This will likely cause a few readers to dismiss this review entirely, but I don’t have that much of a history with anime. I’ve seen a handful of them – like Akira, Ninja Scroll, and Ghost in the Shell – but my experience with them is extremely limited. I’ve caught the odd rerun on Cartoon Network of Dragon Ball Z or The Big O and the like, but, again, it’s nothing I’ve really sought out. When Marvel Animation announced they’d be creating a selection of anime shows based on some of their big properties – X-Men, Iron Man, Blade and Wolverine – I was actually pretty intrigued. It sounded like an opportunity for Marvel to do something really different in the field of animation and, for the most part, I think they were pretty successful. Not every idea worked mind you, but the end result is interesting, though not always enjoyable.
Thankfully, X-Men Anime is definitely one of the more enjoyable results of this experiment.
The X-Men are reunited following the death of a teammate and are summoned by Charles Xavier to Japan following the abduction of Hisako Ichiki. There, they confront the U-Men, a lunatic cult that steals and transplants mutant organs to further strengthen their own army, and the battle for justice is on.
Right out the gate, X-Men Anime delivered exactly what I wanted in an X-Men cartoon. A great story that dives into both the main characters and their mutant abilities, some devious foes, and a few surprises along the way. Sure, we do hit a few bumps in the road, but overall I found X-Men Anime to be a satisfying ride that I feel really brought the comic characters to life more than nearly any other X-cartoon to date. And X-Men Anime takes more than a few liberties and changes a few things up, but it really does keep the spirit and tone of the comic book completely intact. It just feels like X-Men through and through. Then again, that should come as no surprise given that Warren Ellis, the writer behind this series, has written his fair amount of X-Men comics in the past.
One thing I really enjoy about the series is the pace. Everything unfolds at a steady pace, with quick, violent bursts of action. Admittedly, I thought this series was going to be a tad more action-oriented than it ended up being, but the show struck a nice even ground between the two. It also helped that I was genuinely interested in the characters and where the plot was heading. Sure, it was a bit predictable, but that didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of it. I was always interested, even when the same details were repeated over and over and over. Believe me, the show will make sure you know what’s going on by showing the same clips ad nauseam. Not exactly subtle, but not as distracting as I thought it would be. Like I said, everything seems balanced.
The action is expertly handled. While not without a few troubled bouts here and there – there’s one fight in particular with Wolverine and a mutant outside the Blackbird which is nearly impossible to follow – I was quite pleased with how the fights were handled. Nearly everyone gets a moment to shine, especially Wolverine. Logan gets to slice and dice quite a few bad guys throughout X-Men Anime, and I’m sure fans will be plenty satisfied with the looser standard seen here. Cyclops and Armor get quite a few great moments of just pure awesome power, unleashing to their full extent, which results in some pretty nifty effects. Emma Frost also gets a handful of nice action scenes. However, Storm gets only a few moments to really show of her powers, and even so, her powers are depicted in such a weak manner that she’s hardly a credible threat. There’s plenty of action laced through the series, and is hardly disappointing.
In terms of voice acting, most of the actors here are actually new to me. Save for a few familiar names – like Steven Blum, Cam Clarke, Fred Tatasciore, Jennier Hale, Benjamin Diskin and Scott Porter – a good chunk of the cast was foreign to me. In all honesty, there’s no real weak link in the cast that I can find. While the story may short-change some of the characters, which I’ll get to in a moment, I found the vocal work for the English dub to be very well handled. Blum is, naturally, perfect as Wolverine. He is quickly surpassing Cal Dodds as the voice of Wolverine. Blum didn’t have to hold back here at all, and it was great hearing him unleash from time to time as Wolverine pounces on an enemy, really letting go and obviously having a blast with the role.
Complaints for X-Men Anime are actually pretty minor. The top ones for me have got to be how Storm, Cyclops and Professor X were handled in the series. Xavier came off as pretty boring, even when his story got kind of interesting toward the last arc of the series. It always seemed to pale in comparison to that of the X-Men’s tale. Storm got pretty shafted, coming off as very weak and pretty inconsequential to the actual story. Save for taking out a couple mutants here and there, her role was pretty forgettable and not really important. It actually got somewhat irritating to hear – over and over – how she needed time to recover from using her powers. She gets this great moment in the very first episode, where she uses her powers against some pirates, but it goes downhill from there. As for Cyclops…well…he’s annoying. Really annoying. For the first half or so he’s grating, whiney, and just aggravating. Thankfully, a great scene between he and Emma near the mid-way point actually helps to straighten his character out and make him tolerable, though still pretty stiff. By the last episode he does become pretty likable.
I also want to just note that while I enjoy the series as a whole, the finale does leave me somewhat disappointed. There’s a great build-up to what truly looks to be a no-win for the X-Men, and at one point it seems like a major cosmic reset will be needed for things to return to normal, and what we get is…kind of weird. Without ruining the finale, I was disappointed both with how the final opponent is defeated and how the X-Men manage to scramble up the courage to win the day. It’s just…kind of odd and goes against the reality-based adventures we’ve just been subjected to for the past eleven episodes. The overall strength of the series does help overcome what I consider to be a bit of a hiccup. Still, X-Men Anime just gets it right. The series is able to deal with the wide issues of being a mutant, tackling it on a pretty large scale, by focusing on a small team of characters. And for those worried, we do get some great cameos by a host of X-Men in the final episode, on top of a really great end-credit teaser in episode #12.
Released through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, X-Men Anime is released on two DVDs house in a standard Amaray case. The discs feature no artwork save for the logo for the series and a few company related brandings. Very, very bare. Be careful handling these discs as you’re likely to smudge both sides of either disc very, very easily. The audio and video is actually pretty top-notch. The video, best I can tell, is pretty much flawless save for the occasional banding. But even the banding is far and few in-between, and very easy to miss. The video quality is really surprising, and the same goes for the audio. A very boisterous and loud mix, usually giving the entire sound system a nice workout. The mix is center-based, but still gives a nice immersive experience when the action really kicks up. The default language setting is Japanese with English subtitles, but that can be quickly altered to your preference with a quick trip through the set-up menu. All in all? Very nice presentation save for the blank discs.
Digging in, the bonus features are pretty interesting for those looking for more information behind this anime project. “Re-Examining the X-Men” and “X-Men: A Team of Outsiders” explore why the creators behind the series chose the X-Men as one of the anime projects and why it’s a good starting point for those new to the franchise. They do provide a nice look into the production of the series, and are worth a watch. The “Special Talk Session: Marvel Anime’s X-Men and Blade” looks to be on older featurette or documentary carried over onto the release (from a TV special, perhaps?). It’s actually fairly interesting and worth a watch.
From start to finish, I really enjoyed X-Men Anime and would love to see Marvel revisit these characters again if they ever decide to do another run of Marvel Anime titles. Recommended.