Friday 13 October 2017

First Impressions: Infini-T Force

Infini-T Force is available in streaming form on Viz Media (US Only)

Tatsunoko Production love a good anniversary, and what better way to celebrate their 55th birthday than with a crossover of some of the many superhero shows they've produced over the years? Infini-T Force brings together the likes of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Hurricane Polymar, Neo Human Casshan and Tekkaman in one universe-spanning CGI action series, co-produced with production company Digital Frontier (whose previous works include the likes of the Appleseed movies, live-action Death Note movies as well as an impressive resume of video game cut scenes).

Ken the EagleEmi

Our story begins with Gatchaman leader Ken the Eagle facing off against a strange new enemy, before the action shifts to introduce Emi - a depressed schoolgirl who constantly puts her life at risk to see if she lives or dies. After being struck by a mysterious light she obtains a magic pencil with the power to both create and destroy, an object which is targeted by an enemy known simply as 'Z'.

Z has developed a device to travel to and destroy other worlds, one of which was the world of Takeshi Yoroi/Hurricane Polymar (who's now living life as a private investigator). The pencil's arrival also brings along with it Ken the Eagle and Tekkaman, who have followed it to stop Z from destroying any more worlds. After Emi walks away from the three heroes the pencil guides her to another visitor from another world - Casshan!

The heroes' human identitesThe mysterious Z

Though fully CGI animation is becoming more and more prevalent in Japan, it seems to still be something of a "love it or hate it" affair with the general anime fandom. As is the case with Western animation many say it's replacing the 'more detailed and superior" (their opinion, not mine) 2D animation, while others will argue that Japanese studios just don't have the budgets to convincingly pull off a fully 3D series. Though an argument can certainly be made for the latter, Japanese CGI has come a long way over the years so you'd think that collaboration between big names like Tatsunoko and Digital Frontier would come out okay. Sadly Infini-T Force to some extent still has the feel of a high-tier PS3 game cutscene (the character models look glossy, hair is treated more like a solid object rather than individual strands etc.), but it isn't by any means unpleasant to look at. The character models all move fluidly and the backgrounds are suitably impressive. If it were a feature film it might not be much to write home about, but for a weekly series it gets the job done nicely. That said, the series is in fact getting a movie February next year so fingers crossed they'll put something a bit more special out of the bag for that.


Story-wise the premise seems pretty standard for a multi-series crossover epic. With each series taking place in different timeframes with differing levels of technology it makes sense that they'd all exist in different universes, but having them come together to face some universe-spanning threat is pretty common stuff. What was particularly good about this opening episode though was that the heroes immediately identified each other as such, rather than first going through the usual conflict routine you see in so many things like this. Of course the first part of this double-length premiere does end with Ken, Polymar and Tekkaman about to face off against Casshan so it wasn't completely devoid of this trope, but it was over and done with pretty swiftly. As far as original characters are concerned Emi is a decent (if somewhat unneeded) protagonist, although her depression doesn't really feel all that believable and she comes across more as selfish and self-absorbed. Main villain Z is quickly revealed to be her father, although other than this bit of info we don't know all that much about him yet. Instead the villain focus of these episodes goes to his (presumed) underling Damian Gray, who shares an interesting relationship with Takeshi before his villainous (and somewhat ambiguous) intent is revealed. Meanwhile the object of everyone's desires "the Case" - a magical macguffin that has the power to grant its users wishes. Again not all that original, but there is a nice bit of symbolism to a world building/destroying superpower turning into a pencil of all things.

What Infini-T Force does do very well at though are action scenes. This is where the the CGI truly shines, as our four heroes leap through the air while performing all manner of well-choreographed fight moves and explosive special attacks. Given that this is essentially Tatsunoko's answer to The Avengers the fights were the area the show had to deliver the most, so even when the story's lacking at least it has this to fall back on. Seeing the four heroes' different fighting styles in play together also amps the action up a notch, highlighting just how different these characters are even if their designs make it all too clear that they originated from the same place.

CasshanDamian's monster form

Infini-T Force is unlikely to win any awards for story, but at the very least it's great to see these four classic anime heroes side by side somewhere other than Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. What the show lacks in story it makes up for in exhilarating fight sequences featuring four of the legendary animation studios' most popular heroes. Hopefully the story has a few more tricks up its sleeve to make it stand out from the crowd, but if not seeing these four heroes together is a pretty good way to celebrate Tatsunoko's 55th birthday. Many happy returns!

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