Heat Guy J, what a surprise. I first purchased Disc One over ten years ago. Due to the lack of fanfare and underwhelming ratings I took this long to finish picking up the other six DVDs, but boy was I surprised when I started watching.
Story - 8/10
Due to the packaging and marketing of the show I really did expect a typical robot/android show, where every episode was a copy and paste of the one before it, always having a superhuman-being coming in at the last second to save the day. But from minute one of the show you find out it's a different type of series.
Chiaki Ogishima did a great job of writing a series that really is story and character driven. Very little of it feels like filler, just there to pass time. Instead every episode makes sure to at least tell a little bit of Daisuke's back story and the story of Judoh.
Despite starting off as a procedural, with Daisuke and J going around and solving crimes, they made sure to have a great over arching story from the start. At first the serial aspect deals with the new leader of one of the more powerful Mafia syndicates in town, Claire Leonelli. He and Daisuke have an interesting relationship, as they are rivals but you can see the mutual respect, or well as much mutual respect as a sociopath can have for someone. As time passes we see that Claire may not be as terrible as he seems, and that behind all the depravity in Judoh sits a leader who wields his power differently than it apears.
Within these story lines sit a few connecting threads that piece everything together the best that they can.
Daisuke's relationship with his big brother is the most import of these, as they both we driven to civil service work, crime fighting to be precise, by the assassination of their father. Shun Aurora is the head of the city's Special Services, so essentially Daisuke's boss, and has control over their funding and the use of J, whom he had created for the service. The two brothers have hot and cold moments with each other and often don't seem to be on the same page.
Other subplots, that all tie into the final story, include the city's underground, where the poor are forced to live, but who have made a thriving city that includes many black market accommodations unavailable above ground. The syndicates internal struggles, which are being orchestrated by a very unlikely hand. And the spastic, and somewhat unfinished, story of the guardians who control the resources and fate of the city.
Despite leaving two interesting story lines not even slightly finished (the mutated criminals and the guardians) I finished the series feeling satisfied. The show went places I didn't think it would and mixed fun little stories with an excellent over arching plot.
Animation - 6/10
While the series was visually beautiful there were some hits and misses in the animation process.
The good includes the great and diverse scenery throughout the series. Each area, the main city, the underground slums and the pastoral outskirts, felt like a real place, with unique color pallets and architecture. I really loved how the main city, Judoh, feels like an amalgamation of many different cities, with elements like San Francisco Bay, Tokyo's highway system and New York's Flat Iron building all creating a metropolis only seen in Heat Guy J. The city was also very detailed, with the market place really feeling like it would encompass blocks of a city and multiple home offices for the different factions all having unique touches to it's occupant.
We're also treated to a consistency we tend to not get in shows of this scale. Only once or twice did I really notice a change in animation style, but even then the quality was superb.
As for the bad, the show tended to reuse a lot of frames. In pretty much every episode we could expect to see the pan down to the market place, the exterior of Special Services building or the still frame of Daisuke's apartment. Once or twice would be fine, but it almost became comical by episode five how it would just be an expected part of series.
Finally, while the characters were all animated and colored as spectacularly as the scenery, their design left something to be desired. Outside of J, every character was someone we'd seen before in another series, there was just so little originality.
Sound - 7/10
I really enjoyed the voices used in the English version of the series. While some were recognizable (Vice Principal Uchiyamada and Haruko Haruhara's voice actors) they still put a twist to make the voices fit the characters and not be just the usual one voice for all their roles (Same can't be said for our main villain Clair Leonelli, whom Johnny Yong Bosch voiced with the same accent used for Vash, Saku, Renton and every other character he's ever played)
As for the music, it really is split into two categories, the themes and the in show songs.
The opening theme and two closing themes used in the series verge on horrible. They're all over the place and have the musicality of a pack of drowning cats.
On the other hand the songs used within the show are top notch. While much like the themes they are all over the place, they've done it in an artful way. Some songs, including J's theme, meld together so many styles, jazz, middle eastern, Italian folk and Scottish bagpipes, in a seamless manner. For me the best music in the series comes from the episode Brother, they basically made an episode to show off some great music that was attributed to characters Blues Dullea and Kia Freeborn. Pair those songs with ones often played in the series, yet who's name I can't seem to find anywhere (It's the nice piano tune that possibly leads into, or is a variant of Midtown Blues) and you've got a soundtrack that can break right in to the top ten (though lacking that strong theme hurts them.)
Characters - 9/10
For a series who's title character is literally an emotionless cyborg (No he's a Android, there's a difference….) there's character development out the wazoo.
The writers made sure to keep the main cast small over the course of the series and it paid off. Instead of having the constant revolving cast we see a bit too often, they stuck to about two main characters (And J who can't have much of a back story as he's not human) and four to five important minor characters.
The two main characters, at least in my mind, are Daisuke and Claire. Both get extensive back stories which are the main driving forces behind the show. While Daisuke is a pretty standard "good guy" character, albeit with an interesting story, Claire is the much more complex and interesting of the two. And how can you not be slightly interesting when you start the series off by trying to blow up your own father's funeral with a hand grenade. Claire goes on to show many sides, most of which were a product of his rather unconventional upbringing.
The pool of minor characters also play a big part in the series. The most prominent being the manager of Daisuke's division, Koyoko. At first she's there to keep everything running smoothly, but time and time again she gets dragged into having to help the guys out. Similarly Daisuke's police friend, Edmundo, is often called upon to work with the guys, despite the fact he at first is rather dismissive of Daisuke and his position. Finally there are two characters who play important roles, but are left slightly incomplete. Boma is one of the mutated criminals who, after first being tasked with killing J, joins Daisuke's version of special services, similarly Shogun is Daisuke's main source of illicit information, but we only find out bits and pieces of his past.
Overall - 8/10
As I stated in my intro, I was very pleasantly surprised with the series. They could have easily made this a run of the mill cyborg show or lazily turned it into a weekly procedural, but instead they made something very entertaining. The only reason I can see it ranked so low is that many people judged it by how it looks, but as someone who is very particular with what I like, I can't see many reasons it should be out of the top 100.