Black Heaven/Kachou Ouji is one of the best shows that no one seems to know about. A 13 episode series from 1999 about Ouji, a guy who used to be a guitarist in a rock band before giving it up to get married, start a career, and have a family. Years later he’s a stressed, unfulfilled section chief at a nondescript company in Tokyo with a hyperactive kid and an insensitive wife, neither of whom seem to pay much attention to him. But someone is paying attention, as aliens happen to find out that his music is the key to activating an ultimate weapon to fight off their vastly numerically superior enemy. That’s the premise and Black Heaven uses it to its fullest to bring the viewer plenty of interesting themes, BURNING PASSION for music, and some slapstick comedy to wash it down with. It’s FLCL for the post-college crowd. Interested? Well read on as I tell you why more people should watch this.
Like FLCL which I just compared it to, the guitars and rock music and aliens are just the badass vehicles through which Black Heaven delivers its characters and themes. And while I can’t personally connect to a lot of them at my age and point in life, they have such genuine feeling behind them that even I can appreciate them. Ouji’s feeling of being trapped in a mundane life, trying to convince himself that he doesn’t want or deserve extraordinary things at the beginning of the show sets the tone. And then when Layla Yuki, an alien officer that has set herself up as a new hire in his office, encourages him and gives him a chance to play again he returns to his past dreams. But this show wouldn’t be worth me trying to sell you on it here if it was that simple. He’s also very attracted to Yuki at first sight, and especially when she pays attention to him and encourages his music when no one else in his life does. Throughout the series there’s that tension and conflict within him between Yuki and his wife Yokko, and the worlds they represent. But that’s just the start.
I fell in love at first sight too.
Without going into spoilers, later on Ouji’s dream of playing music interacts with other aspects of his life. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, and sometimes varying at different points in the story. Trying to connect with and come to terms with his family is one way, and there’s also the matter of his old bandmates and what’s become of them since. Again like FLCL, it’s got a lot of heavy stuff under the facade of guitars saving the world and mischievous aliens. But in this case it’s not about coming of age (at least in the classic sense), it’s about trying to come to terms with early-middle point in time where people are just beginning to start their families and careers. It’s almost like a sci-fi Solanin but set 5 to 10 years later in the characters’ lives. And to make sure that it’s not too heavy, there’s a good amount of humor and slapstick comedy delivered primarily by Kotoko, Eriko, and Rinko, a trio of aliens sent to observe and aid Ouji but who mostly stand out rather than blend in.
The three comic relief stooges.
For as much as I was blown away by the show, I do have to acknowledge its weaknesses. It seems like it was made on a low-ish budget, so for the space battles there is a lot of reused sequences and shots. But the creators did choose the right places for cost cutting. This isn’t Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Banner of the Stars where the battles and their details are important. Black Heaven is about Ouji and his struggle to embrace, integrate, or reject his passion for music in his life, and by extension whether to do the same with the other elements of his life that compliment or are in opposition to that passion. And the show does this excellently. And also of note is that it’s backed up by a great soundtrack, in both the rock music and the background music.
Ginga no hate made!
So if the themes and the rock music sound interesting to you then I would heartily recommend giving Black Heaven a try. There are subs out there as well as a DVD released by the now-defunct Pioneer entertainment group, with a dub of the series too, if you’re into that sort of thing (I took a momentary look at it and Ouji is voiced by the guy who did Jet in the dub of Cowboy Bebop so it has at least one good VA.) Whatever your preferred media format, Black Heaven is well worth your time.