What’s it about? After THE REFLECTION, some of the people in all parts of the world are discovered with super powers. Some become heroes, and others villains. How did The Reflection happen? What was the cause of it? With many unsolved mysteries, the world is lead into turmoil.
Oh, Studio DEEN. I thought that perhaps the truly lovely Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju meant you’d finally broken through your well-deserved reputation for heinously cheap animation. I was wrong. Shame on me.
Many early premiere reviews described The Reflection, Stan Lee’s latest foray into joint anime production, as looking like a comic book. This is true—in both a positive and negative sense. This premiere has a great eye for individual shot composition, whether it be a street at sunset or a mecha-suited hero posing in front of a dynamic LCD screen. Those individual moments look great, like the on-screen equivalent of a splash page.
The trouble is that this isn’t a comic book, it’s animation. And when the characters are obliged to move, it quickly becomes an extreme case of hit-or-miss. An up-close fight on the ground, shot mostly from the waist up, comes close to looking smooth and engaging, using the hero X-On’s power mimicry in a visually dynamic way. The big aerial fight that opens the episode and continues throughout fairs worse, as the mostly dark palettes of the fighters combined with the flat coloring style turns the action into a mush that gives the viewer too much time to notice how simplistic the choreography is.
The visual style is the worst of it, with the few impressive-looking moments standing as tent poles amidst long stretches where the lack of shading and thick lines highlight the awkwardness of limited animation. Attempts at stylistically drawing crowds as faceless is applied inconsistently, giving an overall hodge-podge feel. Things that would normally be disguised by long-perfected anime stylistic tricks are stripped bare by the comic book aesthetic. And all of this is in the premiere, the place where shows typically put a good chunk of resources to help draw viewers’ attentions.
All of this could be at least somewhat forgiven if the episode had strong writing. It… well, the writing isn’t unsalvageable, exactly. Rather, it’s extremely muddled. There’s an in media res news report that makes it sound like this is the first time mutants and costumed heroes have ever tangled on the streets, but at the same time there’s already a government bureau in place to take care of these things. And this takes place in the present day, where everyone has phones and streaming. And it takes place in New York City, one of the densest population centers in the United States. Likewise, there’s a lot of cryptic nods to events involving this or that secret conspiracy, but it’s tossed together in enough of a word salad that it’s difficult to parse out what’s actual foreshadowing versus just ominous window dressing.
I wish I could say that it’s messy but original, but it seems like every idea in this premiere has been done somewhere else before: we have a mysterious event several years ago that gave people powers (Static Shock, Tiger & Bunny); a plucky lady journalist trying to get a story on a superhero (Louis Lane); a woman with control over metal talking about how super-powered beings are discriminated against by “normal” people (Magneto, and while we’re at it one of her lackeys is basically Toad); a superhero who’s his own hype machine (Booster Gold, Tiger & Bunny again)… I could go on, but I’m sure you get it.
All ideas get reused, of course, especially in monomyths like superhero stories. But the borrowed elements here are so blatant as to be kind of insulting. The script drops heavy-handed hints about dealing with themes of discrimination, but it seems as likely as anything that despite being set in basically the real world, we’ll have stories about how superheroes and mutants are beaten down by society but nothing about actual misogyny, racism, or homophobia (I would love nothing more than if the show proved me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath).
It’s not without promise (Lady Magneto actually seems kind of rad, if I’m honest), but the whiff of cut corners and cobbled-together script elements is enough for me to cast a highly suspect eye on this one. Especially when I could just be rewatching Tiger & Bunny instead.