The Legend of Black Heaven

January 27, 2005 on 6:10 pm | In Black Heaven | Comments Off on The Legend of Black Heaven

“HARD ROCK save the SPACE” proclaims the English subtitle to The Legend of Black Heaven. Somehow, this is really all that needs to be said. Another late night anime of the “how did they get viewers” variety, Black Heaven is less sci-fi than it is an examination of domestic life, salary working and reviving lost dreams.

Oji is in his late thirties and works as the assistant head-manager at faceless firm of salary-men. It is never clear what his job is, but this scarcely matters. Oji’s watershed moment is when he realises that his wife has thrown out his last guitar, which symbolises to him that his past is truly gone. On the very same day, Yuki Layla begins to work at the company. That night, Oji goes out to get drunk and is joined by this beautiful woman. She offers to take him to Heaven – which turns out to be the bridge of an alien spaceship. Her plan is to get Oji to play his guitar as he did fifteen years ago in his band Black Heaven, in order to defeat the aliens’ enemies!
Oji puts it down as a dream, but soon enough he realises that he has been given the opportunity to play the guitar again – even if he initially thinks that he’s just playing at an elaborately conceived live-house. Over time, Oji acts to reform the band to defeat the aliens, becomes closer to his son, has a rocky relationship with his wife and more all in the course of his metaphorical affair.

The Legend of Black Heaven (AKA Black Heaven, Japanese title Kacho Oji or “Assistant head-manager Oji”) is an interesting series in that it is firstly about such an old and “boring” lead character. Characters who are thirty five plus are rare in primary roles, especially when all they do is work in an office. It may sound as if the whole “music to fight in space” idea is derivative of Macross, but science-fiction is not important. In a bold move, Oji is the most important part of the series. The war is so obviously a back drop that the preview for the final episode concedes that it is never explained who the villains are. They don’t matter at all.

Oji is an excellent character, who becomes gradually revitalised and more enthusiastic about everything as he continues to play. Initially, his playing is selfish. One day he has to take care of his son, Gen. Watching Gen run to the park, Oji realises that he knows nothing about him. Oji is then called out to play his guitar, leaving Gen all alone. This is bad parenting! But when Gen gets into trouble, Oji realises that he can’t think only of himself and through his actions begins to involve Gen – as well as getting involved in Gen’s life as well. Perhaps more importantly, Oji feels like he has a purpose in life. His saving of Gen coincides with his realisation that he’s fighting a war, and this empowers him further. It’s a double hit of reality for him.

It is difficult to understand why Oji remains married to Yokko. Married people may understand the sacrifice involved, but over the years she has thrown out Oji’s records, his amp, and all of his guitars. Out of necessity, she says. Yokko’s actions are essentially what robbed Oji of his identity and made him into the gormless lump of the series’ beginning. Their union does not make a lot of sense, anyway. She used to be a groupie, but you would never think it. With so little sympathy, and so much disappointment in her husband.
People likely have their own reasons for these things, though, but Yokko seems far too angry a character for anyone to stay with.

The other thing that Oji has to learn is that dreams can be shared, but not always acted upon by everyone. When he reforms the band to drink, he invites them to save the universe – but they can’t leave their jobs and families just to do this made up thing. There is a difference between drunken bravado and reality, and when the band members think it would just be playing, they can’t bring themselves to do it.
Dreams of grandeur becoming reality is a very confusing thing to deal with indeed.
It works the other way, too; the aliens use Oji at first only to utilise his groove. To encourage him, they pretend that they care about the music. Over time, they realise that the music is pretty rocking and become genuine fans. This idea hits Layla the hardest, and the metaphorical affair frequently comes dangerously close to being a real affair.
The affair is the weirdest part of the series; while one wants these characters to be happy, it should not come at the expense of others. As a result, the ending is definite and yet in some regards ambiguous.

The production smacks of AIC, and was their 1999 attempt at digital animation. Despite a couple of moments of click and drag, they had the whole process pretty much down-pat. The characters look like standard, if rather normalised, AIC fare. All of the Japanese people have brown or black hair, and Layla, who is transitionary normal is blonde. The three characters who make this most AIC, are the blue, purple and green haired characters who act as comic relief and present the previews. The series could have done without them, but it’s for the look of the thing, you know?

The opening song is John Sykes’ “Cautionary Warning”, which is promoted on all of the packaging. The song is nice, and grows, but the opening animation is grotesque: it is rotoscoped footage of a John Sykes concert, and is quite freaky. People have been put off this anime on the OP animation alone. The ED is more generic bizarre J-Pop, more notable for the fact that it is accompanied by shots of the three girls sleeping naked.

The Legend of Black Heaven is recommended anime not only for middle-aged people but for anyone who is at a turning point in life – or has been. It may bore some, but the target audience is broad. It would be wise not to forget this.

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