Heroman. It's a title that's sounds so generic and trite that the show could just be amazing. As a collaboration between the reputable Studio Bones and Spiderman-creator Stan Lee, it seemed like a show that could really deliver. I watched one episode when it aired, and decided that it didn't seem to be the case. But due to the prodding of a certain someone, I'm giving it another chance. So far, while there are things to like about it, there are many more aspects of the show that get on my nerves. I'm hoping for many of these to change, but until they do (if at all), I need to vent. The rest of this post contains spoilers for episodes 1-5 of Heroman.
Heroman is about an average, somewhat shy young boy, Joey, who lives with his grandmother in Los Angeles Central City. Joey gets along well with the cheerleader Lina, but Lina's overbearing football-playing brother Will doesn't like that and tries to keep them apart. One day Joey's pal Professor Denton manages to successfully contact aliens. Unfortunately, those aliens turn out to be 10-foot-tall cockroach monsters who send a flying saucer to Earth in order to conquer it and steal its natural resources. Luckily, during a storm relating to the aliens' descent, a toy robot Joey picked up ends up getting struck by lightning and becoming a transforming super-robot, Heroman. It turns out Heroman is Earth's only hope against the alien menace!
Pretty original plot, right? It plays it totally straight, too. No lampshading or irony on the fact that every aspect of the plot is so overused that it could be called tradition. The show stops short of lifting specific characters from existing works, but originality is such an afterthought you wonder if they were even trying. Heroman himself is the biggest symbol for America since Captain America: Huge muscular-looking robot with a red stripe and blue splotches that have white stars. Joey gets a Power-Rangers-esque control piece that he uses to control Heroman, while striking a stupid pose and calling out phrases like "Heroman Attack!". As someone who watched and enjoyed the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha series (albeit the later series moreso than the pedolicious first one), I probably don't have a right to complain about transformation sequences, but at least Seven Arcs had the good taste to more or less skip the sequence after the first time. (Heroman's is significantly shorter than the full version of the Nanoha transformation sequences, though.) All these things together -- the toy, the stupid phrases, and everything -- seem like blatant attempts to appeal to kids and prepare for toy sales rather than meaningful contributors to the work.
Furthermore, I hate the main conceit of the show. The aliens (called the Skrugg) are depicted as a civilization with super-advanced technology that makes them completely and utterly invulnerable to conventional weapons: small arms fire, large arms fire, missiles, bombs, anything that anyone who isn't Heroman can dish out. For one thing, I have been sick of this gimmick forever and I find it utterly boring and an unnecessary stretch of my willing suspension of disbelief. I'll buy that conventional weapons are ineffective. The enemies might have shields and weapons that allow them to dish out way more pain than they receive. But why couldn't conventional weapons do something? Maybe bullets leave dings and scratches in their armor, nothing more. Tank fire could be stun or damage an individual footman if they score a direct hit. With the outrageous numbers and advanced weapons the Skrugg have, it wouldn't change the fact that they're poised to overrun humanity. But it would give a small hope, however slight, that ordinary, unimportant people could be useful. This is part of why I hated the first Star Wars: New Jedi Order book and why I think Michael A. Stackpole saved that series - in the first book, anyone who wasn't a Jedi ace pilot with plot hacks was basically unable to cause damage to the Yuuzhan Vong thanks to their portable-singularity shield things. In the second and third books, Stackpole's, they discover a way to rig proton torpedoes to explode on proximity and overwhelm the singularity controller, allowing ordinary pilots to cause damage, albeit not easily. I'm still waiting for Heroman to have this moment.
On that subject, I guess Joey is supposed to be the Peter Parker ordinary guy who gets to do extraordinary things thanks to circumstance. But it just feels unfair. He gets Heroman through dumb luck, according to some process that hasn't yet been explained, with no indication that it ever will be (although I have a hope that Bones, being a pretty thorough studio, may actually get back to that one later). Contrast that to Will. To sum up his characterization briefly, Will is a total cock. But when he sees the aliens invading, he doesn't do like the rest of the civilians and hide away. He sneaks into the alien fortress hoping to make off with their weapons and prove himself a hero. Of course, he's reckless, and ends up getting caught and kind of getting his due for being a dick to Joey earlier. So what's the lesson here? Nice guys will have a super robot fall out of the sky on them, while people who take the initiative get punished? In Joey's defense, he has been portrayed so far as being pretty wise about picking his battles rather than rushing into every fight idiot-protagonist style, but that trait resonates somewhat weakly so far.
Another thing that bugs me is the aliens' surveillance technology. Despite being giant hyper-advanced cockroaches from space, they don't seem to use anything other than visible light as a detection mechanism. Joey and pal Psy successfully hide behind a tiny concrete wall from a Skrugg soldier staring right at them. Will and his friend manage to get into the Skrugg fortress, wander around mouthing off, and get their hands on a semi-working beam gun before the Surveillance Eye in the Wall spots them. How can the self-proclaimed Rulers of the Universe not have heard of thermal vision, echolocation, or something else to augment plain sight? Why does the entrance to their tree/saucer/Teppelin-City fortress not have one single camera on it?
Poor Lina, too. She's, thus far, been a perfect example of everything feminists have against this kind of show. As a literal cheerleader, her role in the show is to provide moral support and then obnoxiously refuse to step off the playing field when the boys are fighting, forcing Joey to constantly protect her while she provides no value to his cause. Oh yeah, and the reason she won't obediently back down and retreat to safety? She's worried about her brother. Come on. Strike Witches, a show where genderswapped World War II aces fly around not wearing pants, is less sexist than that.
There are a few things that I'm not complaining about, though. The animation is overall very nice-looking, in particular the backgrounds, though I also like the main humans' character designs. (Joey is a little too far to the girlish side, though, and his Japanese seiyuu being a woman doesn't help.) The show does a good job, especially for a Japanese work, of capturing the look and feel of Los Angeles. It's definitely idealized, with not nearly enough smog and strip malls to be realistic, but it's miles better than plenty of other shows that purport to take place in California. (I'm lookin' at you, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~.) I'm betting Stan Lee is somewhat to thank for that. The music ain't bad either. I haven't really heard any BGM that stands out to me yet, but the OP and ED are both upbeat and fun.
Most of all, this is still early in the show, so it still has time to build on and break away from the more painful clichés here, but that doesn't change the fact that they make the first few episodes hard to watch. Here's hoping!