Heavy Object

(Neo, Uncooked Media)

(Volume 1 review)

Heavy Object rings several changes on the usual mecha show. One of the most obvious is that the fighting machines aren’t giant Gundam humanoids, but come in a variety of shapes. There are giant metal spheres, a machine that’s basically a huge gunship, and – best of the bunch – a glowering metal crab in the first arc, reminiscent of the Martian machines in War of the Worlds.

Another change from standard mecha fare is the main characters aren’t the mecha pilots, but rather the little people who support the mecha on their side while trying to bring the enemy machines down. Some of the action feels inspired by the iconic snow battle in Empire Strikes Back where soldiers on the ground fought giant dog-like “Walkers”. Like Empire, Heavy Object makes good use of its terrain. There are episodes in snow and ice; on the sea; in tropical forests; and in mountains. The sea episodes are hampered by weird-looking water, but then the mountain episodes are coolly suspenseful, unseen giants rumbling round the slopes. So far the series is Earthbound – maybe the space wars are being kept in store for volume two.

The oddest thing about Heavy Object is its tone – you’re never sure what it’ll be next. The main characters are two boys operating as a team to beat the enemy “Objects” (as the mecha are called). Perhaps three-quarters of the show is an adventure-drama… and the other quarter is fanservice goofing. In theory, the main love interest is a cute Object-piloting girl, but the show is really obsessed with the boys’ fearsome female CO, who believes in painful punishment and in using all her assets.

The action periodically stops for leering out of an American Pie film, with our heroes reduced to gibbering wrecks by big boobies. Even by anime standards, this results in very weird tonal lurches: fanservice hijinks, then soldiers massacring civilians. Often the comedy and adventure are kept apart, though there are some very funny bits where they collide, including a random moment with penguins which deserves to have an award bestowed on it by Evangelion’s Pen-Pen.

The comedy is often tedious and sexist, though there are some genuine (guilty) laughs. Of the females, the cute-girl pilot is a naked cipher so far, sometimes literally, even as the older woman gets fleshed out in a surprising way. It’s the varied landscapes, situations and strategies that keep Heavy Object lively; it feels inescapably trashy, but it’s smart trash.

(Volume 2 review)

A couple of new British releases remind us that mecha action series can switch from drama to comedy in very weird ways, even by anime’s eccentric standards. The recently reissued comedy-epic Nadesico is one case; another is Gundam ZZ, where Yoshiyuki Tomino takes his gritty spacewar and camps it up to eleven. And then there’s Heavy Object, which isn’t likely to be remembered as long as the other two titles, but still deserves a measure of respect.

We reviewed the first half of Heavy Object in Issue 161, and concluded, “It feels inescapably trashy, but it’s smart trash”. The next twelve episodes keep to the same mix as before. On one side, there’s strategy-oriented adventure, with heroes Qwenthur and Havia concocting interesting tricks to beat their enemies; and on the other side, there’s crude American Pie comedy about the boys’ fixation on boobs and porn. And yet Heavy Object is oddly reliable.

Fanservice aside, it’s similar to the kind of old-fashioned science-fiction that was aimed specifically at teenage boys – you often found it in “omnibus” books of short stories in the library. As in Heavy Object, the characterisation didn’t matter. The important thing in these stories was showing protagonists assessing situations on the fly, making ingenious plans and carrying them out. Heavy Object is good at throwing in story curveballs – traitor characters, clever enemies with their own tricks. It doesn’t do the heroine much good to have an ejector seat in her mecha, if her foe has a metal net that’ll shred her to pieces when she flies out!

Certainly Heavy Object is boring quite a bit of the time, with no addictive qualities. If you were forced to drop the series midway through, you’d do so without much irritation. And yet the characters’ adventures, running two or three episodes each, all become quite enjoyable, never stranding you in filler for more than a couple of minutes. The silliness rarely invades the action scenes, and when it does it works – a mecha battle fought by a cutely dancing idol singer, a fighting team with maid costumes and psycho tendencies.

As you could predict, the later episodes raise the human stakes – civilians in danger – and personal stakes – friends in danger. However, they can only manage the kind of routine genre excitement that’s impressive mainly because it’s exciting at all. The only really memorable character is a gutsy granny engineer. And yet Heavy Object remains an agreeable stupid-clever show which sustains itself for nearly ten hours.

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