When dead prisoners start turning up alive and superpowered, a complex web reveals itself.
What They Say:
Are a series of bombings and the murder of a high-ranking government official linked to the actions of the huge international pharmaceutical company LIVE? Ordered to investigate, Detective James Blood of the Special Service of Crime quickly discovers far more than just a conspiracy. There’s a new technology on the street: masks as thin as paper that completely alter the appearance of the wearer’s face while also granting amazing strength and agility… at the cost of years off their users’ lives!
Together with assistant attorney/murder witness Sarah Sinclair, Blood must unearth the secrets behind the masks and their connection to LIVE’s mysterious founder. But the clock is ticking down and James and Sarah may already be living on borrowed time. Because when the ultimate disguise powers the ultimate human killing machines, death can be lurking anywhere in Hero Mask!
The audio presentation for this show is done up in its original Japanese language in stereo along with a newly created English language dub for the home video release using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. As we’ve seen with a couple of Netflix properties, they’re not licensing out the dubs so Sentai has produced its own here. The show is pretty standard dialogue stuff with some nice incidental sound effects and minor music moments that gives it a bit more life. There’s not a lot going on here that really taxes the audio mix but it has some nice placement moments from time to time and it handles the varying levels of dialogue well in a way that helps to keep you immersed in it. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and you’ll hear every little groan and strain through the workout or the sighing in the middle of the night.
Originally released in 2018 and 2019, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-four episodes are spread across three discs in a seven/eight/nine format. The show was animated by Studio Pierrot and has all the right slickness that you’d expect of a project commissioned for Netflix that feels like it falls into the Nordic Noir style of property. The animation style goes for the kind of grimdark approach that fits the subject material itself and has a good moodiness to it that comes across well. The color design is pretty specific and works it well so that there are some very rich scenes and some very fluid scenes that definitely click. In a way, you can almost tell whether it’s up your alley or not from the opening sequence which is definitely not anime traditional. There are plenty of familiar things here in the approach but I like the just slightly askew bits that gives it more personality, which the encoding captures here beautifully with a clean and solid look..
The packaging design for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case where the three discs are held on a hinge for two and one against the back interior wall. The front cover is that kind of piece that’s intriguing in how it looks but doesn’t actually reveal anything as we get the street crosswalk and a reflection of the lead character in the water-soaked street itself. I love that it goes for a serious illustration style for it and the broken mask adding to the dramatic effect. The back cover goes for a slightly askew portion with a white/grey checkered piece at the top with the tagline and episode count while the rest goes darker for background material. We get some decent shots from the show but these are largely muted as well. The summary of the premise is well-covered and the disc’s extras are clearly listed, even though the font size is a bit too small for my tastes. The rest is standard-fare stuff with the technical grid that breaks things down accurately and the production credits. No show-related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The release comes with a look at the original Japanese promos, which are welcome but we also get some visual sections that look into the character designs and settings as well.
Hero Mask was an original production out of Studio Pierrot that landed in 2018 and 2019 on Netflix in multiple languages before finally getting sublicensed for home video. The project is an interesting one that in a lot of ways feels ideal for the service as it plays the anime side well but by setting it in Londo, you get a lot of the euro-interest and nordic noir types to take a look as well. The show brought in Hiroyasu Aoki for it where he both oversaw the series composition and scripts but also directed it, giving him a strong sense of bringing to life what’s in his head. Aoi doesn’t have a huge resume but spent a lot of time on Hunter x Hunter, which is appealing, so I was surprised that he got to tackle this big of a project on his own. With a twenty-four-episode run, they’re standard-length episodes and this release keeps us to the traditional side with just the Japanese and English tracks for it.
