Netflix’s action anime Hero Mask is a bit of a mixed bag. Instead of feeling exhilarated or deflated after watching this 15 episode first part, Hero Mask left me feeling indifferent. This, unfortunately, is a trend that continues throughout the show. On the one hand, the general cinematography of shots and art direction is well done, blending CGI with hand-drawn animation in a really impressive manner. On the other hand, Hero Mask’s story falls into every crime trope imaginable whilst presenting a story rife with sci-fi elements that just aren’t that interesting or original. While the characters are okay and the voice acting is generally on point in both the dub and original Japanese, there just isn’t a whole lot here to get excited about.
The story begins at breakneck pace and refuses to let up from there. When Prosecutor Monica Campbell is killed, her colleague Sarah asks the SSC, a special police force, to investigate the mystery surrounding her death. At the heart of this is brash detective James Blood, fresh from hunting criminals in a breathless car chase across a neon-lit bustling city. Tasked with looking into Monica’s death, a face from James’ past brandishing a strange mask throws the entire investigation into chaos. After a brutal exchange between the two, the story opens up with more characters coming to the foreground and a mysterious group called LIVE at the heart of the mystery behind the mask.
This mask happens to be an integral part of the plot and when worn, allows its wearer to shape-shift into any other person. While this isn’t necessarily anything new in the world of science fiction, it’s pulled off reasonably well here and merges nicely into the action/crime genre Hero Mask is clearing gunning for. The story is a little disjointed though and at times the plot feels torn in several directions before answers are revealed late on and everything builds up to a climactic finale. Ready for the second part to drop on Netflix in the foreseeable future.
Hero Mask has a distinct visual style and you’ll know very early on whether this is a show for you. There’s a lot of experimentation here and you can clearly see the Directors were going for a Hollywood style with its presentation. This both works very well and very badly. Some of the overall shots are good, with the backdrops looking really nice and the various characters detailed and well drawn. As a collective whole the series just doesn’t gel and flow as well as it could. Dialogue exchanges are needlessly thrown into silence with no background noise only to suddenly chime in with music at a random, inconsequential moment during conversations. Extreme close up shots of characters reveal the cold, lifeless eyes that never blink while the static, stifled expressions linger for longer than they should before bursting into life during accentuated moments in speech.
The lightning quick cuts during action scenes are where the biggest issues lie and it’s here where Hero Mask comes undone. In the world of film, these quick cuts do work well – with titles like The Bourne Identity managing to pull off this rapid, chaotic style to good effect. As an anime, this effect not only doesn’t work, it actually has an adverse effect on the appeal of the show. During the first episode I counted 93 scene switches in 60 seconds. 93. This blisteringly quick pace is clearly used to quicken the pace and make everything feel more threatening and cinematic but it’s really not needed and more than anything else, detracts from the enjoyment. This occurs continuously throughout the series and never lets up. It’s a shame too because the build up to these moments is actually pretty good and show off a good array of artistic shots not normally seen in the anime medium.
Trying to present anything original or interesting in the crime genre, one of the most saturated and bloated out there, was always going to be a struggle for Hero Mask. Unfortunately what little intrigue the show has it squanders with a ferocious, haphazard way of presenting its action and far too many questionable stylistic choices. While the plot does pick up a little toward the end, Hero Mask falls for every trick in the book along the way, reveling in as many of the tropes inherent in this genre as possible. From post-its on a whiteboard to stake-outs and breaking and entering, Hero Mask ticks off every conventional trope it can during its first 15 episodes.
While the final few episodes do well to tease what’s to come, there just isn’t enough here to make Hero Mask a worthwhile series to divulge into. With so many other choices in this genre, both anime and crime, it’s difficult to recommend Hero Mask despite its visual flair and originality with its shots and animation. The action scenes are the real deal breaker though and these are shot with such blistering ferocity it feels sloppy and makes it difficult to discern exactly what’s going on. I wanted to love Hero Mask and wanted it to succeed but Hero Mask is simply a very average, lackadaisical animation that doesn’t do enough to warrant anything more.