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Kachou Ouji / The Legend of Black Heaven

As one gets older, it's common to reflect on the path taken over the years. What were we like in our 20s, our 30s, our 40s? What are we like now? Are we happy with how things are currently? Those who answer with a "No!" sometimes fall into the trap of looking back on their 20s as a sort of golden age and try to return to that time with potentially disasterous results. Usually people call this sort of thing a mid-life crisis.

Kachou Ouji is the story of one such person: Tanaka Ouji former rock musician now typical salaryman, married with one kid. When looking at the trajectory of his life, in his youth the band he was in, Black Heaven, did somewhat okay for itself, but quickly fizzled out. With that, he had a taste of a particularly exciting lifestyle. However, that all quickly faded away, replaced with fairly typical life for a Japanese man. It's certainly safe, but also very mundane. The latter part has been eating away at Ouji for years and he's miserable. His job is a soulless grind while his wife doesn't even try to understand him simply barking orders constantly and steadily throwing away Ouji's keepsakes from his band days.

One day, this suddenly changes when a mysterious beautiful blonde named Layla starts working at Ouji's office. In reality, she's an alien whose forces are in a universe spanning war. Somehow, Ouji's guitar playing produces energy waves that are perfect for powering her fleet's ultimate weapon. With that, Ouji finds new meaning in life that allows him to tap into the passion of his youth. Along the way, he starts to remember why his family is important to him and re-evaluates his life while helping to save the universe.

The story is a bit all over the place as it shifts from science fiction to slice of life to comedy, but is reasonably entertaining overall. It's easy to sympathize with Ouji's plight, especially given how little empathy his wife has for him. She spends much of the series being a caricature of the typical Japanese housewife. On the one hand, the show is playing this up to emphasize Ouji's misery, but on the other it doesn't make sense because she was a groupie for Black Heaven. Surely she should have at least a little bit of understanding for his predicament.

Things start out slow but pick up as the scale of the war increases and Ouji slowly gets the band back together in order to defeat the mysterious enemy. Oddly, the show never reveals the opposing army other than nondescript space vessels blasting lasers at Layla's ships. Viewers simply have to trust that her and the rest of the fleet are actually the good guys. Navigating the whole idea of getting older and embracing it or re-evaluating it, we see this more with the other members of Black Heaven, who appear much happier with their family life and seem to simply accept their jobs. Ouji deals with it in a more over the top way what with going to space sometimes, but there is plenty of soul searching along the way.

The balance between slice of life, comedy, and sci-fi may be a bit jarring for some. Things quickly hop between Ouji's office / home life, space battles, and gags. Once viewers keep it at the back of their head that there are going to be these quick shifts, some may be able to deal with it. Others may not warm up to it, though.

Examining the characters, the show is all about Ouji. Most of the development is poured into him with the rest of the cast largely there to prop him up. Outside of learning to play keyboard, Layla largely stays the same threw the series, the rest of Black Heaven mostly help emphasize that everyone is now middle aged and nothing like they were in their youth. Layla's three helpers were fun and provide the majority of the comedy. Gen, Ouji's son, is reasonably enjoyable and it was nice to see the two bond and become closer over time. Yoshiko, his wife, even got development, but it felt stilted. She would realise that she doesn't treat Ouji very well one moment, but then fall into bad habits the next. It made it very hard to warm up to her. If it wasn't for Gen, I'd have been absolutely fine if Ouji decided to run off with Layla at the end.

In terms of art, Kachou Ouji does a great job of capturing the middle age-dom of Ouji and his bandmates. If anything, it leans into it pretty hard. The opening shows them all in their 20s when Black Heaven was still going, so the juxtaposition between then and their current forms is stark. It feels like the art is trying to drive home how much the grind of a normal life has warn them down from their youths full of hope and promise. Meanwhile, Layla is every bit the bombshell with her trio of helpers adding hints of sex appeal as well. There is also a slow drip of fan service throughout the series. Having been made in the late 90s, viewers will also be treated to some janky CG graphics for many of the space ship scenes. They aren't Babylon 5 levels of primative, but close.

One area that feels like it really could have been better is the music. I was half expecting this show to be part rock opera. There are some good songs with nice riffs, but most of the time Ouji plays the same song over and over again and it just gets old. Also, no one in the band sings anymore, so it's all instrumentals. I have to assume this is more about budget constraints and not wanting to bring a full-time singer onto the show in order to save money. Nevertheless, it feels like wasted potential. Things get slightly better for the last two or three episodes, but for the majority of the show it felt like more could have been done in regards to music.

This is still a show worth taking a peak at. It isn't perfect, but it does a decent job of reflecting some of the aspects of Japanese life that can prove a challenge as well as an over the top way of dealing with it. Just don't be surprised if the main theme gets stuck in your head.

- IroIro
March 9, 2022

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Directed by: Kikuchi Yasuhito
Studio: AIC, APPP
Episodes: 13
Released: 1999

DVD Cover Art

Ouji playing his guitar in order to save the universe

Layla's three helpers and source of many gags

Part of Layla's training to become a better keyboard player