Marvel animation has never been a high point of their multimedia outreach but last year G4 aired four Marvel Anime series (X-Men, Iron Man, Blade and Wolverine), taking the beauty of the animation from Japan and the lively characters of Marvel’s mutant superteam, the X-Men. Unfortunately G4 doesn’t have the biggest coverage so this now it’s been collected Marvel Anime: X-Men The Complete Series on DVD. The X-Men Anime team is largely the one used in Astonishing X-Men, and since Warren Ellis wrote both this series and part of that comic series it makes sense that he would use that roster.
There are twelve episodes but the story is split into two halves. The first is seeing the X-Men team of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Beast and Professor X trying to locate a young mutant in Japan. They are still in the wake of losing Jean Grey (especially Cyclops) who went Dark Phoenix and died. The after effects are still on the surface and begrudgingly the team reforms and Emma Frost’s entrance is to help guide this young girl, Hisako who is Armor is met with trepidation, especially from Cyclops who believes that the White Queen was behind Jean’s death. The U-Men appear and Mastermind are the main antagonists. There is a virus in Japan called the Damon-Hall syndrome, which causes a second mutation and that’s what brings the team back to Japan after rescuing Armor.
In the second half the series evolves into the hunt for Professor Xavier’s long lost son, Takeo and how he’s lost control of his mutant power and that his neglect made him manifest this powerful side of him. Hisako knew Takedo when he was young and that ties it altogether. The second half get fairly abstract at times and these are places that X-Men fans will still recognize but don’t necessarily work so smoothly in motion.
We’re ultimately experiencing the X-Men through the eyes of Hisako and how well you enjoy that point of view is going to be a big determination if you enjoy this series or not. I always find that characters like Storm and Beast are underutilized whenever they leap out of the comics and I think that’s consistent here. The first half will keep you hooked into the second half but that’s where the story seems to lose its way. Still a worthwhile experiment by Marvel, Sony, and Madhouse and should there be a second season, I’d definitely watch it even though this first season was hit or miss.
Unfortunately there is no Blu-ray release but if you need to see this in high definition, then seek it out on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video where it’s streaming in HD. The series ran on G4TV originally and reproduces well in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD. Unlike Iron Man there was some inconsistencies throughout the series. Sometimes there was an explosion of color and other times there was extremely mute palette.
Both the English dub and original Japanese audio are available in 5.1 Dolby Digital with subtitles available in English and English SDH. There are different translations and I actually prefer the English dub–a rarity for me–as there are more comic book references, inside nods to the comics, and more natural dialogue. Like with my experience with the Iron Man anime, I listened to the English Dub with the subtitles on to see the difference in the translations and there’s enough there to recommend the English track. But you have the option of hearing the great intonation of the Japanese actors, which is the default track. This is another problem of the X-Men anime, the performances are lackluster in many parts and passionate in others.
The extras are split on the two discs. The American Marvel TV team on disc one and the Madhouse team on disc two. Emphasis is placed on adapting X-Men to the Japanese sensibilities visually and putting a script that would work in Japan and translate that to English. Participating in interviews on the U.S. side are writer Warren Ellis, Executive Vice President, Head of TV at Marvel Television Jeph Loeb, Vice President, Development and Production of Marvel Television Cort Lane, and Manager, Development and Production of Marvel Television Megan Thomas Bradner.
Re-Imagining X-Men (9:07) – the popularity of the X-Men and the Japanese interpretation is explored by the Marvel TV team and they all explain what it is about the X-Men is so easily relatable to different cultures and the elements that Ellis found so interesting. “They’re all smart, and a little bit nuts.”
X-Men: A Team of Outsiders (10:38) – The Marvel TV team talks about the themes of the X-Men that were maintained in this cartoon version of the film. The alienation of the X-Men, the dysfunction of their family are discussed as is the chemical makeup of the individual characters. I particularly enjoyed whenever Ellis is interviewed because he brings the most unique point of view. Some of his statements are so simple but he just nails the essence of these characters as he does with everything he writes.
Special Cross Talk: Marvel Anime’s X-Men and Blade (32:00) – is a behind-the-scenes look at the Madhouse side of the anime series for X-Men (Mitsutaka Hirota and Fuminori Kizaki) and Blade (Kenta Fukasaku and Mitsutuki Masuhara). The teams meet and talk about their experiences in bringing to life the anime versions of these two Marvel properties. They took care to make sure to keep the American roots but trying to break out and do something with the Japanese style. The conversation is quite candid and funny at times like how Cyclops was difficult to show emotion with his visor so they chose to change his hair throughout the series, but it would have been nice to see video clips to break up the half-hour block of talking heads.
Marvel Anime: X-Men looks wonderful; I never tire of seeing the style of Japanese animation but I felt the serialization of this X-Men cartoon is less natural in giving viewers a gratifying experience episode-to-episode. How the series was edited could have been part of the problem and some consistency in the direction of the voice performances would have helped too. I still liked that risks were taken and that the animators went wild and very dark at times with the story (gruesome even) but the second half of the series drags unmercifully in several spots. Call it over-ambition, or a lack of a focused vision, Marvel Anime: X-Men appears to have a lot of things go right but once you get past the visuals, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.