Man, this week it started getting warmer and I spent a whole lot of time snoozing my days away, lethargic, unwilling to move. Thankfully I spent a lot of this past Sunday watching the middle third of the recently completed (in its home nation of Japan) X-Men anime series and catching up on the two 1980’s throwback robot cartoons, so I’ve got those to talk about.
X-Men [anime] episode 5: Power/Unity
The X-Men anime feels like a product of the decade just past, especially in its treatment of Marvel’s mutant heroes; they’re decked out in outfits that look more like duty uniforms than superhero costumes, and are facing sci-fi horrors rather than gaudily-dressed megalomaniacs. Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis’s fingerprints are all over this, even if neither man’s name appears in the credits; indeed, this is Warren Ellis’s Astonishing X-Men cast, flat out. Unfortunately, the characterization in this show seems stunted somewhat, and the emotional beats are simple and overwrought. In this episode, the mistrust between Cyclops and Emma Frost reaches its conclusion; from day one he’s sworn he saw her image lurking behind Jean Grey when he and Jean were mind-linked right before she died. He wants Professor X to peer into Emma’s mind and see what’s what; naturally, Emma refuses. And since Cyclops doesn’t trust Emma, childish Hisako hates him, because Hisako seems to be wholly invested in this idea that Emma, her beloved teacher, is a saint. Probably my favorite scene in the episode was Cyclops throwing the whiny child into a Danger Room scenario where she had to fight him — and he refused to hold back. Her reaction to her mutant powers kicking in to defend her was about the most natural reaction I’ve seen out of her as of yet; she ran away and wished she hadn’t been born a mutant. Emma lets Xavier into her mind to show Hisako that she wasn’t always as strong as she is now, and hasn’t always done what’s right. I really hate how this show has, so far, taken the morally ambiguous Emma and portrayed her as toothless, defanged, immediately remorseful of the bad she’s done and totally unworthy of the slings and arrows that Cyclops has been throwing her way for the past several episodes. My only hope is that Emma’s manipulated her own memories somehow to gain the X-Men’s trust. Otherwise, this is kind of weak sauce. However, it is gorgeous to look at. The folks at Madhouse are really bringing their A-game to the visuals.
X-Men [anime] episode 6: Conflict/Fierce Fight
In a world where telepaths can rewrite and repress memories, who’s to tell until after the fact whether the writers are effectively using the characters’ powers or just doing some really, really lazy plotting? Charles Xavier has left a long string of bitter exes behind him, and in this episode we’re introduced to one Yui Sasaki, a red-haired former teacher of young mutants who once taught Hisako, except she conveniently forgot all about her. I’m inclined to believe that this isn’t really lazy plotting because Emma brought this woman up with Xavier in the last episode. Honestly, with her red hair and glasses I half expected it to turn out to be Moira MacTaggert. In any case, the “I wonder why I forgot” excuse stretched credulity; setting that aside, the centerpiece of the episode was Beast inoculating the Japanese mutant population in Hisako’s home region of Tohoku against dangerous secondary mutations and the X-Men getting into a big fight with another U-Men dude in powered armor. As always, the fight was pretty spectacular, well directed with a an interesting pick as to which character gets to turn the tide for our heroes, while the rest of it was only so-so. The mystery is sort of interesting, but only sort of. I’m reasonably sure I probably wouldn’t still be watching if this wasn’t the X-Men, no matter how cool the fights are; there’s just not enough meat on these bones.
X-Men [anime] episode 7: Betrayal/Shock
While this episode has the obligatory fight — this time against a weird yellow mutant with a bad haircut and a pale vampire-looking dude in a standard-issue long red coat — most of it is about lies; it makes it abundantly clear that Hisako’s memory’s been tampered with somehow, and reiterates several times for the slow kids in the back that Yui Sasaki is lying not only to the X-Men, including Hisako, but to Xavier as well when she calls him. She tells him they have a son, but that he’s dead. Let me guess: he’s probably dead in the “Luke, your father is ‘dead,'” sense. That is, he’s a funny “thing” now, and no longer recognizable as the boy he once was. Who’s gonna bet that he’s the boy that Hisako says she sort of remembers? Intrigue and questions are layered on, but answers are in short supply; I guess that’s only fair, since this is supposed to be the half-series swerve. They even changed the opening animation with this episode. Emma diving into Scott’s mind seemed a bit much, but maybe it’s supposed to be the first step in setting up that relationship. We’ll see.
