Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Black Heaven: HARD ROCK save the SPACE

A Japanese salary man must use his guitar skills to save space from an invading force of aliens. How often will you ever come across a story as incredible as that? This 13-episode series may not have too much depth, but it certainly is very fun. While most may not think to relate hard rock music to anime, this combination works very well with the time given to tell the story.

The Legend of Black Heaven follows the tale of Oji Tanaka, an average salary man with a wife and child. But, his life wasn’t always so average. Formerly known as “Gabriel”, he was the lead guitarist and front man for a heavy metal band called Black Heaven. Yearning for his past, he’s stuck in a mundane life with very few remnants left of his former days. With an unsympathetic wife, his only prized possession, his Flying V guitar, was thrown out with the trash. Lost and depressed, he allows himself to be lured by a new co-worker named Layla Yuki for a secret rendezvous. Unbeknownst to him, his music powers an ultimate weapon in a galactic space battle against an invading force of aliens. And he finds himself recruited by this buxom, blonde alien woman to use his music to fight off this alien force and help save space.

The overall tone of Black Heaven keeps this larger-than-life atmosphere, which feels very appropriate for the show. Given only very brief glimpses and flashes of his rock star days, you can feel how torn he is of being trapped in his ordinary life and having the chance to meet with this woman and play his music again. Layla sees this as a chance to save her people, but the outward appearance of Oji and Layla’s relationship has his wife, Yoshiko suspicious of an affair. While the space war acts as the primary plot point and driving story line, the issues between Oji and Yoshiko show off the real themes of the show.

There are a lot of humorous moments, including both Western and Japanese spoofs and references. Oji even idolizes real life rocker, Michael Schenker. Lalyla’s three subordinates act as the comedic relief, often misunderstanding orders and missing the seriousness of situations. The title track, written by John Sykes, is a great rock song that really fuels the entire series and sets the tone that makes it stand out from others. While comparisons could be made to Macross, The Legend of Black Heaven adds its own unique spin that makes it work. The minor plot twists keeps things interesting and less predictable, culminating in an ending that satisfies and sufficiently ties up loose ends.

Although short, The Legend of Black Heaven goes on just long enough to hide its slightly shallow plot. The powerful character dynamic between Layla, Oji, and his wife Yoshiko is what makes the series interesting and more than just a mere Macross knock-off. The strong Western tone and infusion of rock music and references make this one different from other anime series and worth checking out for even a non-fan.

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