Rubius travels through the Game Worlds, to save Sakura, the girl he has just fallen in love with, from the claws of the enigmatic and evil Trollmask, in order to get rid of the virtual world of games where they are all trapped. For this, Rubius will be helped by a group of unconditional friends he will meet during his adventures through the Games World.
Virtual Hero is a 12-episode Spanish television series produced by Zeppelin TV for Movistar+ based on the comic book trilogy of the same name created by Rubén “El Rubius” Dobla, Spain’s equivalent to PewDiePie. In the UK the English Language dub launched on Amazon Prime. The comic book artwork is by Lolita Aldea (and is tragically as yet unavailable in English translation, which is a crying shame as a release would compliment the TV series release perfectly).
The animation is possibly the biggest love letter to anime that’s come from any European creator in the last five years!. Short and sweet 22-min episodes, this 12-episode show was animated in Korea, and features a cast of gamer avatar misfits; sword wielding action protagonist Rubius, the forever-in-love Zombirella, sorceress Sakura, floating ghost cats familiars, pirates, spooky Slenderman “tribute” Slimmer, and more. No trope is safe and it’s riddled with puerile humour, so log out any highbrow expectations you may have and enjoy the show.
The English dub is a little slow, but there are some very funny retorts that pop up and keep the viewer watching (or listening… “He’s more limpy than a Limp Bizkit!” – watch the ‘next episode’ segments for the full blast). Sadly the original Spanish dub plus subtitles is not an option for UK viewers. The western actor who voices Rubius has element of American 80’s cartoon voice actor Lorenzo Music’s comedic skill, from quiet but savage delivery to exasperated disbelief. There seems to be no listing of the Western voice actors in the end credits, nor on Wikipedia or IMDB, so hopefully this will follow soon.
The intro theme is a total banger which takes the piss out of every anime and gaming trope that it can in under thirty seconds. There’s even a Naruto run in it, for god’s sake. The ending theme is a softer song, loyally replicating it’s anime influences, which cannot help but raise a wry smile.
There’s one repeat ‘joke’ which is a bit tasteless (the ‘One Euro Beer’ character), which does not benefit the show because it’s basically a racist caricature. Also of note, there are a number of erection jokes in there which you may want to be aware of for very young gamer viewers, but nothing out of place from any regular teen-boy/shonen-style comic.
The show is directed by Alexis Barroso, with character designs also by the comic artist Lolita Aldea and written by Juan Torres, based upon the comic by El Rubius, who also voices the main character in the Spanish dub; El Rubius received the 2016 “YouTuber of the Year” award at the 1st Play Awards ceremony in Spain. So to have an avatar based upon a famous YouTuber may sound egotistical, but the character is hugely self-deprecating… imagine a funnier version of the lead from Ready Player One and you’ve got not just a cheeky tribute, but a concept with far more appeal as it plays up with all the tropes that viewers know and love, instead of sycophantically riding on IP’s coat-tails to deliver an unimaginative nostalgia bomb.
The start of the series is quite basic and light, but develops a satisfying conclusion. If you have any interest or experience with online gaming any anime inspired stereotypes, you will have a good chuckle. It’s not a show that’s going to change your life in any way at all, but it is fun to see gamer jokes in action onscreen, and great to see European creators inspired so majestically by the anime and games we all love.
Will in-game jokes last the test of time? Internet culture is still a melting pot of humour, much of which is over a decade old now, so it’s still got legs. The show will be particularly appealing if you are a younger player who is new to internet culture.
Laura Watton (PinkAppleJam)
Virtual Hero is available to stream on Amazon Prime UK now