Judge Paul Pritchard is a low-tech superhero; you can call him Balsa Wood Man.
"Soon now, my vision for Japan will become a reality."
Marvel Anime: Iron Man is the first of four collaborations between comic book colossus Marvel and anime studio Madhouse (Redline), as the two companies attempt to deliver a fresh take on some of the best-loved superhero franchises. The other collaborations being new takes on X-Men, Wolverine, and Blade.
Facts of the Case
Tony Stark travels to Japan to install a new ARC station that will provide unlimited, clean energy. During his visit, he also plans to demonstrate the Iron Man Dio technology, a new suit that will serve as his replacement when he steps down from being Iron Man. However, it soon becomes apparent that forces are at work that not only wants to destroy Iron Man, but also force Tony Stark down a darker path. During a demonstration of the Dio prototype, Stark loses control of the suit when a terrorist organization called Zodiac hacks into the operating system, utilizing the suit for their own nefarious ends. Putting his retirement plans on hold, Stark must suit up and confront a face from the past he believed to be long dead.
Incorporating themes long associated with Marvel's Iron Man from his lengthy comic book run, while clearly aiming itself at fans brought in by the live-action films who are looking for another Iron Man fix before the third installment in the franchise hits theatres, Marvel Anime: Iron Man is a fast-paced, remarkably entertaining show. Though admittedly not without its flaws, fans old and new should find plenty to enjoy in the twelve-episode run.
With Marvel mainstay Warren Ellis joined on writing duties by Toshiki Inoue—who worked on the excellent Death Note anime—Marvel Anime: Iron Man is blessed with a strong creative team, which is rounded out by director Yuzo Sato (who served as one of the animators on the seminal Ninja Scroll anime).
Critics of the show will point to the "monster of the week" format it takes, which sees Iron Man take on another of Zodiac's creations in each episode, but I counter by arguing this approach ensures the series moves at a fast pace, acting as a constant reminder of the sustained threat posed by Zodiac. This is an action-oriented show, and the series' writers never lose sight of that. Even so, there's a good degree of depth afforded to the characters, with Stark's new nemesis explored through a series of flashbacks that flesh out the role considerably. There's also an interesting contrast between Stark and his newly acquired enemy that offers a fresh (or fresher) take on the supervillain.
I genuinely enjoyed Marvel Anime: Iron Man, and readily admit its shortcomings had little impact on me. However, in the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that the show adds little new to the Iron Man mythology; in fact, it could be argued that rather than add anything, this is simply a regurgitation of existing material spruced up with a new lick of paint.
Visually, the show is inarguably a success, combining traditional hand-drawn animation with a liberal use of CGI to great effect. Action scenes, on which the show is heavily reliant, are awesome and extend a real sense of the threat faced by Iron Man every time he goes up against another of Zodiac's mechanical menaces. The design of Zodiac's seemingly inexhaustible line of robotic nightmares continually impresses, with the standout being a H.R. Giger-inspired creation that recalls the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise.
Marvel Anime: Iron Man is presented in a clean standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Colors are especially strong, and are complemented by good black levels. The picture is reasonably sharp, and is free of any obvious problems. Viewers are given the option of both a Japanese and English dub, with both being delivered by way of impressive 5.1 mixes, most likely due to the project being a US/Japanese co-production, the English dub is just as impressive as its Japanese counterpart, and sports Adrian Pasdar (Heroes) as Tony Stark.
Extras are strong for an anime release—surprisingly so, in fact.
• "The Marvel Anime Universe: Re-Imagining Iron Man"—Members of the Marvel staff, including Jeph Loeb and Warren Ellis, discuss their excitement at seeing Iron Man taken in a new direction by Madhouse. A good section of this 10-minute featurette focuses on the way Tony Stark is thrust into a clash of cultures throughout the series, and how that presents something new for the character.
• "Voicing Tony Stark"—Keiji Fujiwara, who provides the voice of Iron Man for the Japanese dub, talks about what drew him to the role of Tony Stark.
• "21st Century Hero: The Technology of Iron Man"—This short featurette, which clocks in at a little over 7 minutes, focuses on the technology employed by Iron Man, and how this has evolved with the times.
• "Special Cross Talk: Marvel Anime's Iron Man and Wolverine"—In what is almost a mirror image of the "Re-Imagining Iron Man" featurette, we get members of the Madhouse staff—including director Yuzo Sato—talking about the challenges they encountered in interpreting these two iconic characters for a Japanese audience, whilst ensuring they stayed true to their roots.
With a blisteringly fast pace and only twelve episodes, Marvel Anime: Iron Man never risks overstaying its welcome. One or two examples of mild bad language mean it isn't completely family friendly, but for the most part, it delivers an action series that boys (and those adults who are still young at heart) should love.
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