Monday 24 July 2017

First Impressions: The Reflection

The Reflection
The Reflection is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

Surely the combination of Stan Lee, Studio DEEN and director Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushishi, Detroit Metal City) is a recipe for success right? This summer anime fans will find out with the release of The Reflection, a new collaborative effort between Studio Deen and Lee’s own Pow! Entertainment. This isn’t the first time Stan Lee has dived into the world of anime, but with an increase in superhero shows thanks to the success of Tiger & Bunny, One-Punch Man and My Hero Academia the competition is pretty stiff these days.


Three years ago the world was bathed in a strange phenomenon known as “The Reflection”. While most were unaffected, some has since emerged displaying a variety of superpowers. In the present day, New York’s memorial ceremony is interrupted by a battle between two mutants and an armoured hero introducing himself as “I-Guy”. Meanwhile, teleporting photojournalist Eleanor watches another hero named X-on in his own fight against super-powered villains.

Naturally the first point of discussion when it comes to The Reflection is going to be its art style and animation, which heavily tries to emulate the look and feel of a Western comic book. Characters, structures and objects all sport thick black outlines with deep colours and minimal shading. The animation isn’t especially fluid, and a lot of the finer details are omitted for the sake of simplicity (there are scenes where characters in the visible distance don’t even have faces). It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a classic comic book, and while it certainly gives The Reflection something of a unique edge in terms of visuals it certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Even before getting into discussing details such as plot and/or characters, this is going to be the biggest hurdle for some people to get over.

EleanorThe Reflection

That isn’t the only problem this premiere faces though, and arguably the bigger issue at hand is just how slow-paced the whole thing is. Even if you’re able to get past the polarising art style, sitting through an episode that offers minimal characterisation and the most basic of back stories is a much bigger chore. The episode’s opening and end sequences (in which a group of Japanese schoolgirls watch the events through a mobile phone during a lantern festival) don’t mesh with the rest at all, and the two key fight scenes are dragged out to the point that they quickly begin to lose steam halfway through.

However despite these flaws The Reflection still manages to spark interest, and fans of Western comic books will no doubt feel at home in its stock plot setup and somewhat derivative characters. With so little plot advancement or dialogue taking place in the episode it’s hard to say what might come next, but at the very least this episode is able to make viewers feel invested in the villains (or “Reflected”) and whatever their plans may be. While the same can’t necessarily be said for the heroes , there’s some good old fashioned fun to be had watching I-Guy zip around Times Square fighting bad guys as a faux-80s song plays over it. The art style makes the designs all the more memorable too, with X-on channelling X-Factor era Cyclops and I-Guy more like Iron Man by way of Tiger & Bunny’s Sky High. The episode isn’t completely devoid of humour either, with I-Guy’s awkward introduction giving way to a fantastic one-liner that’s sure to do its rounds on the internet and settle as one of the show’s standout moments). Basically there’s potential to be seen in this episode, but the show is still far too rough around the edges to properly shine through. Hopefully in a few episodes’ time it’ll find its groove and start showing what it really has to offer. But if you stick around right to the end, you even get to hear Stan Lee himself narrate the next episode preview card.

"The Reflective"The Reflection

While undoubtedly The Reflection has gotten off to an interesting start, sadly it might not be the kind of interesting that ensures viewers keep tuning in each week. If the divisive art style isn’t enough to put you off, then this episode’s slow pacing and minimal set-up might be enough to do the trick. It’s a shame, because given the (for better or worse) unique look of this show and the names behind it there’s definitely the potential for it to have a few tricks up its sleeve. But for now the bar has been set fairly low, and only time will tell whether The Reflection has got what it takes to stand out in the ever-growing range of superhero anime.

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