X-Men [anime] episode 8: Lost/Omen
By all rights, this show should do quite well on G4; this entire episode is two mutants, one after another, turning into weird, cool-looking monsters and the X-Men banding together to take them out. It’s Ninja Scroll with Wolverine and Cyclops standing in for Jubei; stylish, well-designed and dark-hued fight animation featuring the weirdest of weird-ass monsters. The first one starts off as a spider, and mutates over the course of the fight into something creepier and deadlier. You might say there’s also a dash of Resident Evil tossed in for good measure, at least based on what little I know of that franchise. What I’m saying is it’s the X-Men by way of Stuff The G4 Demo Seems To Like. Puzzle pieces are being fit into place in a most heavy-handed way, although the final scene of Xavier approaching Tohoku and, err, not making it there is a pretty crazy cliffhanger to end on. It certainly ensured that I’ll be watching the next one just to find out what in the hell is going on!
Transformers Prime episode 17: Crisscross
The answer to the question of, “Hang on, what does Jack’s mom think he’s out doing every night?” tied up with the continuation of the Arcee-Airachnid story AND last week’s MECH story, all in one tidy package that zips along real quick like. I like Airachnid as a story driver, but as a character I’d really love to see her turned into scrap, and every time she gets away my reaction mirrors Arcee’s; maybe it’s because the sadist-scientist character type is one that genuinely ticks me off, and as sadist-scientists go she’s far more the gleeful sociopath than her predecessor Tarantulas (the depths of his “perversions” were undercut by his giggling demeanor), or maybe it’s because her rival is honestly one of my favorites of the Autobot camp, Arcee, who’s already been through so much hell and torment. Two episodes in, and already I think it’ll be quite a relief when Airachnid is torn apart limb by limb. And it’s stories like this that make me want to slap the mercifully absent Miko upside the head; all that “excitement” and “action” is life-threatening not just to the Autobots or the kids, but to their families as well, especially now that a twisted psycho like Airachnid is on the loose and an “ends justify the means, sacrifices must be made” terrorist force like MECH is involved in the Autobot-Decepticon war. My favorite moments weren’t the action and battle, but for one, the tense sequence of Jack and Arcee trying to make it back to his house before his mom got home; he’d been been grounded for skipping work and sleeping through classes, and if Arcee wasn’t there, she’d think he was breaking her rules. Additionally, the final sequence, where — yeah, SPOILERS — Jack’s mom meets the rest of the Autobots is just brilliantly shot, making them all look suitably massive and, yes, awe-inspiring. I love that they just hold on his mom’s stunned expression, then fade to black. This gets marked in the “win” column on the strength of the characters, their struggles, and misunderstandings; the enemy threat, I’m not so big on.
Voltron Force episode 4: Coran Coran
Watching this week’s Voltron I couldn’t help but remember the time the Voltron Force had to deal with Coran’s robot son, way at the end of the original Lion Force series; this week, the junior members of the Voltron Force have to deal with a robot Coran instead, hence the title. I actually liked the emphasis on mechanized action for most of the show, and the way they get the “let’s form Voltron” stuff out of the way at the beginning; it’s what we’re all here for, so with that done we can get to the meat of the episode. The CG robot action is what the show excels at, and there’s plenty of that, albeit mostly with the individual lions as the Voltron Force walks into a trap and tears apart one of Wade’s “abandoned” bases to rescue the real Coran. Meanwhile, at the Castle of Lions, the junior members fight the robot with their melee weapons, and Vince gets creepy vague hints from long-dead King Alfor; apparently it’s his destiny to save them all, or something. God, I hope they explain why Vince has deus ex machina powers before the end of the season. All things considered, though, it’s a winner after a rough opening three-parter, mostly by virtue of being a half hour of lions-versus-base and kids-versus-robot action. It also helps that my hopes for the series have been seriously adjusted downward after episodes two and three. Still, the character animation didn’t seem so rough. I still don’t like the design style, though.