Thursday, 19 October 2017

Anime REVIEW: The Reflection

The Reflection
The Reflection is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

Between Marvel and DC battling it out on the big screen and the popularity of anime such as One-Punch Man and My Hero Academia, superheroes are all the rage wherever you look. However one series that promised to bring both sides of the pond together was The Reflection – which combined the talents of Studio DEEN (Patlabor, Fate/Stay Night) and director Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushishi) with Marvel Comics maestro himself Stan Lee and his POW! Entertainment company.


Eleanor EvansI-Guy

Three years ago the world was bathed in a supernatural phenomenon known as the Reflection, which transformed certain humans into super-powered beings through the light and smoke it emitted. In the present day civilisations across the world continue to come to terms with their augmented brothers and sisters (now known as ‘Reflected’).

Teleporting reported Eleanor Evans teams up with the mysterious masked hero X-On as they trace disappearing Reflected to a sinister plot carried out by the self-proclaimed ‘Dark Reflected’ and their leader Wraith. In their travels across the USA they also recruit other Reflected to their cause, including the wheelchair bound Lisa Livingston and partners Michael and Vy. Running parallel to their story are the investigations of another hero, the armour-clad I-Guy, as well as the journey of a group of school girls from Japan to the US.

Lisa LivingstonWraith

Even if you were to go into The Reflection blissfully unaware of Stan Lee’s involvement, it wouldn’t take you long to draw some parallels. Right from the get-go The Reflection draws on Marvel’s most famous works – from the huge cosmic event to the X-Men style divide between unaffected humans and the Reflected. These connections aren’t just on a narrative level either, with the X-Men uniform in X-On’s one-piece jumpsuit all too clear. The Reflected straddles the fine line between being a loving tribute to glory days of superhero comics and an uninspired mash-up of tired tropes, but nevertheless it’s still able to evoke a similar sense of nostalgia to reading said comics.

However what The Reflection doesn’t share with those comics is pacing. Whereas once upon a time comics were largely self-contained stories that offered wider payoff to regular readers, The Reflection is a mess of clumsy storytelling with minimal closure and even less explanations. There’s no real clarity on how the Reflection works despite a clear distinction between those affected by the light and those by the gas, and even less light shed on how or why the event happened in the first place. The finale is equally unsatisfying, with Wraith’s grand plan barely making a lick of sense as well as the show ending on a cliffhanger ending that’s almost certainly never going to be followed up on. But these things might be more acceptable if the individual episodes themselves had more to them, but even they usually fall flat on their face. What’s puzzling about this is that The Reflection is actually pretty good at episodic content when it wants to be (such as Linda’s introductory episode or Michael and Vy’s backstory), but the rest of the time episodes feel like they go on for an eternity without ever providing any real substance.

Michael and VySteel Ruler

But regardless of narrative quality the biggest talking point when it comes to The Reflection is always going to be aesthetics. The show is extremely stylised, and intends to invoke the feel of a Silver Age American comic book with its solid colours, basic detailing and minimalistic shading. While the end result is certainly divisive, it is undoubtedly one of the more unique visual experiences anime has had to offer in recent years. The Reflection is extremely ambitious in its simplicity, and such a bold move could have easily been a success if the show had the animation quality to back it up. Other than a few standout moments it sadly does not. Much like the story the animation itself moves at a snail’s pace, which combined with the show’s penchant for oddly lingering shots makes the presentation feel cheap and nasty rather than a stylistic choice.

With so much to complain about, surely at the very least The Reflection has some great characters to boast about right? Once again the answer is a very blunt “yes, but most of it is muddied by a very solid no”. As the central protagonist most of story revolves around Eleanor, who works well enough in the role but quickly begins to get bogged down by the narrative problems as the show progresses. She’s mainly supported by the cool (if very cliché) looking X-On, a power-copying hero who’s main shtick is to be shrouded in mystery and a little bit of a dick at times. But while his general demeanour and powers are fun, the character is TOO shrouded in mystery – to the point where we don’t really learn anything about him through the entire course of the show. This is a problem that almost everyone who doesn’t have a specific introductory episode suffers from, resulting in a cast who you’re seemingly supposed to like purely on face value. The one saving grace here is I-Guy – whose comparisons to Iron Man are just as clear in his self-destructive arrogance as well as his suit. His is perhaps the only storyline in the series that actually feels whole, going from an arrogant rock star to revenge-driven hero.

9nineStan Lee?!

The same problems apply to the Dark Reflected cast members, who have even less to offer other than a short but satisfactory backstory for metal-manipulating assassin Steel Ruler. But the worst offenders in all of this are the Japanese schoolgirls – characters whose scenes are peppered throughout the show but serve absolutely no purpose other than to show up as a magical girl squad in the final episode. The real reason for their inclusion is that they’re in fact voiced by the idol group 9nine, who provide the show’s end theme “SunSunSunrise”. It’s a fun little nod for both the group itself and their fans, but far more could have been done to actually make them feel like part of the story. Also shout out to the creators for actually making Stan Lee himself a villain, even though if it wasn’t for his appearance he’d be the most forgettable recurring character in the show.

In conclusion The Reflection is an ambitious show with plenty of good ideas, but fails miserably in its execution of them. Interesting characters, a unique aesthetic and a feel of nostalgia aren’t enough to save the show from its abysmal story-telling, terrible pacing, minimal character development and more-often-than-not subpar animation. Despite a few moments of greatness, the show ultimately has curiousity value at best. A partnership like Studio DEEN and Stan Lee should have been a winning combination, but instead The Reflection is destined to spend the rest of time as an example of how NOT to successfully capitalise on superhero hype.

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