23 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

The Legend of Black Heaven is almost the greatest anime I have ever seen

First, credit to EO for directing me to this anime in the first place. It may have taken me 6 months before I finally got around to watching the thing, but it was worth it.

Confession Time. In all my time of being an anime fan, I’ve never properly marathoned an anime. I’ve never sat down and stormed through an entire series in a single day. Part of me felt the need to take a break in between viewings, which I guess is why I like watching anime weekly. It creates a natural stop gap and allows you to juggle several anime at once. Legend of Black Heaven broke that duct. I sat through the entire series in a single day. Black Heaven is almost the greatest anime I have ever seen.

Quick crash course: Legend of Black Heaven was made in 1999 and made by AIC back when they didn’t rely on shitty fanservice harems and could pump out stuff like Black Heaven and Now and Then, Here and There. It tells the story of Oji, a generic Tokyo salaryman going through a midlife crisis. After despairing when his wife throws out his favourite electric guitar, a sexy alien co-worker tells him that he is the one man with the ability to power an intergalactic super weapon using his guitar playing.

Not that the space opera plot really matters that much. The super weapon runs on roughly the same energy that the robots in Gurren Lagann ran on, except this time it requires guitar playing to transform said spirit (which Black Heaven calls ‘groove’) into energy to run the weapon. We’re never given any reason why they’re fighting or who they’re fighting. One of my running theories throughout the series was that this was all in the main characters head. The anime itself kept to the theme that this was all a dream, never crossing the boundary between the real world and the space battles.

What purpose the space  guitar playing battles really serve is a big metaphor for the lead characters mid life crisis. For everything that happens in the space battle zone, there’s a clear correlation between what’s going on in his head and the real world. The realisation that nobody really cared about the songs he was playing in the spaceships was a metaphor for how he had gotten so wrapped up in trying to create a spark in his mid life that he hadn’t realised how his head was totally in the clouds. The numerous sexual metaphors connected to escaping to play his guitar, while played for comedy pretty frequently, correlated to how he wanted to escape his whiny wife and unsatisfying home life.

Black Heavens greatest achievement is that it manages to keep both the general story and the metaphors great fun to watch throughout. Purely on the surface level, Black Heaven is still an incredibly fun anime. The characters all have clear personalities and flawed in their own ways. The failing marriage of Oji and his wife has no clear person you’re meant to side with. There’s a panic and fear surrounding the women when she realises that their marriage is failing and he might be off with another women, but she struggles so hard to understand his passion that it’s understandable how Oji wants to create a spark in his life with this metaphorical mistress of space guitar playing. Oji is a hugely flawed character himself, prone to frequent feelings of elation and depression. One of the parts I really liked about Black Heaven were how the most extreme moments in his emotions were set inside the ramen stall. It was the one place he could visit and be himself without the show ever actually saying that itself.

There’s so many little things I love about this anime. The growing relationship between Oji and his son, where at the beginning he knew nothing about him to Oji becoming the dads idol. The kids TV show Flying 5 constantly providing indirect commentary to what was going through Oji’s mind at the time. The way the show never lost its sense of humour, whether it be through the hilarious sight of middle aged office workers trying to fit a bass guitar over their ever-expanding bellies to the occasional yet rather liberal use of fanservice throughout the show (bunny girl press-ups spring to mind NSFW). It’s a story of identity crisis wrapped up in a Heavy Metal Macross package.

It’s far from perfect and I’m not so blind as to suggest otherwise. Made in 1999, the animation isn’t particularly good even for its time. The animation is pretty fluid but has a tendency to re-use frames a hell of a lot and far away shots of characters can often give them misshapen heads. The anime has a single utterly awesome theme song that it uses the entire way through the show. While this does add a lot when you hear how the song evolves throughout, it does start to get a bit much as it goes on. The comic relief trio don’t do an awful lot for the plot either and can sometimes take up time being not very funny. Also, the less said about the accent of the black dude in the tight pink shirt the better.

My biggest complaint though is how I felt it started to lose sight of the balance it created between the real world and the space opera right at the end. I get what it was going for and how Oji had come to terms with this dream by the end, but I felt it didn’t quite get the balance right the same way the rest of the series did. If it had managed that, I would have called Legend of Black Heaven the greatest anime I have ever seen. But hey, second place isn’t bad, right?

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  1. Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I guess I will watch it.
    After all, you have great taste.

    • mcm38
      Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Nah, it’s not taste, it’s common sense and a very harsh objective filter supported by a stone heart. So if an anime can squeeze itself trought that filter it passes as a good anime, right?

      • mcm38
        Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        Btw, I’m going to watch it to does anyone know a site were I can watch it eng subbed?

