TV Review: X-Men Anime (2011)
October 26, 2011 3 Comments
Marvel commissioned 4 Japanese animations back in 2009 including Iron Man, Wolverine, Blade, and the one we’re going to talk about, X-Men. No franchise inspires such arguing and hatred among fans like X-Men. Whether the fan is team Cyclops or team Wolverine or one of the other mutants, everyone has a favorite character and a few characters they hate. And on top of all this with literally a few thousand X-Men comics in existence, half a dozen movies, and half a dozen TV shows, there’s a lot of material to completely change any given character. Most Americans, for better or worse, probably get most of their X-knowledge from the 90’s Fox animated series. Well the X-Men anime, by Madhouse and directed by Fuminori Kizaki, is not any of these things but I’m still here to tell its a lot of fun.
The first thing that will be noticed about the series is how fantastic the art is. All the male characters have distinctly different bodies, faces, and are all animated well. The adult females however all seem to have the exact same body but at the very least, their faces and costumes are distinct. All the costumes are highly reminiscent of various traditional X-garb. The environments are all over sized and ridiculously spacious. The fight scenes are sometimes hard to follow with the animators wanting to show powers in chaos more often than distinct fighting moves. When actual segments of fights are shown they define the word “joy”.
Before getting too far in know that I watched the series in Japanese with English subtitles. They have started the American dub version with several voice actors from Wolverine and the X-Men reprising their roles. Probably the hardest aspect of the series is getting used to American characters with Japanese tendencies. In the case of Wolverine its not so difficult so long as you’ve read Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s limited series. Wolverine for being the loose cannon he is has always had this oddly rebellious sense of honor which is pulled off nicely in the series. Cyclops takes on the role of the stern and silent Japanese style leader while Storm is more of the heart of the team.
As for the characters and how closely they resemble other incarnations, the series overall does well. Wolverine fans will be pretty happy with this attitude and fight scenes (Wolverine battling an out of control mutant on top of the Blackbird is pretty badass). Cyclops is incredibly stern and depressed (you would be too if the love of your life committed suicide). This incarnation of Beast is probably the best he’s ever been outside of the comics. Beast sports his secondary mutation from the comics (although it is not identified as such in the anime), uses science, and has some nice fight scenes. Storm is closer to the Ultimate version (or her punk rock 80’s version) but is a bit more free spirited and upbeat than most fans will be used to (don’t worry, she’s still a power house). Armor takes the traditional role of wide eyed with hope, see the good in everyone, anime character. Armor is a character originally introduced in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. She talks a lot more in the anime for better or worse (mostly worse). Emma Frost sees the most change. While still an ex-member of The Inner Circle (basically the Hellfire Club), Emma Frost is a compassionate, self sacrificing, and caring character in this series which is a huge adjustment for any X-fan. She still doesn’t put on all her clothes though (read Astonishing X-Men then come back here and laugh). Each character receives a pretty good amount of screen and fight time.
The series starts out briefly showing the death of Jean Grey in her Dark Phoenix attire with the Inner Circle causing her to destroy stuff. The end result is Jean Grey committing suicide and a very depressed Cyclops. The actual story starts with the disappearance of Hisako Ichiki (Armor from the comics) and the X-Men go to Japan to investigate, soon encountering the U-Men. As an X-fan one of the fascinating aspects of the series to me were some of the character changes. Yui Sasaki is basically a Japanese version of Moira McTaggert. Mastermind is the only recognizable member of the Inner Circle and also its leader. And the U-Men take on a kind of monstrous Japanese robot form. There are quite a few more parallels to our Earth 616 X-Men but they’re spoilers. The last episode does have quite a few one second cameos.
The villains of the series are never quite clear outside of the U-Men and Mastermind. Mastermind is quite a bit different from his insecure self typically seen in the comics. No characters I am familiar with are in The Inner Circle either. Most of the antagonists for the X-Men in the series comes from within. Cyclops doesn’t deal with Jean’s death well and Wolverine loves pushing his buttons. Xavier isn’t sharing all of his thoughts. And Emma Frost used to be a villain that the whole team is trying to find reasons to trust. This is the heart of the X-Men: their inner conflicts and how it affects their social interactions with each other.
X-Men is a franchise that really should only produce gold but typically only produces fecal matter in terms of TV and film. For as fond of memories as everyone has of the 90’s cartoon I challenge you to try to watch through the whole series again. Sober. If you don’t want to punch Cyclops and Wolverine in the mouth for repeatedly yelling “Jean” then you’re watching it wrong. While the Bryan Singer movies might have been a stepping stone for the superhero genre many fans are now realizing just how bland those movies actually were. There is no telling if the X-Men anime will stand the test of time but for right this minute its probably the best 12 episodes to go to for pure X-Men goodness. There’s no barrier to entry to watch this cartoon. You don’t need decades of X-Men lore to catch up. But having that lore certainly doesn’t hurt. Unless of course you’re one of those fans who only acknowledge one author’s take on Xavier and his crew.