With their first foray into the world of Japanese animation, the X-men are feeling a bit trim. Not only has their team dwindled down to six active members, but they seem short on power. The thin cast seems customary in the anime world; popular shows like Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop usually only circulate three to six regular characters. But for X-men, this approach leaves a disturbing and noticeable hole.
The X-men are a paramilitary strike force housed at a private school, but their anime counterparts feel like ghosts wandering a mansion. The empty classrooms and school grounds of the Xavier Institute in episodes one and two feel like a missed opportunity for the anime creators to show their creativity in designing unique mutants and adapting familiar ones to the show. The X-men instead wander the school sans students in what comes to be a drawn out isolation effect to highlight Cyclops’s feelings of loss from Jean Grey’s death a year before the series’s main events. What is supposed to be a mood setter comes across as something no anime wants to be: boring.
The series is fairly thin on action as well. One would think that the brilliant visuals of the anime medium would make for an exciting playground for the X-men, but it just doesn’t happen. The animation style is clunky and slow, hampering the highly physical nature of staples Beast and Wolverine. Cyclops suffers from the anime stereotype of a soldier that relies on his equipment rather than the comic-friendly strategist who can command a field by the precise understanding of his powers. In fact, when Cyclops does use his optic blasts in the show, it is only after he has exhausted his supply of hidden missiles and rocket launchers. Storm seems weary more often than not and really doesn’t release the hurricane of authority that the African goddess of weather is known for in the books.
But the show does have some solids going for it. The plot draws heavily on Grant Morrison’s idea of U-men, scientists who harvest mutant organs to implant in humans. Coupled with the setting of the Tohoku region of Japan, this makes the whole idea of mutation both relevant and interesting. The relevance comes from March 2011’s significant earthquake and tsunami that leveled the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant near Sendai, Japan. This put the whole Kanto district, including the Tohoku region, into high alert that radiation could hurt both the environment and the population.
X-men: the Anime suggests early on that there is something unique about the Tohoku region that predisposes its population for mutation and uses this to introduce Armor, the newest X-men team member. What this suggests is that not only is Japan central to understanding how mutation occurs but it is also more likely to become victim to those who would abuse mutants for sport. It can’t be assumed that the creators intended to draw the parallel with the post-tsunami fears of the Tohoku region, as the anime was released in Japan long before the catastrophe actually occurred. However, it is one of those cosmic coincidences that enriches a lucky storyline.
This nation-centered idea is unique to X-lore and, frankly, long overdue. Writers in the comics have attempted it in small scale with nods toward the Guthrie family, which has turned out several mutant children despite both parents being normal humans. Yet, never has the comic explored the idea that one place in the world would be more likely to produce mutation. The anime series hits the topic without holding back and leaves the viewer wondering whether Japan’s predisposition toward mutation is a question for concern or not.
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