Sony // 2011 // 287 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // May 18th, 2012
"Welcome back to the X-Men."
Having disbanded the X-Men following the death of one of its most beloved members, Charles Xavier calls upon his elite team of mutants to once again come together -- this time to investigate the abduction of a gifted child in Japan. Once in Japan, the X-Men soon find themselves on collision course with the U-Men, a cult-like organization harvesting mutant body parts to create an army of super-mutants that threatens to destroy the entire world.
The third collaboration between Marvel and anime studio Madhouse, Marvel Anime: X-Men discards the colorful costumes made famous by its team of Spandex-wearing mutants, delivering a more mature take on the classic superhero team. Opening midway through the climactic events of the Dark Phoenix Saga, the series seems determined to convince viewers its interests lie in the darker side of X-Men folklore, as we witness Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, losing Jean Grey to the malevolent power of the Phoenix.
I particularly appreciated this darker take on the X-Men exhibited by the series, though it's questionable just how successful the show's writers are in matching tone with content. The U-Men -- first introduced during Grant Morrisons's New X-Men run -- carry out horrific surgery on mutants, which results in a variety of abominations. Unfortunately, beyond their penchant for splicing body parts, the U-Men prove to be one of the less interesting entries in the X-Men's rogue's gallery. Lacking the charisma of Magneto or any of his lackeys, the U-Men simply fail to prove sufficient enough to carry the series.
In much the same way, the themes that lie at the center of Marvel Anime: X-Men -- which revolve around coming to terms with the loss of a loved one and accepting sacrifice -- risk alienating some viewers as the show refuses to even momentarily lift the gloom. This is not a series that allows itself to revel in the wonder of superheroes, instead looking to deliver a deeper, more meaningful experience. While this is all very well and good, I must confess that the constant angst does become tiresome midway through the series.
In a marked contrast to Marvel Anime: Iron Man, which stayed faithful to the character of Tony Stark, Marvel Anime: X-Men makes changes -- however slight -- that undermine key characters. Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, is portrayed as a moping wimp -- a trait that soon becomes aggravating. Emma Frost is also toned down far too much. Rather than the sharp-tongued temptress fans of the franchise will be familiar with, we get a meek team player who feels too far removed from the Emma fans have grown up with to really connect with. At least Wolverine remains largely intact, and is still prone to berserker rages -- one of which sees him nearly take Beast's head off.
Putting aside how faithful the characters are to their comic-book roots, the visual interpretations are slightly more troublesome. Though Professor X, Cyclops, and Beast generally fare well, others -- most notably the female leads -- suffer due to unnecessary, ahem, "enhancements" to their physique. I could be wrong, but not one of these women is sporting anything less than a 34E. Impressive, certainly, but surely they'd act as an impediment in the heat of battle? Still, even the most iconic of the X-Men, Wolverine, suffers through the transition to anime. For reasons that are far from clear, Wolverine now appears a fair bit stockier, and is clearly carrying excess weight around the gut; think Steven Seagal post-2006. Still, the animation is largely excellent, with dynamic action scenes standing out.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer flits between being ultra-sharp one minute to slightly hazy the next. While this doesn't really pose any problems, it does lose the video a few points. Colors are a little muted, intentionally it would seem, as they are in keeping with the show's darker tone. The 5.1 audio tracks, available with either a Japanese or English dub, are excellent, and offer clear dialogue amongst a lively mix.
A solid selection of extras is included in this two-disc set.
* "The Marvel Anime Universe: Re-Examining The X-Men" -- Jeph Loeb, Warren Ellis, and several Marvel stalwarts discuss their excitement at bringing the X-Men to a new audience.
* "X-Men: A Team of Outsiders" -- Almost a continuation of the previous featurette, members of Marvel's staff discuss the traits that make the X-Men who they are.
* "Special Talk Session" -- Members of the Madhouse staff tasked with updating X-Men and Blade for a Japanese audience talk about the difficulties they faced in bringing both shows to the small screen.
Marvel Anime: X-Men is a mostly joyless experience, but that shouldn't detract from what is an interesting take on a well-worn franchise. This may not quite be the X-Men you grew up with, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a try.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 287 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated