Without a doubt, the last major premiere of summer is one of its strangest. Getting Nagahama Hiroshi and Stan Lee together to create an anime was always going to be interesting at the very least, given how mercurial both men are artistically. Lee loves anime, certainly – his most direct involvement with one has certainly been Bones’ Heroman, which I would describe as a mixed bag. As for Nagahama, he’s the director of everything Mushishi, one of the most stylish and brilliant manga adaptations in history. Everything else? That’s another matter.
There are times with Nagahama where he does something visually in the name of being, well- stylish, and it’s really just a matter of being cheap. I’m not going to open the old Aku no Hana can of worms again, but to me it was pretentious claptrap (the anime’s contribution I mean – that the manga is too is a given) and looked hideously ugly. Whatever the reason behind Nagahama’s decision to go with Walmart rotoscoping, it didn’t work.
It seems pretty clear that Nagahama and Lee (to whatever extent he’s involved beyond contributing to the premise) are trying to create a Marvel comic come to life with THE REFLECTION, but for me, what it looks like is a Tom Tomorrow “This Modern World” come to life. Obviously, this style of animation (like AnH’s rotoscoping) is cheap. Is that the reason Nagahama and Deen went with it? Who knows? It’s certainly not a mass-produced model, I’ll give it that much. There are moments when the surreal-minimalist backgrounds take on an almost Warhol-like quality, and the whole thing kind of works. But on balance, I’m far from convinced.
As for the premise, it’s wait-and-see mode for me there, too. It seems boilerplate stuff from the fault zone where anime and superhero comics meet – global catastrophe, mutants start showing up in its wake, surly superheroes who dance to their own beat protect the masses. There were some clever moments here, like when “I-Guy” answered the question of whether he’d keep protecting New York with “Sorry, I live in L.A.”. And you have to give full points for Stan doing the Japanese preview in English and finishing with his signature “Excelsior!” catch phase. This all might just be weird and hokey enough to work, but right now I’m mildly curious at best.