Heroic Age is an interesting anime; another instance of Japan looking into the mythology of the wider world and thinking “Hey, that sounds cool, let’s take it and see what we can build with it.” Purists might find such an attitude offensive; personally I find it respectful in a way. From Evangelion’s use of Kabbalic symbolism and Christian lore to Haiyore! Nyarko-san’s take on the Cthulhu Mythos, seeing what people can do with the creations of others allows both the new and existing to be perceived afresh.
The show borrows conceptually from Greek myth, specifically from those stories involving Heracles (fortunately loosely, or else some of the characters would have disturbing relationships with each other), but takes those names and concepts and really goes in its own direction with them. We are introduced to a race of omnipotent beings termed the Golden Tribe, who possess the ability to create planets, manipulate stars and foretell the future. They send out a psychic message to the lesser races of the galaxy, telling them to leave their planets and join them among the stars (basically, to become space-faring). Three other tribes heed the call: The Silver Tribe, who follow closely after the Golden Tribe and are favoured by them as the first to rise from their planet, the insectoid Bronze Tribe who share a hive-mind which only the Gold, and then Silver, tribes can understand, and the monstrous Heroic Tribe, each individually powerful and impulsive, who eventually go to war (mainly with each other, but pretty much with everything else as well by extension) and when the Golden Tribe intervene they do so to punish the five survivors by binding them, physically, into servitude to members of the weaker races whose survival they threatened.
Time passes, and the Golden Tribe decide to leave this universe for another. Just before they do so however, they notice a damaged ship from another race that has reached out into space; Humanity. The ship crashes on an isolated planet with only a single survivor; a baby boy. Naming him and raising him, the Golden Tribe implant within him the fifth and most powerful of the members of the Heroic Tribe, and send a message to humanity, whom they term the Iron Tribe, that this boy will be their saviour.
After the Golden Tribe leave, the Silver Tribe, who had been closest to them, declare themselves successors to the universe, and promptly seek to impose their will upon all other races. They effectively enslave the Bronze Tribe and declare war upon the Iron Tribe, driving them from Earth. After years of war, unable to best the superior abilities of the Silver Tribe and the numbers of the Bronze Tribe, humanity turns to the old legend of their saviour and mount a forlorn expedition in search of the lost ship from generations ago.
What they find is Age, a wild boy with no knowledge of what his human “rescuers” would consider important such as manners, education, personal space or his role regarding humanity. For those in possession of the survivors of the Heroic Tribe are bound by conditions; four of them serving (directly or indirectly) the Silver Tribe and each with a different number but all of them equating basically to “do what we tell you” and Age serving humanity, which was rather more... enthusiastic with its ability to dictate to others and came up with the greatest number; twelve. Twelve labours, if you would.
And so progresses the story of the Tribes left behind after the Golden Tribe departs, and how they come to understand each other, themselves and what the Golden Tribe intended for them all.
Creative Use Of Mythology
Heroic Age very obviously takes inspiration from the Greek tales, but does not allow itself to be bound by the events those stories depict. This both allows for the anime itself to remain fresh to people who might know their mythology, and prevents dissonance from the more esoteric qualities of the setting being forced to accommodate the traditional aspects.
From the opening fights between human mechs and the Bronze Tribe to the Heroic Tribe powerhouses making regular soldiers feel inadequate, from massive fleet engagements to members of the Heroic Tribe fighting each other and casually obliterating those same fleets as a by product... The action of this series is very impressive, and possibly the only attempt, successful or otherwise, of blending over-the-top shonen power-levels alongside the impression of “believable” combatants.
The Heroic Tribe
They are all hilariously overpowered, but even with that the series manages to keep their appearances creative. Even if they tend to follow typical shonen logic even as everything around them is trying in-vain to console the weeping ghost of the Laws of Physics. This especially applies to Belcross.
Combined Arms Tactics
I feel I must point this out: in a setting which really doesn’t worry about the Scale of Science Fiction Hardness at all, it has one of the best depictions of the composition of a futuristic military I can think of. Human pilots use mecha supplemented with drones of varied types, ships do not lack effective point-defence (for a given value of “effective”), multi-dimensional formations are used and logistics are an oft-mentioned concern. They’re still learning to not make the Bridge horribly vulnerable though...
The plot moves at a fairly rapid pace. Even with twenty six episodes to fill, I kept thinking “other series would have padded that event out to get more episodes from it.” Heroic Age keeps things moving, never letting things get boring (for more than an episode or two at a time anyway) and an effective sense of being caught up in events larger than just what you see can be felt as a result.
It is not shown to be glorious. It is not shown to be desired. It is shown to be the result of not understanding others, not caring about others, or caring too much about yourself. That both sides vary over time in the depth of sympathy they deserve, and the justification their actions can be granted, is laudable.
From the intensity of Gravitation, the OP, to the serenity of the ED (in its multiple forms) and the sweeping grandeur of the insert songs, the music is one of the sure high-points of this show.
Bee no Bee
Some viewers may find the lack of solid resolution to certain aspects of both the war and the relationships a little too soft to be satisfying.
Reuse of Footage
It does happen, particularly for the fight scenes, but it certainly doesn’t make up the majority of the what you’ll be seeing. And given the sheer scale of the fights, I honestly can’t blame the studio for seeking to save a bit of effort here and there.
The Female Uniforms
I wish character designers would stop thinking that clothing which defines each buttock individually looks either attractive or comfortable.
Heroic Age is by no means the best anime ever made, but it is an excellent example of imagination leading to something gloriously creative, and then that idea being produced well. For that alone it would be worth someone’s time, but Heroic Age accomplishes that all-too-rare achievement of being a profoundly different show the second time though, due to managing to present events from one perspective shared by both the majority of the cast and the first-time viewer, and then remaining consistent when seen again with the benefit of overarching knowledge about what is actually going on. In effect, the return viewer shares the omniscient overview attributed to the Golden Tribe, the knowledge of what is going to happen and thus gaining insight into why things were arranged as they were. To have a production work on multiple levels at once, each being independently worthwhile, is a rare feat, and one that deserves to be valued.
Heroic Age can be watched for free at Funimation... with the usual caveat.
Heroic Age is a show that sets up its central mechanic right from the very start, and yet it is this very aspect which is likely to cause the most confusion. It certainly does in-universe.
Why, if the Golden Tribe can foretell what will happen in the future, did they arrange things in such a way that it leads to so much conflict.
We never get a solid answer but there is plenty to infer, especially once the full extent of just how much Age knew about what would and had to happen becomes clear (read: everything), as it increasingly does through the run. This is another show where there is much to discuss regarding what goes on below the surface, and so will hopefully be covered in a companion article at some point in the future, which I shall cross-link.