X-men episode 1: The Return [First Impression]

Introduction:
The  announcement of this series was met with a bit of a mixed reception from fans of the X-men franchise.  For my part, however, I’ve been excited from the get-go.  It’s been too long since we’ve had a solid X-men series that didn’t star Wolverine, and knowing that this would be an anime AU that featured inspirations from New X-men, and, even more exciting to me, Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-men, promised to be good clean fun, if  nothing else, and give me a chance to see the characters animated again.

Now, after a few months of anticipation and teaser trailers, the first episode has finally debuted.   Will my cautious optimism be rewarded, or will this series turn out to be proof that anime and american comics should never blend together?  Well, I can think of only one way to find out… A long-winded, mildly sarcastic review of the episode!

The Review:

The series certainly opens in a way that will prove familiar to any long-term fan of X-men.  We start off by watching Jean Grey do what she does best: die.  Well, okay, to be more precise, she’s apparently gone ballistic, attacking the other X-men by throwing debris at them while she burns like a phoenix in the background.  Through the magic of  exposition between Beast and Xavier, we learn precisely what it is that’s going on.  It turns out that Jean’s mind and body have been taken over by someone named Mastermind, a member of a mutant terrorist group known as the Inner Circle,  who apparently intends to cause her Omega class psychic powers to go out of control, resulting in the end of the world as we know it.  Needless to say, Cyclops doesn’t take this news well, at all, and charges toward his rather temperamental girlfriend, begging her to snap out of it.  She lifts him into the air, and burns the top of his rather gaudy outfit away from him before establishing a psychic link with him.

when your girl's hair is on fire, she can't be having a very good day...

While they’re mentally connected, Jean begs Cyclops to kill her, saying that if she isn’t stopped the whole world will be put in peril.  Cyclops, as one can imagine, really isn’t the guy to turn to with a request like this, and simply cannot bring himself to do it, instead begging her to fight for control.  Sadly, she says that she can’t, and as they exchange their declarations of love with one another, Cyclops catches a glimpse at the person controlling Jean.  Turns out that asking her boyfriend to kill her was a bit of a cold-hearted test of character on Jean’s part, though,  since without Cyclops helping her in any way, she seemed to have no trouble blowing herself up, despite being controlled for far more nefarious purposes.   Jean’s body disintegrates in a great fiery explosion, and the scene changes to the following morning, where a crestfallen Cyclops finds  her pendant laying amidst the debris and screams out in agony… cue opening credits.

Apparently, a year has passed since the events we just witnessed, and now professor Xavier treats us tto the exposition that anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with X-men knows by heart.  Children born with the X gene eventually manifest mutant powers, and may experience hatred and discrimination from ordinary humans.  In the name of protecting mutant children, and fostering friendly relations between humans and mutants, the Xavier Institute was established, and the X-men were formed.  I’m sure everyone’s familiar with at least that much of the story.  XD

Then they take it a step further though.    It turns out that following the battle with Inner Circle that resulted in Jean’s death,  the Xavier Institute closed its doors, and the X-men scattered like dust in the wind – now feeling without a purpose, and suffering depression at the loss of their comrade.  Despite the fact that being not-quite-dead happens to Jean so frequently it may as well be her primary super power, and all… a fact that is only further driven home when Xavier visits her grave.

Haha! When even your tombstone doubts that you're gonna stay dead, you know there's no suspense.

While staring wistfully at the tombstone of his beloved pupil, Xavier experiences a trippy dream sequence in which he attempts to comfort a group of crying children, despite not stating why it is they’re so upset.  His attention is then drawn to a young boy walking away from the group, whom he tries to stop, finding that he’s unable to read the child’s mind.  The dream sequence ends without any further explanation, leaving us to wonder where on earth that whole thing came from.  The episode doesn’t give us much time to ponder it, though, because we get us a scene shift!

Meanwhile, in Japan, someone who I’m sure will be revealed to be just your average schoolgirl is walking home when suddenly she’s ambushed by a bunch of cyborg robot thingies. No sooner can she look at them in horror than do they shoot her with a tranquilizer dart that somehow also manages to trap her in some weird electrical bubble.  As this happens, a man looks on… a man so utterly evil that his monocle is actually BUILT IN to  his head.  That’s a bloody hardcore kind of evil right there.  Actually, he kinda looks like he stepped out of an episode of Afro Samurai, but that’s neither here nor their.

a schoolgirl abducted in a supernatural way... but with no tentacles involved... the masterminds clearly aren't japanese.

