When watching anime, it’s always amazing to me how many Western concepts find their way into a Japanese medium, given a twist, and emerge as something wholly new. Heroic Age is a perfect example, as it borrows concepts, terminology, and character names from Greek Mythology to make, of all things, a space opera. Many episodes open with a prologue that sounds like it is straight from myth, telling the tale of the Golden Tribe, godlike beings who ruled the heavens, soon to be joined by the human-like Silver Tribe who are gifted with mental powers, the insectoid Tribe of Bronze, and the bestial Heroic Tribe. Only as the Golden Tribe is ready to leave the galaxy does a new tribe receive their blessing: The upstart Iron Tribe, also known as us pesky humans.
As the series opens we find that this is cause for conflict. The Silver Tribe, seeing themselves as the inheritors of the Tribe of Gold, have hunted humans to near extinction and driven them off of Earth, seeing them as a threat. The Bronze Tribe acts as the Silver’s enforcement arm, with endless hordes of space-faring giant insects acting as their warriors. The Heroic Tribe seems to be absent, but as the series moves on we find that they were so powerful and violent that only the Golden Tribe could contain their fury. The five that still exist have been bound to members of the other races, only one of them human, a seemingly naive boy named Age who lives all alone on the ruined planet Oron.
It is here that the spaceship led by the human Princess Dhianeila, herself a psychic, finds Age after leaving the established and safe starways. All uncertainty about Age’s identity is put to rest as the Bronze Tribe attacks and he protects them, transforming himself into the Nodos (or Heroic Tribe member) called Bellcross. Looking something like a huge organic mecha, Bellcross is able to defeat the hordes and save Dhianeila’s ship, the Argonaut. Thus Age is proclaimed as humanity’s savior, the one who will complete his twelve labors (any of this sound familiar?) and help mankind achieve its destiny.
Of course, it’s not easy. After all, the Silver Tribe has four other Nodos beholden to it, each with labors of their own. (Sadly, the dubbed version translates ‘labor’ to ‘agreement’ which loses some of the mythic flavor.) But as the appearance of Age draws them out into the open, he also provides humanity with hope. Unfortunately he also gives Dhianeila’s power-hungry brothers, Meleagros and Atalantes an excuse to go on a truly myopic rampage with Age in the forefront, all in the name of conquest. This is the one point where the plot of Heroic Age breaks down, as the brothers’ characterization strains believability to its core. I have a hard time believing that anyone would follow such leaders when it is obvious to all that their actions as commanders will cost thousands, if not millions, of lives and cause unthinkable destruction. Luckily, the rest of the cast, like Dhianeila’s shipmates as well as the Silver Tribe and their Nodos servants, are much more believable and act according to much more realistic motivations. Age himself acts as the perfect idiot savant, acting uncultured and uneducated but showing incredible loyalty and wisdom.
But the conflicts the princes rush to join, indeed instigate, do serve to provide some truly epic space battles, in every sense of the word. Anime excels at melding computer animation with traditional cel animation, and Japanese studio XEBEC really makes this combination shine in Heroic Age. Many times there is the visual treat of the camera focusing on one spaceship, then panning out to show hundreds, then thousands more. You really get a feel for the vastness of space and the huge scope of the battles, where even planets are affected. This, and the wonderful orchestral score, establish the space opera mood more effectively than anything I’ve watched since Star Wars. The cel animation by itself, while never a distraction, has a hard time matching that level of excitement and seems rather pedestrian by comparison.
I could easily see Heroic Age on any young adult shelf. There is the typical space-opera laser/explosion type of violence, but no blood. It should be a hit with the teen audience as well. Adults may have to take the one glaring plot-hole with a grain of salt and just enjoy immense, well-executed battle scenes. It truly expands the space adventure story to a mythic scale. Which, judging from its inspiration, is possibly the point.
Heroic Age: the complete series
directed by Toshimasa Suzuki
635 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, Season set
Company Age Rating: TV PG