Sci-fi has been one of my favourite genres since I first learned the meaning of entertainment; what's more, I have a mild, lay person's interest in anything to do with space, physics, philosophy, and politics. So Heroic Age, being developed around these exact topics, just could not go wrong in my eyes, right? To be fair, the premise is instantly gripping and full of endless promise; as we get to know the important characters which, on the face of it, appear wholly likeable, we are also introduced to a world steeped in a rich and distinctive history. Sadly, what subsequently follows is a senseless sequence of mecha battles coupled with an incongruous political subplot.
Pretty much everything from the seventh episode onwards follows a familiar blueprint: the crew of the Argonaut, led by the beautiful psychic Deianeira, travel a little distance before inevitably coming across enemies whom they engage in a tactical space battle. Then they travel a little further, except, this time when they encounter the enemy, they are a bit cleverer and a bit harder to beat. I'm sure at some point the crew gets a brief respite on a peaceful planet somewhere, but soon they are off again, travelling and fighting, powering up and fighting, and so on and so forth until it all gets rather tedious. Heroic Age does attempt to establish a human political context as well, which, done well, would have added much depth to its sagging midsection. However, the answers to the dilemmas are too often obvious and who is at fault is always clear.
I wish I could say the space battles make for compulsive viewing and thus help to relieve the bland plot developments, but that would be lying. Age and his adversaries spend several minutes roaring at each other and colliding with each other, and generally doing more damage to their environments than to each other. The battles are completely devoid of tension because the Nodos are seemingly invincible; it doesn't matter what they do - be it smashing each other through asteroids or blasting each other with black holes - they always come back unscathed. Needless to say, by the time I reached the halfway point, these problems had taken such a toll that even the elements built into the premise, such as the mystery of the Golden Tribe and the implications of the contracts they left to the Nodos, just could not hold my waning attention.
Heroic Age also has a typical conclusion, the delivery of which shifts at various points from decent to senseless. Epic lessons are meant to be learned and interesting secrets of the universe uncovered, but the aforementioned flaws inevitably combine forces to cripple even that small experience; between the never-ending mecha fights, the overindulgent special effects, and the erratic and confusing monologues, the ending collapses without much effort into a cacophonous mess. Don't get me wrong - there are occasional highlights, but the overall product falls far short of the standard achieved by other contemporary titles such as Toward the Terra TV.
With shimmering galaxies, energy beams of all colours of the rainbow, and a token supernova in every fight, Heroic Age comes with enough gorgeous CGI trimmings to ruin an epileptic's day. Even the simple act of teleportation involves ethereal floating strands of light which must have dented the budget more than all of the other scenes put together. Sadly, for all that glitz and glamour, Heroic Age contains not an ounce of realism. For example, I can suspend my disbelief when Age, in his human form, traverses space without a protective suit - he is a mecha in hiding, after all. But when he can somehow stand on random floating bits of rock with no gravitational pull, and then breathes - yes, breathes - while a gentle space breeze musses his hair, my imagination really takes a battering.
Although by no means the worst that I have seen, Heroic Age's aesthetic concept rarely looks more than acceptable; while the backgrounds are ostentatiously animated (albeit generic in design), the characters' hair and clothes are just blocks of colour with minimal detail, and their motion is not that smooth either. This contrast in quality is obvious at all times and does a lot to damage the viewing experience. On a more distracting level, every once in a while, a female will have overbearing breasts emphasised by the right gravity-defying outfit. Admiral Nillbar Nephew is an especially deformed case whose inspiring speeches are always undermined by the massive growths bursting from the front of her uniform.
Heroic Age is the kind of anime which accepts a well-known scientific theory, that because space has a lot of air, sound can travel with ease. Although this is a feature common to almost every sci-fi anime, Heroic Age, annoyingly enough, takes it to childish new extremes; for example, in Heroic Age's version of the universe, even insects will make an appropriate splat noise when blown up in the middle of space.
As for the voice acting, it is decent most of the time, albeit not astounding; part of the problem is that half of the cast, namely the Silver Tribe, speak in hushed ‘mysterious' tones which, in fact, rob all of their scenes of any dynamism. The effect is such that whenever they hold a conversation, Heroic Age gets really boring really fast.
The best Heroic Age has to offer lies with the soundtrack, which consists of fairly varied synthesised instrumentals. While the opening and ending themes are suitable yet unremarkable J-pop, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed all the themes in between; especially memorable are the eerie battle theme used for when events take a terrible turn, and Age's cheerful theme of flutes and plucked strings.
What becomes clear by the time Heroic Age is halfway through is that none of the protagonists apart from Age have any distinctive backgrounds to speak of. They just are what they are, with no intricate motivations, no defining histories, no important memories... nothing. There is thus little to make sense of what drives them apart from the obvious wish to save their respective races from destruction.
Perhaps the least enjoyable case of this would be Deianeira's stupid brothers, whose political scheming is about as subtle as a bullfight; they are the type of people who treat war like a game for glory and congratulate themselves for every massacre visited upon other races - they are in essence nothing more than stereotyped villains. Similarly, the Nodos are initially interesting because of their various skills and personalities, but they also fall into the trap of being clichéd slaves to the plot.
Princess Deianeira herself is not much of a plus point either, since she spends the entire series being ‘brave' and cringing delicately as her psychic powers make her receptive to every damn battle happening light years away. Everyone loves her for her good sense, her intelligent decision-making, and her caring nature (and indeed, she is likeable for that), but what a shame that she is never tested in any meaningful sense in order to develop her personality. When she first arrives on the screen, she is bright and brave and flawlessly good, and when she leaves at the end, she is bright and brave and flawlessly good, and that's all there is to say about her.
Probably the only individual who is a true pleasure to watch is the title's namesake, Age; he possesses a naive charisma and a childlike frankness which makes it impossible not to feel for him. Despite being unrealistically cheerful no matter what the war throws at him, he actually remains the most refreshing aspect of Heroic Age. His background as the only human to have been in contact with the mysterious Golden Tribe and his uniquely positive perspective make him intriguing in a way that the others are not; I often found myself enjoying the events a lot more whenever he was in a scene. Unfortunately, Age feels somewhat misplaced as a cast member because he gets so little screen time; apart from the first few episodes after the humans discover him, he is mostly fighting inane battles in his Bellcross mecha form. Because of this, he never develops either and Heroic Age's biggest asset thus goes to waste.
There is just not an ounce of subtlety or originality to be found in Heroic Age - because of the poor character development and only the marginal role of human politics, it consists almost entirely of flashy, repetitive space battles. Still, Heroic Age builds largely on well-established clichés and is likely to remain mildly absorbing for any mainstream viewer; in fact, even if the subsequent events are far from innovative, for young teenagers and die-hard fans of space epics, there is definitely enough here to enjoy.