The practice of jumping straight to “marathoning” a show seems to happen more frequently in anime fandom. No doubt, it’s directly related to that threat of “filler” that’s recurrent enough to warrant its own slang.
Got plenty of time to kill on a long weekend? POOF! Here’s a box set with 26 complete episodes to easily smother all that time.
As such, it’s really not that much of a brush-off to say that HERO TALES is an adequately-agreeable way to fill nine hours. Granted, I only viewed the first quarter of material here - - but the show's unlikely to make any switchback turns in tone, themes or plotting after episode 6. It’s about as middle-of-the-road as a pseudo-historical, wuxia fantasy adventure can get. Nothing here is going to blow your mind, or even get you looking at anything differently. It follows the tropes and expectations of the shonen genre to a T, with nary a step ever taken off the tried, true and well-trotted path.
That’s not a good thing; nor a bad thing, really. It’s an adequately-agreeable thing - - turf from the inoffensive middle-ground, guaranteeing exactly the sort of light diversion you’d feel due for whenever you sat down with this box set for a lazy Sunday marathon.
The big selling point of this series, of course, is that it was co-created by Hiromu Arakawa (of FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST mega-fame) and rendered with her recognizable style. On the one hand, you can see her playing out the fascination with feudal China she dallied with during the Xing chapters of FMA. On the other hand, the designs here are so unmemorable; you can’t help but wonder that she may have worked on this series under one constraint or another. Maybe she wasn’t given enough time? Maybe she was playing against type? Maybe she was splitting her attention somewhere else?
There’s little about these characters’ appearances, and dialog, to make them distinct from the archetypes they embody; I honestly had to read the synopsis over again to remember who was who and what they did throughout these six episodes. There’s some mystical prophesizing about how each star in the Big Dipper corresponds to various powerful gods and heavenly warriors, and those divine creatures are currently being reincarnated in this fantasy land.
Our plucky and inoffensively-sarcastic young hero, Taito, is the manifestation of the noble spirit Alkaid. He pisses off this warlord, Keiro (representing the evil spirit Duhbe,) after the jerk massacres his people for a mythical sword that - - GASP! - - winds up choosing young Saito as the only person worthy to wield it. Of course, Keiro’s a sore loser, so he runs away with the sword, and Taito thusly has to set off on his epic quest to reclaim the thing (all while trying to keep a lid on the raging star power that’s just burning inside him.)
Taito’s bossy sister tags along, a supervisor from his temple basically chaperones him, and it’s not too long before they’ve all won a lecherous thief over to their camp. Each of these adventurers correspond to stars in the constellation (but don’t ask me which,) and their leisurely-paced quest gets quickly diverted by some episodically-spaced injustices. The most memorable one sees our band saving a bunch of street urchins from a gang of supervillainous thieves whose gimmicks include cross-dressing and a handle-less axe blade.
These episodes are solved with the learning of simple lessons- - it’s better to work together, don’t judge those less fortunate than you, etc. It's all sound advice, sure, but they make you almost expect there to be a G.I. JOE-style PSA at the end to bring the point home even more explicitly.
More than most anime viewed for this site, HERO TALES feels like a Saturday morning cartoon plucked right out of the 80’s (albeit one without a particularly colorful toy line to hock.) Given the title, that should probably be wholly unsurprising, but it’s still worth bringing up in order to explain how this is a harder title to critique. FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST delivers rather effectively on being entertainment that kids and adults can enjoy without threat of embarrassment or condescending material. HERO TALES, though, makes you feel a little silly for asking it to be something that it’s not - - even while you can’t fake the fact that it’s sorely missing some color or edge.
Again, it’s material better suited for those Sunday marathons where these critical concerns pale next to the need for long, diverting, time-filling content.