Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Anime Review: Does "Iron Man" Represent The Next Step For Marvel Animation?
By Scott Tre
On the animation front, the House of Ideas has been getting soundly trounced by Bruce Timm and his crew over at Warner Bros. Animation. While Marvel Animated productions have not been uniformly horrible, they have been unable to reach the bar set by the DC Animated Universe. To make matters worse, the gap between the two seems to increase with each subsequent release from either company. The straight to DVD offerings of the DCAU often have the feel of feature length films, or well conceived television pilots. Marvel offerings often feel like barely passable accessories for fans. A big part of the formula for Bruce Timm's success has been the influence of Japanese anime which has been prevalent from the very first episode of Batman: The Animated series. Perhaps in a bid to bridge the seemingly insurmountable gap, Marvel Animation has teamed up with Japanese Animation studio MADHOUSE LTD. to produce anime iterations of some of their most famous characters. The first one of these to see the light of day is Iron Man, the first two episodes of which have already aired in Japan.
In the first episode, Tony Stark arrives in Japan amidst swirling rumors that he will be retiring as Iron Man. He plans to set up arc reactor stations that will serve as a source of clean, free energy for the Japanese. In order to ingratiate himself to the land of the rising sun, he puts on an air show featuring his latest creation: a variation of the iron man suit named Iron Man Dio. After the Dio suit malfunctions during an aerial exhibition, Stark discovers that it may have fallen under the control of an organization named Zodiac.
In the second episode, Tony Stark is suspected of smuggling plutonium and is requested to speak in front of an investigation committee. Instead of leaving his fate in the hands of investigators, He dons the Iron Man suit and sets out to clear his name. While tracking a stolen shipment of plutonium, he again does battle with a mechanized minion of the techno-terrorist organization Zodiac.
Any iteration of old shell head will have to contend with massive shadow cast by Jon Favreau's two blockbuster Iron Man films, which for better or worse have become the definitive version of the character for the general populace. This makes it even tougher for any adaptation that looks to create its own identity. The idea of an anime series based on a Marvel comics character brings any number of tantalizing possibilities to mind. The cultural differences between East and West could possibly spawn a wholly original take on the character. Sadly, the first two episodes of Iron Man do very little to either establish a fresh take on the character or to diminish the considerable lead that the DCAU has over Marvel Animation.
The character designs are about what you would expect from a quality anime production. The Lines are clean and sharp. The characters stand tall and even seem to curve in the directions of the blowing winds. Tony Stark looks like he stepped right off the cover of an anime version of GQ magazine. Scenes featuring the Iron Man suit are aided by computer graphics. Everything with a metal surface looks as though it was immaculately cleaned and given an impenetrable wax coating. Everything glistens with an ArmorAll sheen. Perhaps this is a sly comment on the glitzy world that Tony Stark inhabits. He always has to be ready to go in front of the cameras.
As is be expected in a quality anime production, the action scenes move at a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" pace. The first episode is a mundanely slow burn until a serviceable aerial duel between Iron Man and Iron Man Dio. The second Episode features an extended chase book ended by similar robot battles. Both sequences prove to be highlights, but unfortunately the drama motivating the action is a bit less than compelling. This makes it hard to get too involved in anything that transpires. Tony's interactions with reporter Nanami-Chan are initially cute but already show signs of growing tiresome and repetitive.
One major failing is the characterization of Stark. Instead of the bombastically narcissistic playboy portrayed by Robert Downey Junior, we get a slightly mischievous pretty boy crusader. This is not to say that the anime should simply ape the approach of the films, but it could have offered something a bit more engaging. Throughout the duration of the pilot episode, Stark is a bland variant of the James Bond persona. He is simply a well intentioned ladies man who pilots a robot suit. There isn't an ounce of pathos or inner turmoil to be found. Anyone who has not read the comics or seen the films would be hard pressed to understand what drives him. That is perhaps the biggest obstacle in Iron Man feeling like a fully conceived production. Furthermore, if this series did not bare the Iron Man name brand, it would be nigh indistinguishable from any number of mecha anime series.
While it is always necessary to give any new series a few episodes to establish a momentum, Iron Man is off to very uneventful start. The previews for the Marvel/MADHOUSE collaborations had us expecting something that would move at a breakneck pace. Instead, we seem to have gotten a rather stoic and subdued Tony Stark plunked in the middle of a pedestrian espionage story. Perhaps this is simply a rather slow build up to an amazing pay off. The first episodes of Iron Man have gotten the series off to an uneventful start. Either way, the series still has 10 episodes left to prove me wrong.