but the execution is different enough to make it interesting.
It's rather hard to convey in words what "Black Heaven" is all about. Suffice to say that the animation quality is rather standard, with nothing special. There are some CG effects (lasers, smooth panning of still frames) that have put off some people watching this series. Yet, for me, that was besides the point. The character designs are wonderful, and more importantly, Black Heaven is about mood and feeling. "Nostalgia" is probably the best word to describe Black Heaven. The music and pacing and direction complement this perfectly. It's about finding one's way again, in a modern day society that has the same old routine / rut that we are a part of.
One of the best highlights is the original Japanese voice cast. The main hero, Oji, is voiced by none other than Kouji Ishii, the indomitable voice of Fujisawa-sensei (Mr. Fujisawa) in El Hazard! I keep waiting for him to scream out "FUJISAWA KICK !!!" at some point in this anime.
In addition, the music is probably the highlight of Black Heaven. It features some classic '80's and early '90's heavy metal-style guitar music, with the opening song, "Cautionary Warning" composed and sung by John Sykes of Whitesnake fame. But don't let this be a turnoff, as the music is very catchy and is actually what many anime songs are based off of (e.g., most of Bubblegum Crisis' songs are inspired from '80's rock). In addition there are many nice mellow pieces of guitar music as well.
It's really refreshing to see an anime series that isn't set in some high school, but rather it deals with some very human and down-to-earth problems (of family, and life in general). Of course, one thing also is that this is a comedy as well (although it may not sound like it). The comedy is deftly handled, and even the "Previews" of the coming Episodes are done phenomenally: They had the "three space girls" (comedy relief characters in the show) ad-lib them! The results are on the same scale as Cowboy Bebop's Previews (Japanese track), where you get some hilarious, cute, funny, spontaneous lines delivered. All-in-all, Black Heaven is a wonderful anime series that anyone looking for a light-hearted, fun, and refreshing experience should buy.
Pioneer DV-606D (Code Free) DVD Player, Mitsubishi CS-3503R 35" TV, Yamaha RX-V2095 DD / DTS Receiver, MIT S-Video cable, KEF C85 Front speakers, B&W Center, Infinity Rear speakers, and NHT Subwoofer.