Sunday, 10 May 2015

Anime REVIEW: Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers

Among the long lists of anime series that begin each new season, you'll always find a handful that have a certain goal in mind - selling toys. Of course this strategy isn't exactly uncommon on either side of the globe, but in Japan's case these are the year long-running shows that Westerners don't seem to pay a whole lot of attention to, and are eventually forgotten as soon as their last episode has aired. However last year revealed one that everyone immediately paid attention to, as Marvel Comics announced they would be partnering with studio Toei Animation for a brand new animated venture - Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers. With the pairing of Marvel and Toei having previously brought the world the wonderfully wacky 1978 Japanese Spider-Man series, many were eager to see what would happen when the comics giant teamed up with Toei's animation department instead. The result was not quite what any expected, and a series that could quite easily be summed up as a Japanese kids' show through and through. And with those all important toy duties being handled by Bandai, this doesn't look like a show that'll be officially stepping outside of Japan at any point either.

The Avengers' Child Partners
Aim to be a Pokemon Avengers Master

With the help of famed Japanese scientist Dr Nozomu Akatsuki, Tony Stark has created the Digital Identity Securement Kit (or DISKs for short) - a new method of apprehending criminals but capturing them inside a handheld disk-like device. However at a grand unveiling scheme at the Raft prison, the Avengers are attacked by Loki and a hoard of other villains - who succeed in overwhelming the heroes and trapping them inside the very DISKs that were meant for them. Caught in the crossfire are five children - Dr Akatsuki's sons Akira and Hikaru, superhero blogger and fanatic Edward Grant, hot-blooded Chris Taylor and French rich girl Jessica Shannon. In the ensuing chaos they inadvertently have five different biocodes installed into their bodies, allowing them to summon the trapped heroes for a limited time. With these newfound abilities they partner themselves with the five core members of the Avengers - Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Wasp respectively.

In their mission to recover the DISKs spread across the world, rescue the now-missing Dr Akatsuki and eventually free themselves from their technological prisons, the Avengers and their new partners battle against Loki and a hoard of other villains from across the Marvel Universe. But also coming to their aid are the heroes sworn to defend the world against them. Some trapped in the DISKs themselves, some that managed to escape their reach and some even from a whole other galaxy.

Loki
Not nearly bishonen enough

So to put it quite simply, what we have here is a series where a group of children are able to summon superheroes to fight for a limited timespan, summoning and returning them from a small collectible item. That's right - Disk Wars: The Avengers is what you get when you cross superheroes with the likes of Pokémon, Beyblade or one of the other dozens of Japanese shows which have copied that money making formula. By all accounts this sounds like a completely stupid premise and absolutely shouldn't work on screen, but somehow it totally manages to. At the beginning the kids aren't a particularly likeable bunch, but the early episodes are balancing out with a good helping of Avengers action alongside a massive showdown of familiar faces in the Marvel Universe. The writers wisely picked a strong core team of Avengers (I particularly was very happy to see Wasp get even more animated love from Japan), though I can't help feel a few odd choices were made in the way they are portrayed. Tony Stark is the only one that has any sort of recognition of having an civilian identity, while the rest are forever restricted to their superhero personas - to the point where there are flashbacks of them relaxing and they sit around fully masked and/or in costume. Likewise swapping out a savage Hulk for a fully-aware one makes sense in a lengthy show, but absolutely no recognition of Bruce Banner seems like a really big oversight. Back to the kids themselves, they do manage to grow on you somewhat as the story progresses and the partnerships begin to rub off on each other. While there are still definitely moments where you wish this was a show starring only the Avengers, credit is due for managing to take a potentially fatal gimmick like this and turn into a reasonably successful show.

In terms of structure the show splits itself into multiple arcs, each focusing on a different main villain. As mentioned earlier Loki is the one that sets things in motion, and returns again for the final arc so should definitely be considered the main threat of the entire thing. His dominant presence is no doubt thanks to the overwhelming success of the character of the movies, but while he is the perfect character to set the whole situation up and the big finale he feels like something of a let-down in comparison to who comes before him (no to mention a massive anticlimax). Over time the summoning gimmick also begins to wear a bit thin, particularly because the Avengers seem to become less and less bothered that they're trapped in the DISKs. The time limit remains a concern (albeit less so in time), but otherwise they all seem rather content having partners and make no notable attempts to ever free themselves until it's most convenient. 50-odd episodes is the usual length for a show driven by toy sales (just look at Kamen Rider and Super Sentai), but 51 definitely feels too long for this one. Less meandering and a tighter narrative are definitely things that could have worked in its favour.

