Hero Mask – Anime Review
Synopsis: After a rash of mysterious deaths, Crown prosecutor Sarah Sinclair and SSC agent James Blood discover a conspiracy surrounding uncanny new bio-masks. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Hero Mask (or more accurately, based on the title card, Hero Does Not Equal Mask) doesn’t start strong and gradually slogs towards its conclusion as the writing falls apart, fails to properly utilize its cast, or keep the thrills and twists coming, all culminating in a thoroughly mediocre and often boring 15 episode series.
Early on Hero Mask seems almost James Bond-esque. James Blood, our seeming lead, is a ‘lose cannon.’ He works for SSC, a sort of off-shoot of the police, and often uses excessive force without authorization. We’re introduced to him through a crazy action sequence that pops the series off with a bang. Just like James Bond, James Blood is companion to a host of other SSC characters. Eddie, the Q-type character who is always backing James up through cameras, information gathering and cyber hacking, and his boss Lennox Gallagher, a man who has trouble keeping James under control.
Within the first episode itself we’re also introduced to Sarah Sinclair, subordinate of Monica Campbell, a prosecutor looking to shed light on a terrible corporate conspiracy. When Monica winds up dead, and Sarah becomes suspicious of Monica’s death, the SSC team begins looking into it.
Writing aside for a minute, let’s talk about the art. Hero Mask is an overall visually competent production, boasting strong action, character art, etc. It’s not perfect however, there’s places where the artistic style produces some wonky faces, or the action is cut with such a frantic eye that it becomes hard or confusing to follow.
Beneath the visuals however is a series that seems awfully confused about what it wants to be. Within the first episode we’re introduced to a bunch of individuals with the Bio-masks mentioned from the Netflix synopsis. The series seems poised to depict a lengthy battle for London between the SSC and these dangerous individuals. It starts with the introduction of Grimm, a serial killer from James Blood’s past. With his mask’s new abilities Grimm seems an ever escalating threat (it doesn’t help matters that many of the police officers in this series are idiots, happy to stand around as their friends, and they themselves, are shot to death.) But just as the series sets all that up, it’s no sooner that Grimm is offed, and Hero Mask refocuses on a very different masked character.
Eventually the masked individual plot goes away, relegated to a McGuffin for the larger story; the SSC’s efforts to nail down LIVE corporation, the company seemingly behind all this. In fact I’d go on to say that Hero Mask takes a massive dive once we move away from the Bio Masks. It attempts to go hard political/corporate police thriller, but doesn’t have the content to back it up. Once past episode 6 most episodes are a slow, painful crawl. Action scenes remain the highlight, but Sarah Sinclair’s sleuthing efforts often drag on and on, well past the audience figuring out the connection. This means it can take what feels like ages for Sarah to reach the conclusion most everyone watching has already pieced together.
This is where we should talk about the characters. Thrillers typically don’t do a lot of character work. Just look at the majority of the Bond films. James Bond remains a stalwart hero through much of them, save the more recent Daniel Craig outings. It works because with just two hours of run time you can pack in thrills, twists and action, and you don’t need character work to keep it all interesting. But Hero Mask runs at a high 15 episode count, two-three episodes past the typical anime season. Unfortunately the series just doesn’t have an abundance of those other qualities in order to skimp on all the character work.
What we’re left with is a cast that doesn’t make up for all the plodding the series ultimately ends up with. Between the action and suspense we need character work to fill the gaps, but James Blood is a wooden bore, with little more personality that his reckless use of force (which honestly gets barely any play.) Perhaps aware that James isn’t nearly as compelling a hero as he should be, Hero Mask tries to turn itself into a heavy ensemble outing, stretching attention between Lennox, Eddie, Sarah, Lennox’s boss Richard Burner, the head of SSC, and a few others. But much like James, none of these characters have any overtly compelling traits. Eddie shows sympathy and heart when one of the Mask villains imparts a tragic story of his family life, but that’s a one off. Sarah remains dogged in her pursuit of the truth, but little else can be noted as to what defines her. These characters are far more thin than any typical anime trope ridden cast.
Despite the teasing that Grimm, our introductory villain, and James are connected, the series never expands on this. We never flashback to showcase their relationship, or many of the other character’s past that consistently seem relevant to the present day events. With one exception: Richard Burner. A minor character who has little real effect on the plot until the very, very end. Richard, surprisingly, gets an entire ten minute flashback dedicated to showcasing why he wants LIVE Corporation out of the picture. But this flashback is shoved into the final episode, and sits at odds with the series’ otherwise complete disinterest in expanding on the history of our leads, that it feels maddeningly out of place.
Hero Mask ultimately ends with a tease, hinting at the desire of the production team to do another season. But what’s here doesn’t inspire. Characters are thin, the show drags far too often, and what action Hero Mask does offer simply doesn’t make up for everything else. Even the central mask element becomes so underused it starts to feel like you could replace it with just about anything and the story wouldn’t change a bit.
By series’ end I find myself unable to recommend Hero Mask. At best its an option for an audience absolutely starved for action thrillers, willing to put up with mediocre writing and a run time that drags on far, far too long. Everyone else should pass. If it wasn’t for Sword Gai earlier this year, this might be my vote for Netflix’s worst anime offering yet.
Hero Mask is available for streaming via Netflix.