This series is one that will definitely create conflicting views that will be really hard for some to understand in a way. The show is one that works an interesting premise as its setup but follows a largely generic approach to storytelling. Long-time anime fans can mark this one out easily – if not in the first episode – then after an episode or two in understanding the structure of it. It’s also an anime series designed with binge viewing in mind, which most anime traditionally isn’t, so we get a lot of cliffhanger type moments that aren’t designed to make you come back in a week but rather designed so that you don’t cancel the next episode loading. It’s intended to keep you watching until you just manage to break free somehow. And I’ll say that while noting that the show is fairly plodding and methodical, which is another area where there will likely be different views on it.
While I come from a long anime background, I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying a lot of Netflix international projects in the crime thriller genre and they really do play out like this series does. A lot of stage dressing, exploring of locations and characters, and just moving through things with feeling more so than actual information or reveals. It’s a mood thing more than a story thing. That doesn’t always translate well to anime and I’m mixed about the results here while seeing other long-time anime fans throwing their hands up in disgust. What the project is doing is immersing you in the world, which is admittedly fairly mundane, but it’s doing it through the characters, which can be viewed as a bit generic. But therein lies the rub because that’s kind of part and parcel with live-action projects like this whereas anime has to go for distinctive and colorful characters so they stand out. This just feels like an animated live-action project in a lot of ways.
The concept here is quite good as we’re introduced to an alternate London where we follow James Blood, a member of the Special Service of Crime division that deals with the more unique things as part of the Capital Police. It’s basically a blending of different things that makes them top agents with a lot of latitude. What he ends up dealing with is a case involving the Crown Prosecutor where one of their witnesses dies and he works with Sarah Sinclair from that department. The general mystery is that there are people that have been dead for years that were prisoners of the government but have now been causing trouble. They’re juiced up with some white masks that make them superhuman and it doesn’t take long for James and Sarah to connect them with the LIVE corporation which has plenty of tendrils in a whole lot of places. The show works an almost episodic approach for its first season that clocks in at fifteen episodes (hence the disc breakdown) as it works to solve the opening problem. The second season of nine episodes digs more into the larger working of things when it comes to the masks and while it provides some resolution there, it leaves things open-ended enough for a third season, which the writer/director is interested in though they know Netflix is done with it. So, you can see the kind of plot that’s easily spread over the extended season here and how it can be massaged out in what really feels like a live-action binge-style designed series.
With this release getting a new dub from Sentai themselves, I’ll admit that I have to leave the comparisons up to others. From what I can tell, the Netflix dub which has some name actors involved in it to be sure, has been called flat and boring. Which at the same time was said about the Japanese cast, but just a bit better. Part of it is surely the material itself because it’s not the usual over-exaggerated dialogue we get even in a number of the usual serious anime productions out there. I did sample the dub that Sentai produced with this and while not doing a comparison in any way, it’s clearly going to be better. Chris Patton has a strong track record and while he does play James as you’d expect, it has a good bit of personality to it that lets it stand out. Similarly, Luci Christian can handle a role like this with ease as Sarah and not come across as bland and flat. I suspect some of this may just come down to direction – how much involvement there might have been with the Netflix dub from the Japanese side to mirror the calm and bland approach – I don’t know. It’s not unheard of to be sure. So while the new dub from Sentai isn’t one that’s going to really wow anyone, I found it to be solidly competent and strong in capturing the material with its character-driven serious side being what’s dominant here.
Hero Mask is… a complicated show that causes a lot of strong reactions going by what I’ve looked at. For most shows, I never really see the reaction until I finish a review and skim to see what others thought of it or if I missed something. With this series, it’s one that’s designed to appeal to a particular kind of streaming consumer on Netflix that binges and likes the euro-crime material while combining some interesting anime elements with the overpowered side. It’s one that in a lot of ways you could easily see being done in live-action as well and working quite well. But its approach – right from the opening sequence – is so non-anime-standard that I can imagine it putting a lot of people off unless they’re attuned to this kind of approach. In the end, Sentai’s release is pretty solid in terms of the presentation and encoding and I’m curious to see what people think of the differences between the dubs. With leads like Chris Patton and Luci Christian, however, you cannot go wrong.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos,
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 27th, 2021
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.