The Guardians of the Galaxy
WATCH OUR MOVIE

With us now living in an age where Hollywood is pumping out multiple Marvel films a year, it probably won't surprise you to hear that Disk Wars: The Avengers also had another few things to promote over the last year rather than just toys. Though arriving just before the release of Captain America: The Winter Solider and finishing just before The Avengers: Age of Ultron, there were a number of films that did just happen to be released during the show's runtime - The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy to be exact. With Marvel's direct involvement in the show it doesn't take a genius to work out which of those three films got the very obvious promotion, but the characters from all of those films got their own rather sizeable appearances one way or another. There was even a mini Ultron-arc that came just before the show's finale, which serves as a good way to get quickly introduced to the simplified comic origins of the villain before seeing him reimagined on the big screen.

Cameos weren't just limited to the core Avengers and whoever so happened to have a movie out at the time though, as Disk Wars: The Avengers certainly shows a loving appreciation for the wider Marvel Universe. As well as the big name players like Spider-Man and the X-Men the show also made more than enough time for other notable heroes who are/are going to be rising stars thanks to current Marvel Cinematic Universe involvement - Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Falcon, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Power Man, Nova and more. But on top of that there are also a bunch of appearances from lesser known Marvel heroes characters as Ronin, Sunfire and even villains like Diamondback. Whether they come as cameos or larger episode roles, the sheer range of characters in the series demonstrates a true love for the source material and makes it considerably easier to swallow some of its more ridiculous elements. Plus Deadpool was born to be in an anime series. 

Surprise Deadpool
Deadpool: The Anime when?

The other interest-factor Disk Wars: The Avengers has going for it is its redesigns of many classic Marvel heroes and villains - some of which are rather subtle, while others make them feel like a whole new character. Captain America and Thor are the only ones receiving a notable change in the core team (Cap swapping those spandex dubs out for something that could easily pass as Megaman cosplay), but a lot of the wider cast have been suitably anime-fied for this outing. Some changes like Doctor Strange and Iron Fist's long flowing manes work, others like Doctor Octopus' freaky S&M inspire overhaul are less successful. Another ranking pretty high up on the "dumb idea" scale are the Build Up modes - special enhancements and armour the core Avengers receive midway into the show, along with some rather out of place Dragonball Z scouters. Putting more armour on top of Iron Man usually proves marginally successful, but with physical attackers like the Hulk and Thor? Considerably less so.

In addition to that, visually the show does suffer from some rather obvious issues. Being made to sell toys already isn't a good starting place for things in terms of budget and animation quality, but the fact its being made by Toei Animation doesn't particularly help either. Despite featuring some of the biggest superhero names in the world right now this isn't One Piece, Sailor Moon or Dragonball Z - and boy does it show. Body proportions are all over the place, with heroes more than often popping up with Hulk-sized bodies complimented by pin-sized heads (Hawkeye is always a good example of this, but not the only victim). Meanwhile Spider-Man's web patterns are all over the place, which isn't helped by the fact they're already just straight lines rather than the more intricate webbing shape. But hey, at least they didn't omit them altogether like the 1967 series I guess.

Iron Man's "Build Up" Mode
Not quite over 9000

Disk Wars: The Avengers is a series that many didn't particular want and some probably think shouldn't even exist either, because the reality is that on paper it sounds utterly ridiculous. However if you can get past that silly idea and endure the spotty animation, you'll find a show that's far from the worse thing Marvel Animation has to offer (and that's from both sides of the globe). With a good core team, a huge selection of faces from Marvel's vast back catalogue and even a few interesting ideas of its own, Disk Wars actually proves be a reasonably enjoyable watch most of the time even if it possibly outstays its welcome by the end. As a "made to sell toys" series that's practically doubling as a series made to sell movie tickets there will always be fans to scoff at it and it certainly won't be winning any awards, but give this oddity a chance and I'm sure you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised.

1 comment:

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