Name of Anime: Heat Guy J
Streaming Site Used: Mystery DVD sale from Crunchyroll
Episodes Previously Seen: 4
I have made a terrible, terrible mistake. I have gazed into the abyss, and the abyss is a boring police procedural starring a blank slate automaton with no character traits. His partner is a robot.
When we last left Heat Guy J …
In a hellish future where robots have been created and then outlawed, blond Bishie-kun is a Pre-crime cop who wanders around his city pretending to be the main character, doing what he feels like and stumbling into crimes while protected by his robot partner, J. The real main character, Vampire, is a complex and dark young man trying to get over the untimely death of his father and the pressure of the expectations left to him (running a brutal crime syndicate with an iron fist). He keeps trying to mess with Bishie-kun and J.
Here’s what happens in these next four terrible episodes:
Vampire abducts a child (who’s also a robot), and this happens:
Next episode, anime teaches us about the 2008 financial crisis:
Another genetically modified catman attack leads to the main characters being covered in feces!
And finally, bro-love:
I’m not going to explain the plot of these episodes any further, because the fiction you construct in your mind about what happens will be unique, interesting, and something that hasn’t been done before.
In other words, nothing like Heat Guy J.
Last week, I talked about how the action sequences were poorly written, framed and animated. Now it’s time I write (or rant) at how Heat Guy J makes a mockery of the procedural.
All modern procedural shows work because they use the procedural format as a ruse to get serialized character work, world-building, or something else across. Without this “marbling” of secondary content, each story has to be emotionally resonant, or engaging, or suspenseful. Heat Guy J is what happens when there are too few ideas to fill the screen time, and the procedure is rote.
There is always a risk with any show based on a formula that that formula will eventually become obvious to the viewer. In Heat Guy J it’s taken four episodes. Every episode consists of a criminal plot which the duo wanders into by way of connection to a b-story. The payoff is people getting punched in the head. The b-story is always thinly written, with every character a stereotype of some form or another. But the biggest problem is that it can’t use these weekly stories to flesh out its world, because the world of Heat Guy J is nonsense. I’m eight episodes into this show, and I know that Vampire has daddy issues, Daisuki has brother issues, and J is a wise, Yoda-like robot. I also know robots are illegal, but have been given no evidence of how hard they are to make, or any other reason why there isn’t a thriving robot black market.
Its seems trivial, but much of the show’s world doesn’t really work when given any sort of scrutiny. Some examples:
There is a massive underground city underneath the real city, a place filled with homeless people and catmen. But people can travel through this area simply by walking up and down some stairs. The law and order consequences of this would be staggering.
Robots are said to be banned, but an old man is capable of customizing his own Pinocchio-esque son (so he can beat the kid up for fun, no less), and the show doesn’t explain that he is some kind of brilliant roboticist with a home lab. It seems like he’s just an old dude.
The “city” is an almost self-sufficient city-state with its own food production and markets, but there’s no effort spent explaining how the city enforces its borders, or deals with any of the needs of trade.
The only interesting aspect of the show’s world is its treatment of firearms. The criminals all have guns. The populace starts circulating cheap pistols in the eighth episode. On the other hand, the police have a use of force system beyond even the actual Japanese one, where Daisuki has to submit a written request for a pistol every time he wants to use one (and provide reasons beyond, “that vampire guy is a psychotic teenager running a crime family like I play Grand Theft Auto“). While this certainly breaks the narrative of the world (the use of force expectations compared to the threat level encountered by the police make no sense), and goes against the central idea (if Daisuki is “above the law” and gets to command a personal fighting robot, who is essentially a weapon more powerful than any firearm, why isn’t he trusted with a pistol?), this is interesting because it reflects a strangely Japanese attitude toward weaponry. Guns, for all intents and purposes, do not meaningfully exist in Japan, and every work of media has to either fetishize them for their absence, or treat them with an appropriate level of rarity. Heat Guy J is the first anime I’ve seen which manages to do both.
In the past I have written that certain animes are “immune” to criticism because they know what they are and they embrace it. Heat Guy J is not immune to criticism. It deserves more criticism than I have the language to meaningfully express. But at some level, what’s the point? Criticism requires a belief: that, at some level, the creators (either those specific creators, or the creators of entertainment in general) can do better, and therefore ought to do better.
Heat Guy J‘s biggest flaw is that it is earnest. It actually thinks this is an entertaining idea. It doesn’t seem to understand what it’s doing wrong. It probably thought it was making a good sci-fi action adventure. When an anime creates a world where the logic of the universe is defined by narrative and moral necessity (Shonen action shows), or where the logic of style is the underlying rule of the work (Kill la Kill, Space Dandy), criticizing world-building or narrative choices often mean that the critic doesn’t “get” the show or where it’s coming from. But there is nothing to “get” about Heat Guy J.
This is not trash.
This is worse.
And I have another goddamn week of it.