It’s amazing to think that studio AIC, responsible for the likes of Candy Boy, Asu no Yoichi, and Mayoi Neko Overun, was once able to make good stuff such as Bubblegum Crisis and Now and Then, Here and There. Though that is not the case anymore, revisiting the classics does wonders for one’s mental health. The Legend of Black Heaven aired in 1999 and depicts Oji, an average Japanese salary-man going through a mid-life crisis. It remains one of the rare instances where the main character’s maturation is not that of child to adult, but rather adult to child.
Oji is introduced as a former rock star who gave up on his dreams long ago. He is now settled with a wife, kid, and boring job. Oji, however, can’t seem to let go of what his life could have been, leading him further into despair. One day, he meets a beautiful woman named Yuki Layla, who is actually an alien. He soon learns that there is a huge war between aliens going on in parts of the galaxy unknown. It is also revealed that Layla’s faction is in possession of a “super weapon” that uses Oji’s guitar sound as fuel, thus giving him a reason to play the guitar once more. So begins Oji’s story as he struggles between his past life as a rock star and his current life as a father and salary-man.
The setting is one huge metaphor for Oji’s aspirations. When he meets Layla and plays the guitar in space for the first time, it represents his desire to return to what was in the past. In a way, it signifies what Oji aspires in his mind. When he returns to his apartment in the real world, it represents his return to reality. All of the main characters exhibit noticeable flaws, Oji perhaps being the most pronounced. His internal strife leads to the decay of his marriage, the estrangement of his son, and ultimately the realization of his past failures in life.
One of the downsides to AIC produced series in the 90s is the production value. Black Heaven is noticeably flawed in its animation. The space opera parts were particularly problematic, employing copious amounts of reused animation and imperfect CG. However, this aspect is completely overshadowed by its awesome soundtrack. The music in Black Heaven is among the best of any anime series. The heavy metal inspired OST rivals that of Beck and FLCL in pure intensity. “Let me go, let you go” is also one of my favorite themes of all time.
Final Thoughts: 9/10
In many ways, The Legend of Black Heaven is an alternate telling of FLCL if the main character were a grown man rather than an adolescent child. Despite being aimed towards older businessmen in their late 30s and 40s, it remains one of my favorite anime series to this day, a testament to its powerful message.