The Buzz: Does 'Hero Mask' S2 Mask Its Potential?
Fingers getting shot off, old men hit by cars, and lots of traffic collisions. It's no question that season 2 of Hero Mask has increased its intensity. Hero Mask is an anime depicts an alternate London where technological advancements such as cybernetic contact lenses are possible. In this world, detective James Blood (Yasuyuki Kase) works for a specialized police division – the Special Service of Crime or SCC – and encounters people of interest who wear Masks. These Masks enable the wearer to have enhanced abilities but, if used too often, the Mask will force its user to die by aging rapidly within the span of a few minutes. The Masks themselves look like thin sheets of origami paper that fold and contour to its wielder’s face.
All of this is already established in the first season. What the second season elaborates on is why the Masks came to be, especially in episode five and onward. As of yet, there has been no official reason or flashback as to how, only vague mentions of an accident that ultimately stopped the research process. What causes the Masks to work? Is it magic? Is it science? The world may never know. Without a proper understanding of the Masks, it's hard to take the rather grave and philosophical discussions of them seriously. In episode eight, a character questions if Masks were a natural part of human evolution, and if humans were meant to wield them. At this point, the audience still doesn't know the science (or magic) behind the Masks, so it's at the same level of severity as putting arbitrary power into sheets of binder paper.
In addition to the main plot of the series - the Masks - each season has its own plot line that runs alongside the Mask narrative. If season one was devoted to assistant attorney Sarah Sinclair (Yūko Kaida) and her attempts to solve a bureaucratic mystery, then season two is an action-based thriller. James not only has to fight against the Masks, but must protect a fourteen-year-old Tina Hurst (Yū Shimamura), the only known successful merger of human and Mask. Much like spy or rogue agent movies such as Looper (Rian Johnson 2012), Push (Paul McGuigan 2009), or the Terminator franchise, babysitting becomes a larger part of the series. Just as James watches over Tina, James himself is being supervised by two new characters, Alan Wyatt (actor unknown) and Douglas Coates (actor unknown), who are the newest additions to the police force.
Unlike James, their goal isn't to protect their target, but to catch signs of "blatant misconduct", reckless behavior, or any general deviance from proper workplace procedure. It's hard to be a suave and stealthy figure when someone is constantly criticizing and questioning your allegiance and motivations. Although, to be honest, James Blood was never suave and stealthy to begin with. That honor goes to James' adversary and former co-worker, Harry Creighton (Kōki Uchiyama). Harry is a returning figure from season 1, but without the benefit of his humanizing relationship with his sick girlfriend Eve (Yukiyo Fujii), his main purpose seems to be just stoically pointing guns at people or flamboyantly kicking them out of other people's hands. Essentially, he has moved from anti-hero to villain’s bodyguard.
And speaking of villains, there are two new potential threats looming on the horizon. One is a vague and barely present character from season one. He remains nameless but has a bit more screen time and dialogue this season. He looks like an anime version of Sherlock Holmes but acts more like a Moriarty. Both criminals and police force alike are under his authority. The second is Professor Gary Evans (actor unknown). Even though he has little to no dialogue, he is the opening image for season two: an old man methodically and systematically pressing origami paper together. This is no coincidence. Professor Gary Evans is not only Tina's grandfather, but the presiding professor over the Mask experiments. He was the leader and chief official for the Mask experiments. So far, he's been relatively harmless, but if he has the intellect behind the creation of the Masks and a wish to wipe out all traces of them – Tina included – then he could be a big player in season 3.
Those who remember season one might wonder as to Geffrey Connor's (Yukata Aoyama) role in season two. He is still there, but like Harry, sans the entire motivation behind his exploits. Generally, while more physical action happens in season two, it comes at the expense of the character depth. Particularly, for those who oppose James. Without a proper drive, Connor just seems like an old man who enjoys cackling and caressing people's necks. While quite villainous in an entirely different way, it is not how Connor's character was set up to be.
Hero Mask is a show that heavily relies on, if not outright prioritizes, the side characters. In season one, Sarah had more screen time than James. While the screen time of each character is more evenly shared this season, it comes at a cost. Characters feel either stagnant or a bit cliched. Connor and Harry went from complex and contradictory figures to pantomimes of themselves. Aside from James Blood, a reference to James Bond, there are characters with names that reference cinematic and real-world individuals. For example, Anna Winehouse in place of Amy Winehouse and William Hurst instead of William Hearst. It would be nice if the character’s personality and motivations matched the depth of their names.
The animation takes some time to get used to. It’s rather sharp and not as smooth as traditional anime. Most either love it or hate it as is typical and almost expected of the animation studio behind Hero Mask, Studio Pierrot. With big names like Naruto, Tokyo Ghoul, and Bleach in its tool belt, Studio Pierrot tends to garner rather polarized opinions. Although luckily, one of the greatest criticisms against Studio Pierrot – that it deviates too much from the manga – is inapplicable to Hero Mask since it is directly released onto Netflix with no prior source.
The show’s timeline is a bit tricky to figure out, even more so given that rapid aging makes it difficult to gage a character's age. However, the little bits of information and history given are intriguing. True, Hero Mask is an anime and, as such, it has certain tropes. Expect a PLETHORA of noncommittal sighs, grunts, groans, and statements of the obvious. But even so, Hero Mask has the potential to be better than it appears. There are elements of the James Bond franchise, of Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Sam Rolfe & Norman Felton 1964) and even from science fiction thrillers like Orphan Black (Graeme Manson & John Fawcett 2013). Anime? More like, ani-might binge watch it this afternoon.