      • Memmy
        Posted January 20, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        This anime seems particulary hard to find with english sub, but if you understand enough the french, I have found a link in streaming with french sub
        If my reply isn’t appropriate for this blog, I’m sorry^^; but I guess when a gem pass under the radar because it’s old and/or unusual and/or well hidden, it may help to share link.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 20, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      If you live in the US it was released on dvd there. I’m pretty sure it’s out of print but you can still rent it out. I’m pretty annoyed it’s only available in the US because the first thing I did when I finished it was to check the availability of the dvd. I suppose this is a good a sign as ever that I could do with a region free player

      Alternatively you could learn to torrent and get it off BakaBT, which is what I did

      • Posted January 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        I live in Germany :(
        And I don’t know how to torrent.

      • mcm38
        Posted January 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        I’m from Europe to, but I am managing. Just google it. It’s actually pretty easy I only installed a torrentdownloader and figured it out on my own.

  2. karry
    Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Almost the most boring anime i’ve ever seen.

  3. Posted January 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    The first wall scroll I ever bought was that exact picture of Layla. Like, 10 years ago or something insane.

    And I need to watch this anime again, because it’s been about that long since I’ve seen it.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 20, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      You have no idea how jealous I am right now

  4. Posted January 20, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    What’s your previous record for episodes of the same anime seen on the same day? It’s not such a big deal that you hadn’t had a true marathon (I rarely do those myself), but have you at least experimented with watching anime in chunks?

    • Scamp
      Posted January 20, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      About…16-ish I guess. I actually watched some other anime earlier in the same day I watched Black Heaven, possibly Madoka Magica. I also watched about 16 episodes of Chobits in one day back when I watched that series for the first time.

  5. Posted January 20, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    I’ve wanted to see this since seeing the Code Monkey AMV…but my mom doesn’t want me to watch it without finding a copy for her, and she doesn’t understand how to watch anything that isn’t in .avi format.

    My mom’s best friend told her she had to watch this anime.

    These are women in their 40’s and 50’s.

    I’ll let you make of that what you will.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 20, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Well considering it’s about a midlife crisis, it does speak to older people a bit more than us young ‘uns

  6. Posted January 20, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    So glad you liked the show. I’d only heard about it by chance from someone talking about an AMV at an anime convention, but it certainly deserves more exposure. All those little touches you mention really help make it so well integrated into one solidly built show. I don’t have much more to say other than to wholeheartedly agree with you on it.

    Wow, I didn’t even connect it in my head that this was AIC, and how far they’ve fallen from this and Now and Then, Here and There.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 20, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      btw I re-read your post after I watched the show. I hadn’t made the FLCL connection when I watched it but I see where you’re coming from. The big difference would be Black Heaven is much more direct with its metaphor while FLCL it almost feels like it was made by accident (which apparently the director said it pretty much was an accident on the commentary track)

    Posted January 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Usually someone will describe an amazing anime to me, and my reaction is “meh”.
    Because let’s face it, when one loves an anime, like really loves it, they can no longer coherently explain why they do.
    Well, at least the kind of people who reccommend anime to me are incapable.
    Infact sometimes they will limit it to “it’s amazing go watch it”

    But you managed this, and so much more.
    So yeah-

    • Scamp
      Posted January 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      When it comes to recommendations, it’s better to detract your love for the series and describe it. If you truly think it’s a great series, then that should come out through your description of what it does well. More importantly though, don’t tell people “you must watch this now!”. Simply tell them “this anime is great because X” and let them try it out of their own curiosity

  8. Astrea
    Posted January 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Man i need a source to watch it with english subs.it makes me wonders cuz i am also listening classical/hard rock music thanks.

  9. Fai D Fluorite
    Posted January 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I am a little curious when someone mentions a post like this.I’ll try it out.
    I wonder why it is so poorly rated in ANN


    • Posted January 23, 2011 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      The majority of anime fans are dumb. Something like that.

      Now and Then, Here and There is a hell of a lot more famous than Black Heaven and it’s still rated pretty poorly on sites like ANN, MAL, etc.

      Usually if something is more than 5 years old and people don’t talk about it when they mention “the good old days,” it’s considered bad. Like Alien Nine.

    • DarkEnergy
      Posted December 16, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Haha, Alien Nine. That show is entertaining yet increasingly nightmare-inducing. It was an experience we will never forget watching in our anime club.

      Also, I’m watching Black Heaven right now which is why I’m commenting here so late, lol.

  10. Posted September 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’ve marathoned the series because it is fun to watch but they really should’ve done more with the space-war-metaphor. Because of its vague presentation it felt just generic to me. And the ending definitely felt rushed with his wife suddenly forgetting her quibbles with Tanaka’s recent way of living and deciding that just being included in his space-war was all that mattered. Also a kind of epilogue that showed better what kind of influence the events have on Tanaka’s life after everything’s over would’ve been nice but well… all in all a good series. Especially because of its humour that’s just great and that alone makes it worth watching this series, I think.

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