Cut scene to Xavier receiving a mysterious phone call asking him for help.  He states that the institute is forbidden from taking direct action, but promises to do what he can to help.  Hanging up the phone, he takes a long look at the picture of the gathered X-men…  Yup!  It’s time to get the ole team back together!  Off he goes to Cerebro, to send out an urgent summons, and we finally get to see what the X-men have been doing with their year off.   Our first stop?  A cruise ship somewhere in the middle of the ocean that’s being accosted by pirates.  The pirates don’t manage to do too much in the way of seeming threatening.  They just fire their guns in the air and laugh a lot while the passengers start panicking.  Good thing Storm happens to be on the cruise ship.  With a simple gesture she summons up weather that… freezes the pirate ship and everyone on board… presumably killing them.

Wow… that’s pretty hardcore by the standard of an animated X-men series.  I mean, granted, pirates who laugh and fire guns into the air aren’t exactly bastions of sympathy, but it’s pretty strange (perhaps even awesome) to be frozen to death for their actions.  Anyway, her heroism is met with aplomb, and the entire ship seems to be impressed and awed by her, without even one person expressing negative sentiment toward her being a mutant.  Clearly Charles was exaggerating about all that mutant discrimination stuff.  XD    Anyway, Storm sees the  summons from  Xavier, and away she goes.  Time for the next X-man.

There’s a quick flash where we see Scott pointedly ignoring the distress call, and apparently not having moved an inch in the entire year since Jean’s death, and then we move on to Beast teaching a college course.  He mentions that he’s succeeded in an experiment to give homo-sapien level intelligence to a squid.  The class doesn’t take this seriously in the least, which kind of surprises me.  I mean, they’re being taught by a seven foot tall, blue furry… is it REALLY such a stretch to assume that a squid can be as intelligent as a man?

Despite Beast looking far more like an animal in this incarnation, he also looks more dignified than in past animated series.

His distress signal goes off, and much like Storm he’s quick to step into action.  He apologizes to the class for having to leave prematurely, and says that the squid can take over the lecture from there.   The class doesn’t take this seriously until said squid picks up the waterproof microphone Beast tossed into the water, and proceeds to tell them all to be silent.  Much shock and awe is had.
What follows is perhaps the single funniest scenario presented in this episode:  Wolverine trying to pass the metal detector at a public airport.  XD  He eventually busts out his claws to try to explain why he can’t go through without setting it off when-

wait… wait just a minute, I recognize this voice…. unless I missed my guess…  *runs off to anime news network*

It is! It’s Rikiya Koyama!   One of perhaps five seiyuu I recognize by voice alone.  Wolverine is voiced by Takamura from Hajime no Ippo…. I think Japan just managed to accomplish something that I didn’t think was possible:  make me LIKE Wolverine…

I'm tellin' ya, bub, you have to accept my skeleton as carry-on baggage!

Anyway, Wolverine, along with my newfound respect for his awesome voice, are distracted from harassing the poor airline attendant by the sound of that distress call.  Seems his planned vacation has to be postponed, and he’s off to new york to visit the institute!

Now that we’ve seen what everyone has been up to, it’s time for all of them to gather together.  Charles is sitting in the courtyard waiting patiently, and one by one they arrive.  Hang on, gotta interrupt the flow of my writing to add a completely gratuitous screencap:

No point to this screen capture. I just think Storm's a hottie.

I don’t like to squish my images together like that, but DAMN do I love the new design for Ororo.  XD  Anyway, the team now assembled, it’s time for Charles to explain what was so important that he needed them all to get together.  We learn that the japanese schoolgirl we saw getting abducted was a mutant named Ichiki Hisako, whose parents are personal friends of the professor.  Attempts by the police to investigate the kidnapping have resulted in a lot of officer deaths, to the point where they’ve all but abandoned the case and the girl, leaving her family with no one else to turn to.  Storm ponders if the girl was abducted because she was a mutant, and Charles confirms her suspicions.   Something big seems to be behind this abduction, and the X-men are off to Japan to perform a rescue.  It’s pointed out that if they’re going to face something big, they’ll need the complete team, including cyclops.  Xavier agrees, and sends Storm and Wolverine off to try to persuade him to come along.

