Anime Review: HEROMAN – The Hero We Need, But Not The Hero We Deserved


Superhero comics were all the rage back then in the West, and it had been a big influence on Japanese’s anime culture. Both sides have exchanged a lot of inspiration back and forth, however, the mecha genre never really catch on to the hype. Most of Japan’s hero animes were based on Tokusatsu shows like Super Sentai or Metal Heroes. But Studio Bones and the legendary comic creator Stan Lee has paved the way for more superheroes to be animated in Japan – starting with the mechanized hero – Heroman!

Heroman‘s concept was created by Stan Lee in 2009 as a manga serialized in Square Enix. An anime adaptation consisted of 26-episodes were broadcast in April 2010. Stan Lee regarded the series as “a new hero for the 21st century”. Heroman consist of a lot of elements from Western comics, even taking place in a fictional US of A. The series follow Joseph “Joey” Jones – an orphaned boy living with his grandma (sounds familiar?) – who was just trying to get an education and make ends meet by working part-time. One day he stumble upon an abandoned Heybo (a robot toy that every kids wanted) and a spark of lightning hit the fixed bot – turning it into a robot warrior named Heroman and granted Joey the ability to control him. Just in time, an alien race arrive and want to take over the Earth. As always, it’s up to Joey, Heroman and his ragtag group of friends to protect this blue planet.

Of course, as this is a more “Westernized” anime with Japanese input, it is perfectly fine if you watch it both subbed or dubbed. Both experience are equally enjoyable considering the premise of the series.

From the get go, you can instantly see the Marvel comics influence in this – most particularly Spiderman or some of the X-men’s origin story. I believe this also influence the creation of Big Hero 6 which is very similar to Heroman. Viewers can get the animated comic experience but in anime artstyle – although the art is also quite American cartoon-ish. The settings of the plot and the basic characters are also very typical of comic characters – you get the quirky but loyal “bro” of the main character, you get the talented “school idol” crush of the mc, as well as her big brother who is, of course, a football team jock. You can’t forget to throw in the predictable adults – a genius inventor whose actual job is a school teacher, the good-natured and slightly chubby restaurant owner where the mc works at, and of course – the crucial family figure that raise the mc without his parents that is both accepting but also very strict. All of this screams superhero comics and it basically is. However, Bones put in some Japanese hero twist and turn in the plot to make it refreshing and memorable to both Japanese and Western viewers.

The alien invasion is also quite typical of Japanese’s mecha series – where the alien race has a few “elite” individuals but instead of going all-in on Earth, they hatch an elaborate scheme and try to takeover one town at a time. Of course it is logical to start small then expand if you don’t know a lot about the planet you’re invading, but after realizing their technology is far inferior, you should be able to surprise them with a multi-pronged international offensive. No matter, if that happened then we wouldn’t have a superhero story to tell. It is a crutch in literally 99% of alien invasion stories so it is not a good idea to dwell on it too much.

Joey is a very likeable guy (definitely not because of his feminine look and voice). He’s one of those nerds but looks quite nice – the semi-bishounen type. He’s not athletic or buff or has exceedingly noticeable characteristics like weird hairstyle or hair color – he’s just…an ordinary good guy. He’s also the type of boy that will relent just to go about his day in peace – like avoiding the obvious aggressive jockey Will. And just like many other boys that aren’t privilleged, Joey dream of becoming a hero. And when he finally got the ability to become one, he actually took it in half. He wanted to help others but when the stakes are so high, he also feel afraid. But thanks to his friend Psy and Lina, he found the courage to protect others and the Earth. And of course, it is in his blood – as his father was also a hero that saved many people despite just being a normal human.

Otherwise, Joey’s hero journey is very well constructed and expanded upon. He started small, with total surprise when he got Heroman as was hesitant to take on the responsibility of a protector. But over time, after his friends cheer him on, and he saw what he could do with the power he was gifted, and his care for his family, his friends, his love, as well as Heroman itself has imbued him with confidence and determination. You can see throughout the series that even though Joey isn’t as physically durable as Heroman despite gaining some superhuman ability, he is still willing to put himself in harm’s way to fight. For an ordinary teenager, the commitment to do such a dangerous thing is commendable. Unlike other heroes where they themselves receive great power, Joey didn’t directly gain power himself but rather “gained” a partner.

Heroman – his partner – isn’t exactly a vocal characters. He’s basically the manifestation of Joey’s will and then grew into a sentient partner on his own. He’s steadfast and can sense when Joey is in danger and actively seek to protect him. However, when Joey gained enough power to stand on his own, Heroman fight alongside him like brother-in-arms.

