Judge Jon Mercer could tell you some Hero Tales from his days as a Subway sandwich artist.
Our review of Hero Tales: Part Two, published May 1st, 2011, is also available.
Seven stars will shatter the empire.
Following the phenomenal global success that was Fullmetal Alchemist, spawning no less than two 50+ episode anime series, a collection of OVAs and a full-length theatrical release; it's easy to see why the anime industry was so quick to hedge its bets behind the former's creator, Hiromu Arakawa. Sitting in the shadow of her mammoth creation is Hero Tales. Is this a Wuxia fable worth telling, or simply a load of hot air and hogwash?
Facts of the Case
Taito is a hot-blooded teenager and resident headache of the Liang Tong temple. When the bloodthirsty Imperial General Keiro razes the temple in search of a mythical, world-conquering sword, the boy finds himself one foolhardy moment of brazen courage away from a globetrotting adventure that will shake a corrupt empire to its very foundations.
It's a tale I'm sure we've all heard countless times in the past. A carefree youth is swept into a quest to find an ancient plot device. Along the way he amasses allies that may or may not include a mentor figure, a love interest, and usually a prickly but good-natured scoundrel. They will eventually cross paths with a powerful evil entity or conquering empire and our headstrong teenaged protagonist shall discover a destiny big enough to go hand in hand with his adventure.
While this all sounds very ambitious, I'm sure there's not a reader out there who doesn't instantly recognize the basic plot. Who amongst you hasn't seen Star Wars? This is the first, and most grievous of Hero Tales' failings. The series does little to nothing to separate itself from the throngs of similar stories. The characters are painful anime archetypes, and the plot unfolds with a sense of unfortunate redundancy. There's a lot of talk about destinies, reincarnated celestial bodies and fulfilling one's potential, but at the same time most episodes revolve around the impetuous Taito and his equally impulsive rouge archer buddy Hosei trying to rush off to meet the enemy head on, whilst cooler headed characters constantly warn the former that he is not yet ready to confront the villain. This filler episode cycle repeats ad nauseum, stopping only to welcome a new member to the party or offer occasional near clashes with the arrogant Keiro and his Anime 101 collective of retainers. Character and plot development as drawn by MC Escher. There are some flashes of intrigue in the last few episodes on the second disc, but after suffering through the glacial first act it's going to take more than the foreboding chance of betrayal and a drug store Darth/Luke reveal to get this myth rolling again.
Not helping Hero Tales in the slightest is the tepid quality of the animation. It's by no means horrid, just altogether unimpressive. The appealing character designs are laid to waste by sloppy movement and an abundance of extreme close-ups (the sure tell of low-budget anime). What's worse is that outside of action sequences, the overall look of the series takes a massive step back, especially during dialogue scenes. Colors look flat, outlines grow clumsy and thick. Let's not mince words, this series is about as ugly as a celebrity divorce.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Rising above the mediocrity of the content is the usual A+ effort Funimation puts into their releases. The picture is appropriately clean and tidy, and during the hectic fight scenes, the colors look especially bold. The 5.1 English track delivers a satisfying punch as blows are landed, and while the voice work is certainly not going to win any awards, it's nice and crisp. Sadly, the Japanese track is a simple stereo mix that gets the job done, but hardly impresses. Hero Tales: Part One is somewhat sparse on extras, packing the usual trailers on discs one and two, with a third reserved for a couple of fluffy featurettes starring the Japanese cast, and the industry standard clean opening and closing credits.
Having been enthralled by the original Fullmetal Alchemist series during my tenure as an animation student in 2003 (a feat undone completely by the superior 2009 retelling), I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed with the anemic Hero Tales. Seeds are planted in the final two episodes of the collection for some future excitement, but it will take a heroic effort in Part Two to repair the damage of this volume's malaise.
This pup's Kung Fu is pig dung. Now it will must die!
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