Iron Man and Wolverine debut tonight on G4 at 11 p.m. Eastern.
The pilot episodes of Wolverine and Iron Man, the two shows that Marvel Comics is using to launch its lame line of Marvel Anime cartoons, are pretty embarrassing. Marvel’s dabbled in Nippon-ifying their signature characters before, with mixed-to-good results. While their experiments with the “Marvel Mangaverse” from 2000-2002 were inconsequential but largely competent, the authentic Japanese manga adaptations that Marvel translated for English-speaking audiences in the late ‘90s were rather good (I was partial to the Spider-Man manga, which was weirdly grisly but also pretty fun, too).
By contrast, the pilots for both series of Marvel Anime are flat-footed, cheap-looking, and largely ill-conceived. This is especially disappointing when you consider that both pilots were based on stories written by accomplished comics writer Warren Ellis, the co-creator of such fantastic series as Transmetropolitan, and Planetary, among many other noteworthy titles. Seeing Ellis get a prominent story credit on both episodes is pretty disappointing, though both shows were so thoroughly mishandled on almost every other level that I’m not really surprised either.
The best thing one can say about the debut episodes of Marvel’s foray into anime is that the Iron Man pilot is slightly better than the Wolverine series premiere, though that’s not saying much. The first episode of Wolverine is unequivocally awful. Its story is so derivative that even the least jaded and irate fanboy could guess what it’s about just from a passing knowledge of Wolverine comics.
Logan/Wolverine (Milo Ventimiglia) goes to Japan after his girlfriend Mariko (Gwendoline Yeo) is kidnapped by her father Shingen (Fred Talasciore), a crazy swordsman that likes to do his own dirty work. As the episode’s seemingly never revised script puts it: “He’s not shy about getting his hands dirty.” That clumsy syntax is the kind of thing rewriting is for. Rewriting also could have prevented this more egregious dialogue exchange: “It’s been 10 years since I’ve last seen you, Logan but you haven’t aged a day.” “Tell me about it!” I… I don’t think that means anything, actually.
Then again, we can’t blame the guys that scripted Wolverine’s pilot for the show’s horrid voice-acting. Ventimiglia and Yeo are both particularly stiff. When Ventimiglia growls, “Mariko, when I’m with you, I feel like the world is a better place,” it sounds like he's trying really hard to go to the bathroom but has nothing in him worth producing. Similarly, when Yeo pouts, “You have to know how much it means to me that we have each other. Oh, Logan. Logan! You must know,” you can’t help but wonder if she’s even trying to sound like a human being, with emotions and the like, or if she’s method-acting and really imagines the character is as lifeless as she sounds.
Likewise, you can’t blame the show’s writers for Wolverine’s cheap-looking animation style. I’m not talking about the way that Logan looks more like Edward Cullen than any superhero, let alone an amoral, animalistic scruffy manimal, should. I’m talking about the jaundiced story-telling shorthand Wolverine’s animators employ throughout the pilot. They reproduce all of the clichés and none of the innovation of good anime, like the scene where Wolverine launches himself off a boat at airborne attackers. He bellows and makes a funny, hunched-over pose, while the camera slowly pulls back, and action lines do all of the acting for Ventimiglia. Then Logan launches himself at scuba-suit-wearing assassins. He strikes a dramatic pose in mid-air that only ballerinas should attempt, one knee jutting out and both arms by his hips at a 45-degree angle. This sequence, like a later scene where Wolverine yells like he’s climaxing and runs at gun-toting assassins while action lines whiz by Logan’s body faster than he can move across the screen, also uses bad storytelling shorthand as a substitute for good action choreography.
Iron Man’s pilot is equally lazy, and its story is largely derivative of what Matt Fraction recently did with the character in Marvel’s Invincible Iron Man comics. But at least Marvel Anime’s Iron Man sets up its main character in a passable way. Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Adrian Pasdar) is Iron Man. Everyone knows that, which is why everyone assumes that when he visits Tokyo on business, he’s in Tokyo so he can either beat up some bad guys or build more weapons. In reality, he’s not there to do either: Stark plans on retiring from being Iron Man and is actually in Japan to establish an Arc Station, a power plant that produces a limitless supply of energy using the same technology Tony used to make his artificial heart.
This pilot is promising, if in no way groundbreaking. The CG animation used during the show’s Iron Man sequences looks prematurely outdated. It reminds me of the clunky animation from Reboot, but that’s kind of endearing in its own inexplicable way. I also can’t help but like the clumsy love interest subplot between Tony and Nanami Ota (Eden Riegel), a painfully shy reporter for the Tokyo Journal, which is a significant cut above Mariko and Logan’s histrionic relationship in Wolverine.
Iron Man’s pilot has (largely unfunny) humor and adequate dialogue, too. But its voice cast is still off. When Ota is mercilessly chewed out by her editor (Daran Norris), she sarcastically asks him, “What do you really think?” Based solely on her tone of voice, you can’t tell that she’s being insincere. The same thing is true about Pasdar’s monotonous line-reading. After Tony falls from the sky in his Iron Man armor, he sarcastically says, “The ground broke my fall.” But if it doesn’t even sound like sarcasm, what’s the point?
Iron Man also suffers from some serious pacing problems, like the fact that just a few seconds after Scorpio, the episode’s main villain, introduces himself, he says, “I am just the beginning” through melodramatically gritted teeth and then is abruptly blown away. This is a serious problem, considering that the show is, ignoring commercials, all of 22 minutes long. But considering that most everything else about Iron Man is only really good when compared to Emo-Wolverine, I’d say it has a ways to go before it’s worth recommending.
Iron Man: C-