Lina Davis is also a very cool character that I didn’t expect to shine as much as she did. Granted, she’s a cheerleader, her family is super successful, her brother is on the football team. She got the looks and the brain as well. She’s as close to a Mary Sue as you can get. But her behaviour and personality is actually very likeable. She actively seek out Joey to win his affection and not becoming a mere damsel in distress. An active heroine that doesn’t possess any battle power is pretty rare in japanese mecha series. And Lina is also similar to strong-willed girls in superhero comics.


Another X-factor was actually…Will Davis – Lina’s brother and the school bully. He’s blonde, built like a tank and his favorite pastime was picking on Joey. However, they gave him a very impressive character development arc. After the first few ep where they established that he is just mean, but he bullies Joey because he think Lina was too good for him. Classic over-protective big brother that act like an asshat because he doesn’t know any better. But then, the twist came that he got turned into an alien-human hybrid along with his friend. Unlike his friend – who instantly broke down and joined the alien side, Will still fought to keep his humanity and actually became a vigilante to protect human from the alien. He is also willing to sacrifice himself in place of Heroman and Joey to bring an end to the invasion. He realized that having power means you have to live up to it. A literal inversion of the Spiderman message. He was blessed with evil power, but he used it for good. It was awesome to see Will and Joey finally seeing eye-to-eye thanks to their love for Lina, and join forces to battle against the alien. Certainly an amazing and pleasant surprise.

Psy was a cool sidekick. Essentially the non-powered but brave and kinda Gary-Stu character. He’s the person that paved the way for Joey and has been helping him whenever he need advice. Psy is a very ethical person, but he will always put his friends first. He almost lost his life because of it. You can say he’s the message “I’m a normal human but I can be a hero too” from the show. Mad respect for the guy.

Well…it’s aliens. They aren’t much different from what we’ve seen from other series like SDF Macross, Voltes V etc… They resort to mostly small scale attacks then when push come to shove, they bring out the big guns, but by then, it’s already too late since our heroes are already powered up. There are a few elites and intelligent individual aliens, but they often do not jump into the fray until the climax. And of course, the majority of them are egotistical, looking down upon humans until they get their just desert. At least the final boss was an amazing combatant. All in all, nothing special but very fitting for the series.

The animation will give you a feel of American cartoon with Japanese drawn characters. The aesthetic is quite simple and doesn’t have too much details or special effects. The beams, flames, explosions, etc… feels very Western like what we see in Justice League or Ben 10 cartoons. The fight is cool, the “engage” sequence was well done (although a bit repetitive). The explosives, beams and other special effects are quite simple but good enough.

The characters have pretty basic Western design, Joey actually looks pretty scrawny which is to boost his awesomeness during fight scenes and emotional moment, Psy is the cool hip-hop dude and Lina is a beautiful cheerleader with Will being the reverse triangle kinda guy. Pretty stereotypical for comic design style.

Heroman – however – is a breath of freshair. Imagine Michelin man but got Japanizing mecha-beamed. At first glance he looks, well, chonky and fat, but when you look at him closely – as well as through toy design etc… you can see that he’s a walking mini fortress. The stylistic choice of having no feet on Heroman is pretty much due to the designer – Shigeto Koyama – style. His work such as Captain Earth, Gurren Lagann, also features mecha with no feet. While Heroman has large shoulders, thighs and forearms, his waist is very thin and has an hour-glass-ish style. Which is, once again, a Western comic thing. Lots of buff superhero that has that figure like Superman, Shazam, Black Adam etc…and because you cant really put human muscle on Heroman, Shigeto-sensei went for the next best thing.

The first opening “Roulette” is very cheerful and energetic – pretty good for a young hero who just started his journey. It’s also good to note that it is still the time where Will is his old normal self, so the song feels like a cheerleading song when Lina was still fully happy. Then the OP switch to the 2nd song “missing” with a more emotional and melancholic feel, showing that Joey has matured but also has faced hardship and pain during his journey. And it’s also when Will has been mutated, causing both Lina and Joey a lot of pain. Overall, the OPs set the tone of the episode really well.

The endings are by FLOW and Mass Alert, and well, they really just embody the “seishun” feels of the main cast. And it’s not just the upbeat and cheery side either, but also the more angst and craving side of youth.

Heroman is a great combination between Western concept and aesthetic with Japan Mecha execution. Stan Lee and Bones did a great job opening up some slot for “superhero” anime that Marvel followed through. Heroman is a great journey and the coming-of-age story of a boy with great ambitions but was limited by his own circumstances, found a ray of hope and then push forward with everything he had. It’s also highlight friendship and love is a great source of strength – both for heroes and anti-heroes alike. While not saying many lines, Heroman leave a deep impression in us by “not saying, just punching” style.

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