While a lot of us consider ourselves anime veterans now, there was once a time where our knowledge of it was limited to “those cool Japanese cartoons with robots and ninjas.” Heroman, created by the father of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, and animated by Bones, takes you back to those days.
The plot goes like this: Joseph Carter Jones (aka Joey) — and if that name doesn’t scream “Stan Lee,” I don’t know what does — is a bright, young lad living with his grandmother. Joey does well at school, has a part-time job to help support his grandma and himself, and still manages to find the time to do household chores. He’s intelligent, a pacifist, and keeps his chin up, regardless of what happens. He’s the grandson everyone wants. He’s a lot like Peter Parker, except without the initial teenage angst.
When he’s at school, Joey gets bullied around by Will Davis, Heroman’s equivalent of Flash Thompson. He’s also very friendly with Will’s sister — much to Will’s displeasure — Lina Davis, who has the most obvious crush on him. Lina is essentially our Gwen Stacey. His other (and apparently, only other) friend is Psy, an upright and much-respected kid in his class, who uses the aid of crutches to be able to walk.
One day, Joey finds a toy robot that one of Will’s friends threw away. He pieces the broken toy back together and puts it in his room. A short while later, lightning strikes during a thunderstorm, and the robot turns into Heroman, a giant mech with a psychic link to Joey. Then, aliens attack and Joey has to fight them off. That’s the very, very basic gist of it. If it sounds woefully simple, it’s because it is. And yet, I love it.
I’d be lying if I said Heroman wasn’t playing almost entirely to my nostalgia. I grew up reading Marvel’s comics as a kid and admiring Stan Lee as a role-model nearly all my life. When I heard Bones were working on a series created by him, I wasn’t sure what to think. I haven’t exactly kept up with comics these past few years. Once I had invested myself as heavily as I have in Japanese media, Stan Lee and a lot of my other favourite western comic writers fell off my radar. While I hadn’t watched it, I’d heard enough about Stripperella — one of Lee’s post-Marvel original creations — to understand that he’d probably evolved beyond the kind of work I’d grown up admiring him for.
When I finally did watch Heroman this past week, I found it was a very deliberate return to his roots, rather than anything wild and new. And not just Lee’s roots, but also my earlest exposure to anime. It’s wild, it’s carefree and doesn’t take itself too seriously. At the same time, it isn’t devoid of feeling either. And sure, while the lead mech is covered in Captain America-style stars and stripes, anime has featured enough western aspects over the years for it not to be too much of a bother once you come to terms with the show’s setting.