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Heat Guy J., vol. 1
A region 2 DVD review by CNash

Heat Guy J, Volume 1 is released on the 27th of March by Manga Entertainment. It markets itself as a "buddy cops" story, but bears very little similarities to other films and shows of the genre – one that is, admittedly, mostly American.

The action takes place in the futuristic, yet familiar, city of Judoh. Our young protagonist, Daisuke, is a member of the short-staffed and low-budget City Safety Management Agency, which was created to handle growing Mafia activity inside the city. He's partnered with the titular J, an android. Together, they aim to prevent crimes before they happen. The only other member of their Agency is the cute but put-upon secretary, Kyoko.

This first volume collects the first eight episodes over two discs, something that I was pleasantly surprised by (after seeing Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd Gig, which filled each disc with the same content, but with different audio types). The series opens with the funeral of mob boss Don Leonelli, and shows the rise to power of his insane son, Clair. This leads to altercations between the Leonelli family and the other crime syndicates inhabiting the city.

Along the way, Daisuke and J deal with criminals such as illegal immigrants (and illegal androids), escaped convicts surgically altered to look like animals, and various other problems that occur within the city – all against the backdrop of a full-scale gang war between the various crime families of Judoh.

Stylistically, Heat Guy J is excellent. It's certainly got it where it counts: explosive gun and pyrotechnic action, fluid martial arts battles (though usually between J and other androids), and some great car chases. The city is very vibrant, both in the colouration used and in its inhabitants, a truly mixed bag of "ordinary" people going about their lives, shady Mafia hitmen, prostitutes, market stall owners, and a ten-year-old photographer trying to make a living for herself and her sick mother.

While watching the episodes, I couldn't help but notice the various similarities and borrowed concepts that Heat Guy J's characters appear to integrate. Daisuke, in many ways, channels Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel in both his attitude and some of his design elements. J, to me, has the same craggy features as Wolverine of the X-Men. The secretary, Kyoko, isn't from any series in particular, but any animé fan worth his salt could identify the stereotypical pink-haired, cute token girl character. Finally, the evil and insane Clair Leonelli is a dead ringer for Escaflowne's resident evil crazy, Dilandau.

While I can't fault Heat Guy's execution, I do have some complaints to make over its story structure. I mentioned above that J is the title character, but at times I found myself wondering whether that was strictly true. His partner Daisuke seems to do most of the work – researching the crimes, schmoozing with the city residents, giving orders to J and even telling the city's police department what to do. For the most part, J is relegated to calling Daisuke when new information appears, and explaining key parts of the story to him – and, by association, explaining them to us as well. So, who is the main character – J or Daisuke? Is J just a gimmick?

Heat Guy J, as a series, likes to take three minutes aside to make sure the viewer understands what's going on in the story (through J's expositions), or – in the case of Daisuke – to soapbox beliefs about subjects such as immigration and the use of petroleum. These soapboxes often come on abruptly, and then seem out of place. It's almost excusable to be talked down to in such a way – I've seen other series that use the same methods – but if Heat Guy wants to be taken seriously, it needs to trust that its audience are not stupid and can work out the plot.

In the animation department, I did like the style of the vehicles – all apart from Daisuke's unnecessarily convoluted motorcylce, which is rendered in CG and looks quite out of place. The environments, especially the grassy parklands, remind me of Digimon Tamers; greens and greys are used to great effect. As for the buildings – well, the city itself is almost indistinguishable from modern American or Japanese citys, replete with skyscrapers fading down to market-stall slums. They might as well have set it in futuristic New York or Tokyo. The only other problem that I felt detracted from the look of the series was the use of CG – which, like Daisuke's motorcycle, is often used pointlessly, such as with shots of the city and of J that could probably just as easily be rendered by hand.

The music is uninspired; all the usual dynamic action/battle tracks are present. The only remarkable elements are the pieces that sound vaguely Italian in origin, or at least the "faux-Italian" guitars that seem to follow Mafia characters around in all TV shows and movies. The English dubbing, as far as I can tell, has no faults and is just as listenable as the original Japanese language track.

Overall, I found Heat Guy J to be a little generic in terms of both story and style. While most animé fans will like the action sequences, quite frankly, they're the best element of the series. The excessive exposition – while not quite as heavy or complicated as Ghost in the Shell: SAC – only serves to pad out the plot and extend it for more time than it's worth. The Mafia backstory is well laid out, though.

sound and vision

The anamorphic 16:9 transfer here is pretty standard for recent animé releases, being clear, with good colour reproduction and reasonably sharp , although the picture never leaps from the screen. There are some visible compression artefacts in the darker scenes.

The soundtrack is available as either the original Japanese or an English dub, each in either Dolby stereo 2.0, Dolby surround 5.1 and DTS. The DTS mix is much louder and more inclusive and definitely the one to go for if you have that option, and the Japanese mix seems to have the edge over the English dub.

extra features

There are no special features on the discs themselves, which I was quite disappointed about. The DVDs are presented in a special slip case with a poster booklet, which doesn't really make up for the lack of extras... but you can't always have everything you want.

Heat Guy J -
Vol 1

Japan 2002
100 mins
Takashi Yamazaki

DVD details
region 2
16:9 anamorphic
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1

release date
27 March 2006
review posted
15 March 2006

See all of CNash's reviews