Now, personally I would know better than to entrust Wolverine… a man who, on a good day, has all the tact of a drunken hobo, with the task of trying to convince someone to let go of their emotional pain and get on with their life.  Seems like something better left to Storm alone.  but I digress.  I’m sure everything will work out fine.

We cut back to place where the X-men battled Jean, and Storm and Logan see how Cyclops has been faring first hand.

... Stupid sexy summers...

The two of them explain the situation to Scott, but he says he has no desire to fight anymore, having already lost something too precious to justify continuing to struggle.  Buck up, Cyclops!  Jean dies five times before breakfast.  She’ll be back, right as rain, in just a few episodes… so you’ll feel mighty silly later if you stay depressed too long right now.   Anyway, his wussy attitude pisses off Wolverine, who starts to run his mouth.  It takes all of three sentences for him to get a face-full of laser and get sent flying off into the distance.

…hate to say I told ya so…

This sort of thing always ends up happening when Logan gives a pep talk.

Logan goes from mildly annoyed to murderously angry at this point, and he charges at Scott, claws brandished.  Ororo steps in before Scott and Logan can properly begin to attempt to murder each other,  and tries to explain the way things are to Scott in a calm and rational manner.  They aren’t going out to fight.  They’re going out because the life of an innocent girl depends on them.  This seems to have been a hell of a lot more effective than whatever it is Wolverine wanted to accomplish by pissing him off, and the two of them leave Scott alone with his thoughts.

He has a flashback to a conversation with Jean, in which she says she hopes to be a light of hope for all children, human and mutant alike, using her powers.  This promptly brings him to the epiphany that he was being just a little bit of an ass, and off he goes.

Back at the Xavier Institute, the team is gathered around the X-jet, preparing for takeoff when Wolverine catches a familiar scent.  Xavier smiles knowingly as they all turn around, and sure enough, there be Cyclops.  Everyone expresses their happiness to see him again, and he’s already back to his all business, no-nonsense personality.  The team boards the jet, with the professor staying behind,  and the episode ends with everyone heading to Japan.  The ending theme animation shows us stills of Juggernaut,  Mystique, and Magneto… whether that’s foreshadowing of their future appearance, or an act of teasing fans who want to see cameos of brotherhood/acolyte characters remains to be seen.

and so the team is assembled, ready to move the setting to a place more familiar to the animators.

First Impressions:

On the whole, there was a lot more positive than there was negative to be had with this introduction.  The pace was a bit hectic, but that’s understandable, given that they only have twelve episodes to tell their story, and there was a lot of groundwork that needed to be laid before it could even be started.  I’m not a guru of animation, but to my amateur eyes the animation was fluid, and never glaringly bad.  The character models are all winners, except maybe Wolverine’s, and at the end of the day the first episode left me waiting anxiously for more.  still, it’s a lot easier to list things than it is to explain in paragraph form, so I’ll go ahead and do it this way:

X-men anime first impression, the good:

– The action scenes were well animated

-excellent character designs.  Especially Storm, who is, as I’ve gone on record for saying, a hottie.

-Wolverine is voiced by F**KING TAKAMURA!!!!

– the anime keeps the characters true to their personalities.

the bad:

-while the animation and art on the whole are good, the heavy shadow effects employed during certain scenes didn’t suit my personal aesthetic.

…and that’s it… see you all next week!

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5 Responses

  1. Myst says:

    “Haha! When even your tombstone doubts that you’re gonna stay dead, you know there’s no suspense.”

    Pure WIN. That simple sentence made my day.

  2. d3v says:

    The schoolgirl in question, Hisako Ichiki (aka Armor) is one of the newer X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday during their run in Astonishing.

    Also, Scott grieves for Jean because he now has no way to cover up his bad bromance with Logan.

    • balladbird says:

      Yeah, I know about armor, I was just being me. XD

      and I agree with your last point too. sooo much (sexual?) tension there. that’s what happens when order and chaos meet, I guess.

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