Thursday, November 15, 2012

X-Men Anime Review

Sony Pictures
Complete Collection - 2 discs
287 mins. - 12 episodes
$14.99 (2012)
$14.99 (2012) Parts 1-2/ea.
ISBN 043396393295
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Fuminori Kizaki
Studio - Madhouse

Synopsis: Professor Charles Xavier founded a school to teach young mutants how to control their powers and his dream is to unite mutantkind with humanity in peaceful coexistence.  The dream is not yet a reality as humans fear and hate mutants because of their incredible powers.  Xavier created the X-Men from his first class of students as a response team to help those mutants in danger and oppose mutants who wish to harm humanity.  The team has operated for several years and the roster of active members has changed many times.  Xavier himself is the world's most powerful telepath.
The X-Men team - from left to right: Wolverine, Cyclops, Phoenix,
Professor X (seated), Storm, and Beast
The current field team is:
  • Cyclops - Scott Summers can project powerful optic blasts, but they are only held in check by his special ruby-quartz visor.  The epitome of a cool-headed, tactical leader.  He and Jean Grey are sweethearts since their school days at Xavier's
  • Phoenix - Jean Grey is an omega-level psychic with powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities.  She is strong-willed and kind.  She and Scott Summers are sweethearts since their school days at Xavier's
  • Beast - Hank McCoy is a walking contradiction.  His mutation gives him a fearsome appearance yet he possesses a vast intellect and gentle heart.  Undergoing a secondary mutation later in life his power levels increased and his appearance became more feline
  • Storm - Ororo Munroe lost her parents in tragic accident when she was young.  She grew up on the mean streets of Cairo as a thief until her mutant weather-controlling abilities manifested.  Charles Xavier found her being worshiped as a weather goddess in Africa
  • Wolverine - An enigmatic brawler with adamantium-laced skeleton, six massive claws which can extend from his forearms, and a near-instantaneous healing power.  He cuts first and asks questions later.  Holds an unrequited love for Jean Grey
The two mutant lovebirds - Jean Grey and Scott Summers
We begin the story with a terrifying meltdown of Jean Grey's powers.  She has been manipulated by Mastermind, the leader of the rogue Inner Circle and she has become a danger to the world.  The X-Men try to bring her back under control, but fail utterly.  Cyclops catches a glimpse of Emma Frost, the Inner Circle's White Queen before Jean destroys herself to save the world.  Jean's death causes the X-Men to disband.
Jean Grey loses control of her Phoenix powers and becomes Dark Phoenix
Fast forward one year and a crisis in Japan centering around mutant powers rallies Professor X to bring the team back together.  He keeps seeing strange psychic visions and there exists a psychic dead zone where mutant-detecting technology cannot penetrate.  Each team member is glad to come back except Cyclops who has been living near the site of Jean Grey's death.  He grudgingly rejoins the team and puts aside his depression for the greater good. 
"Hasn't Scott been a total jerkwad since Jean died?"  "Yeah, I didn't think
the stick could go up any farther."  "Good one, Wolverine!" "Thanks,
Beast!"  "Guys.  I'm standing right here."
The X-Men journey to Japan to investigate the area and discover mutants have been disappearing.  They encounter a terrorist group called the U-Men who despise mutants and harvest their organs for research.  The team battles the cyborg U-Men and breaks into their facility.  Within they find a young mutant named Hisako Ichiki and are shocked to also find Emma Frost!  She has quit the Inner Circle and has become a mutant counselor helping young mutants with their powers.  
The X-Men discover Emma Frost protecting a young mutant.  Apparently
it's totally normal for mutant educators to wear outfits like hers.
Cyclops blames Emma for Jean's death and is instantly hostile towards her.  The rest of the team gives her the benefit of the doubt once they see Hisako's trust in Emma.  Hisako is enrolled at Xavier's and she is trained by the X-Men to use her power to project psionic-armor.  Emma stays on with the team to help.
The team heads back to Japan to reinvestigate the area
Eventually they return to Japan after uncovering a strange virus which causes mutant powers to overload.  They suspect the U-Men are behind it, but find another research facility run by Yui Sasaki, former head of the mutant school Hisako went to as a child.  Something doesn't feel right about the facility and Yui appears to be overly secretive.  What is her mysterious past with Professor X?  Can the X-Men discover the secret before the world is put in danger?  Can Hisako make it as a rookie X-Man?
Hisako and Emma Frost join the X-Men
Pros: Great character designs for the X-Men, visually slick anime rendition of old favorites, overall voice acting is decent, action is pretty intense and well-done, Emma Frost is totally hot, nice cameos of mutants around the world (Nightcrawler, Archangel to name a few)
Wolverine prepares to inflict some damage
Cons: Story pacing was too slow, ending was predictable, bad guys were pretty generic, Wolverine's battle on the Blackbird in mid-air was totally impossible, pricing for complete series is the same as each of the volumes ($14.99) - WTF!?, portrayal of Storm was off - her voice and personality show no trace of her African roots, opening/ending theme music was overly dramatic
Storm manifests lightning to protect Hisako and Emma Frost
Mike Tells It Straight: I love anime and I love the X-Men = I should love the X-Men anime, right?  I had really high hopes going into watching the anime version of the X-Men and my hopes soared even higher when I saw Warren Ellis credited as writer in the opening credits.  Ellis is a renowned comic book writer and has written the X-Men on several occasions.  I found the story in X-Men to be very typical Ellis fare in the vein of Astonishing X-Men Vol. 5: Ghost Box and Astonishing X-Men Vol. 6: Exogenetic.  These two stories are pretty good modern X-Men fare, but not particularly memorable.  Unfortunately the same thing happens to this anime version.  Ellis usually gives us forward-thinking science fiction and snarky dialogue for the protagonists, but instead we get a fairly dumbed-down plot.
Cyclops unleashes his optic blast
The character designs are a cross between the movie versions and Grant Morrison's New X-Men.  Visually the anime version is slick and the mutants have never looked better.  The action was all that I had hoped for - intense, fluid, and well-choreographed.  Voice actors were well-chosen (except for Storm).  Music was really bland and the opening/ending themes were completely lackluster (overly dramatic orchestra pieces).
Hisako powers up her psionic armor for battle
Overall I was pleased with the visuals and action, but the story was drawn out and kinda boring.  It would have been better if the Japanese creators were given free reign to re-imagine the X-Men as they saw fit.  Having Ellis as concept writer seems like a good idea yet I suspect it kept the story confined to the typical American expectations.  They could have taken the story in so many different directions and pulled in the major villains - Magneto, Sentinels, or the Dark Phoenix (instead of the teaser we get at the beginning when Jean Grey's powers overload).  Anime Sentinels could be absolutely dark and twisted!
We get a brief cameo of everyone's favorite Archangel
The ending hints at a sequel with Magneto breaking out of prison and I hope we can see this happen.  I liked seeing the X-Men in highly detailed adventures with great character designs and a somewhat interesting story.  Marvel's pricing scheme for the complete series vs. the two separate volumes is whacked - $14.99 for the complete set, but now they're offering two separate volumes at the same $14.99 price?  Why not $9.99 and they'll still make an extra $5 on people who buy both volumes?  I would recommend this series if you like the X-Men - they look good in the anime format and I absolutely love that Marvel tried this out with their characters.  Don't expect to have your mind blown.

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