Black Heaven Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2000
Release Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2000
What They Say
Far, faraway, back in the era of dreams...
We once burned as brightly as the sun.
Life can crush your dreams. Oji is a middle-management drone whose only grip on sanity in the drudgery of his corporate lifestyle, are the few shreds of hope surrounding his past life as the amazing guitarist of Black Heaven, a heavy metal band that almost made it. In his bleakest moment, the magic of performing is restored to him when a beautiful mysterious woman informs him that only his special sound can save the universe from an evil alien invasion.
Like most people, I tend to let trailers do their job of giving me some kind of glimpse or inkling of what a show is about. Trailers can sometimes be nothing more than text just giving you a tease of what's in store. Others practically spell it out.
The trailer for Black Heaven, which also doubles for the opening sequence of the show, does this but in a way that has let many people think of the show as substandard and probably very very bad. After all, it's the anime variant of rotoscoping a live concert sequence and some models on a walkway.
I mean, what are we meant to think? Well, after watching the show itself, the trailer does sell the one thing that is key to the series; the music.
The English and Japanese tracks provided on this disc are quite good and have no real issues at all. The dialogue for both is clean and undistorted, and thankfully the English track avoids sounding hollow. The music comes across very good and very detailed, though not as warm as one would hope for. But then again, the music focuses more on the heavy metal side, so warm isn't exactly a term often used with that genre.
This is an absolutely gorgeous transfer. Pioneer's really pulled another great looking disc out of their bag of tricks. Again, having had my view of the show already colored by the trailer and then the half resolution VHS preview copy I got a month ago, I was really startled by how great this looks. Color definition is spot on with no visible bleeding from oversaturation. Jaggies and line noise seem almost non-existent and the accursed rainbows are nowhere to be seen. If only everything could look this good!
I can really see the cover art that was used as being a cross-over appeal piece for the music crowd to draw them in. A lot of Suncoasts, at least in my area, have music video DVD's next to anime. Seeing something like this, the tattooed wild-eyed angelic rocker with a guitar strapped across his chest, will definitely catch their eye. And with first pressing runs having the shiny chromium insert, it'll cause them to do a double take. The back cover contains a brief synopsis of the show, gives a few shots of the animation itself and lists all the features. Overall, a very well put together package and yet another in a string of releases that don't conform to what we've been seeing for so many years. Kudos on that alone.
The folks at Nightjar return again for another Pioneer series, which means we get some pretty shiny looking menus with excellent sound that are also very functional. The only real downside to the menus was in the extras submenu where it gets difficult at times to be sure what selection you're about to select. Access times are very quick throughout though, which is always a big plus.
Always a big plus for me is creditless openings and ending sequences, both of which are supplied here and look great. Of course, having now seen Bandai's take on these by providing romaji and English optional subtitles, I hope more companies follow their lead. There's also a solid conceptual art gallery containing 40 pieces.
Black Heaven's concept seems to take a lot of inspiration from a variety of other sources. Depending on your upbringing and your views, you can see some Heavy Metal, Macross and some of the more lighthearted anime comedies of recent years.
The story focuses around Oji Tanaka, a mid to late 30's husband and father. We're introduced to him as he prepares for his job with him providing the narration. At the end of it, as he's brushing his teeth, he talks about how he's basically just a nameless cog in the life. You basically expect to not know his name.
"Oji, take out the trash when you leave!" yells his wife from the bedroom.
That's where you can really read into things. Yes, with just that line. Though barely into the introductions, Oji tells you what most of his life up to this point has been in a few scant lines. He's just another salaryman with a family trying to scrape by. He's nobody, not even a name.
But his name gets called out and his life is about to change. And boy does it. There's some new people in the town that seem to be keeping an eye on him, though he's oblivious to it. And a new assistant at his office seems to be really into him, though he's again oblivious to it. At least until he's stinking drunk later that night.
Layla Yuki reveals that she knows of his past as a member of the heavy metal band that almost made it big, Black Heaven. She offers him a chance to recapture heaven, and being as drunk as he is, follows her back to her place. But her door doesn't lead to an apartment but rather a portal to the starship she serves on. When there, he's directed towards a long stairway where a guitar rests.
And he plays like he hasn't in years. The salaryman is gone and the musician comes pouring out from his place. Though he's been told that he's being used to help fight a war in space, he's oblivious to that as well. All he focuses on is the music he's making and the feeling that it gives him.
The following episodes follow a similar pattern, with Layla and her assistants bringing Oji back to the ship to help fight the battles. Throughout the show little is actually revealed about how is music is helping them fight the faceless enemy off though.
The main focus of these early episodes is more on Oji's life of near mediocrity and how he deals with it. Once he starts getting a taste of his past though, his daily interactions with others begin to change. His wife, who you initially don't care much for, begins to get fleshed out more as does their son. His seeming resentment early on turns into an interest in his family and their lives.
The animation for the show in general is very good, though a bit on the slim side of things as it was a late night series I believe. There's a few scenes, such as early on with one of the buses pulling up, that looks really out of place with the CG and animation mix. The digital panning of the camera and some of the fake feeling layering of characters and backgrounds may throw some people off as well.
Black Heaven so far isn't much of a breakout show, but as Mike Toole of Anime Jump noted, it's so rare to have a show with the lead character being in his 30's and not a pretty boy teen, it's definitely got some alluring qualities to it. And there's also the draw of John Sykes providing some music and many references to LP's and 80's band styles that the older fan will have an eerie sense of deja vu.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Non-Credit Opening,Non-Credit Ending,Conceptual Art Gallery (40)
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B
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.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Black Heaven