Made for TV: Marvel Anime – X-MEN, (2011)

I always wondered if Marvel choosing to go the anime route with four of their titles was a response to DC going the same route years earlier with their animated movie, BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT? Whatever the reason, I was initially excited, and after seeing three of their shows last year on the G4 channel, I am glad they chose to instill a big dose of Japanese aesthetic into some of their characters.

As of this review they have only given the anime treatment to X-MEN, IRON MAN, WOLVERINE and BLADE, creating 12 episode story arcs for each. I’ve seen all but BLADE, and that’s only because I found the animation too stiff for my liking. Japan’s Madhouse animated all of them, and X-MEN was the one they seemed to give some extra love to; best animation I have ever seen for a Marvel product. Stark’s adventure might be animated just a little bit better than Logan’s, but I’d put WOLVERINE in second place only because I’m more a fan of Logan than I am of Stark’s high tech alter ego.

In this review, though, I will be focusing X-MEN. Keep your eyes open for my IRON MAN review later this week.

Even before the opening credits start the very first episode of X-MEN  kicks off with an Omega level bang. Jean Grey is in her Dark Phoenix form, and being forced to go supernova by Mastermind. The core X-Men are present, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Beast and Professor X, all trying their damnedest to break through Mastermind’s control, and bring Cyclops’ girlfriend down. Things go from bad to worse, and Jean, in a last ditch effort, chooses suicide rather than be made to harm her friends, lover, and the world at large.

A fiery implosion results.

Cue opening credits.

I’m already loving this series.

This new adventure takes place after the Phoenix Saga and after Magneto has been captured and imprisoned in his plastic cell. In fact, stay after the credits in the very last episode, for there’s a scene that shows Magneto’s cell, busted open, and him no where to be seen. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Long before that ever happens, Charles Xavier is having bad dreams of a child whose face he can never see. He’s always standing with his back to him, crying. Meanwhile in parts of wintry Japan, a high schooler by the name of Hisako Ichiki, a mutant who can generate a psionic suit of armor around herself, is kidnapped by a couple of robots, with someone watching ominously from a distance, hoping all goes as planned.

Charles is contacted by this girl’s father, asking if he could help find her, cause every detective that’s put on her case meets an ugly demise. He’s more than willing to help, but first he’s got to get the team back together. Jean’s death took the wind out of every one’s sails and they disbanded. The roster for the X-Men is huge but for this series, Xavier chooses those that were present when Jean when imploded. Other members are seen, but that’s not until the very last episode and only for millisecond cameos.

Aside from the dreams, and the kidnapping, there’s another mysterious event that comes into play. Cerebro cannot probe this area where Hisako was taken. It’s a dead zone, as Charles puts it. He can sense the mutants from everywhere else, except this one area in Northern Japan.

It’s not until the X-Men get there and start shaking the trees do they discover the U-Men are involved. They’re a group of twisted fucks whose sole mission is to hunt down mutants, and harvest their organs, augmenting their own bodies in the process. A raid on their headquarters gets Hisako back to her parents and stirs up old wounds when telepathic mutant and former villain, Emma Frost, is found along side Hisako in one of the U-Men’s cells.

Before Jean committed suicide, Cyclops saw the image of Emma floating behind her, seemingly manipulating her, which would make sense, since she was part of this group called, The Inner Circle, which Mastermind was the head of.

The U-Men, and Frost, are just the tip of the iceberg in the events that take place in Japan. By the time the series comes to its conclusion factions from Frost’s past, and Charles, will be revealed to be the major players, and how the series began, it too shall end as the X-Men face off with another Omega level mutant, but this one may be infinitely more powerful than Jean ever was, for this one can manipulate the very fabric of reality.

Read quite a lot of reviews on comic based sites that were not kind to this series. Fanboys . . . they can be so hard to please. I don’t consider myself in that league. I have read comics but they were never a major part of my life, and what I know of the Marvel heroes I gleaned mostly from those encyclopedias that came out in the mid 80s called, ‘The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe.’ As long as the characters were recognizable to me, in appearance and in personality, I did not have a problem with this particular interpretation of these Marvel personas. Madhouse did give them new costumes after the prologue, which I was pretty much okay with, except for Cyclops’. The shoulder pads didn’t work for me, the whole thing looked a bit too Japanese for my liking.

One of the things I liked best about this series, aside from it being the best animated (hat’s off to Madhouse), was Logan. Before this series, it was his appearance in the short animated flick, HULK VS. WOLVERINE that was the purest form of him I have ever seen—the closest to his comic book appearance—but this anime clearly tops that. They also hired Steve Blum to do his voice, the same actor who voiced him in that aforementioned short flick, and on the American series, WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN. Like Kevin Conroy whom does the best Batman voice, Steve is the only actor for the voice of Logan. Period. And unlike his solo anime series, which is clearly R-rated material, the violence Logan metes out in this one is clearly on a PG-13 level. In fact, despite the rating on the back of the DVD stating it’s NOT RATED, the violence in the whole series could be categorized PG-13 as well.

The actor they hired to do Cyclop’s voice ended up being pretty damn memorable, too. In fact I was pleased with all the American voice casting in this. Speaking of Scott Summers (aka Cyclops), he owns this series. This is the first series they have made that has given him a complete, and interesting, character arc, one they have done before in WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, since the start of that series kicks off with the “demise” of his main squeeze, too, but I think the events, as well as the voice acting of Scott Porter, that brings him down to the lowest point of his life then back up to where he’s found some kind of acceptance of her death, works far better here.

The music for this series is far more symphonic than the ones that were done for IRON MAN and WOLVERINE. Can’t recall what the music was like for BLADE, or much of anything from that series, since I checked out ten minutes into it and never looked back. The ending credits are quite spectacular, too, for behind the credit crawl is a tapestry of the X-Men, in their classic uniforms, battling the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants.

The transfers on the DVDs are crystal clear, which gives the animation more eye candy appeal. There are three featurettes; two on Disc On, and one on Disc Two: “The Marvel Anime Universe: Re-Examining The X-Men” (9:05): Jeph Loeb, Warren Ellis and others discuss how the anime project came about.

“X-Men: A Team Of Outsiders” (10:36): This is essentially ten minutes of Warren Ellis, outline writer of all four series, and others breaking down the psychology of the characters, and Ellis’ take on them is that they are all just a little bit crazy. Here’s some of what he says about Logan: “ . . . he’s a hundred years old for a start. I mean, have you got any very old relatives? Are they completely there?”

On the second disc you get, “Special Talk Session: Marvel Anime’s X-Men & Blade” (32:01): an interview with the Japanese team that brought X-MEN and BLADE to life. It appears they did give a little more attention to X-MEN, which now officially explains why it looks so good. They talk about the aspects Marvel wouldn’t allow them to change and the things they could. The series wasn’t originally written to begin with Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix meltdown/suicide. The entire episode is in Japanese with English subtitles.

Rounding out the disc is a commercial for G4’s ATTACK OF THE SHOW, trailers for Brad Pitt’s MONEYBALL, two anime movies, LEGEND OF THE MILLENNIUM DRAGON and THE SKY CRAWLERS, and teasers for the up-and-coming CG animated movies: STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION and RESIDENT EVIL: DAMNATION.

 

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