Anime Expo 2017
Infini-T Force World Premiere
by Lynzee Loveridge,
Anime News Network's coverage of Anime Expo 2017 is sponsored by Aniplex and Yen Press.
In the 1970s, three brothers founded an anime studio that would become synonymous with shōnen action heroes. Building off the success of the live-action special-effects hero Kamen Rider, Tatsunoko Pro would roll out Yatterman, Hurricane Polymar, Gatchaman, Casshan and Tekkaman. Each iteration continues to revisited time and again, with Yatterman Night and Gatchaman Crowds being the most recent examples. The originals crossed over the pond nearly 40 years ago reworked under titles like Battle of the Planets. If your parents were sci-fi fans, they might have caught a few episodes during its limited U.S. television runs. Sentai Filmworks is making an effort to reintroduce the series to the U.S. thanks to recently released DVD sets of Gatchaman, but otherwise Tatsunoko's superheroes remain relatively obscure in Western fandom.
This might best be reflected in the Infini-T Force screening's opening attendance. After the previous Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card Prologue OVA screening wrapped, a packed house filed out of the main events hall. Infini-T Force followed 30 minutes later to a much, much smaller albeit enthusiastic audience. The staff seemed aware of the disparity and Gatchaman voice actor Tomokazu Seki even joked that the stage spotlight was "obscuring" the filled to capacity seating in the back. The staff members characterized Seki as a regular jokester, someone who often sets the recording studio's mood as the leader of the "Science Voice Actor Team."
After director Kiyotaka Suzuki, Seki, and the show's producer warmed up the crowd, Infini-T Force's first episode queued up, and boy did it hit the ground running. Gatchaman finds himself quickly hurdling through the air towards an aircraft carrier below. In true science ninja fashion, he deploys spiked boots to create the friction needed to keep from sliding off the ship into the ocean. Above, the pursuing Galactor helicopters explode in a fiery blaze. He still has to take out the evil alien empire's cycloptic robots but before the audience can settle back into their seats, he's faced with a new, human enemy with a device that seems to manipulate gravity itself.
There's more than a lion's share darting across the screen before the audience even meets its everyman protagonist, Emi. The dark-haired beauty attends an all girl's school, but outside her acquaintances on campus, she lives a lonely life. So much so that she plays daredevil death games on her motorcycle, rewarding herself with new school supplies if she manages not to die. By all means it seems like she wants to, and she's awful close to succeeding before she gets wrapped up in another face off between Gatchaman, Polymar, Tekkaman, and the new masked foe. The crew transforms, punches, and explodes their way through each obstacle before Emi ultimately makes off with her own weapon: an oversized pencil that makes whatever she draws a reality.
Whatever her wishes are, she can manifest into reality, and a legion of foes led by Z are after that power. They erase the worlds of respective Tatsunoko heroes, leading to the three (and soon to be four) heroes occupying the same reality. The entire premise is pretty dense. The production wanted to both explain how so many superheroes could co-exist in the same place, introduce the heroes to a fresh audience, establish the psyche of its female protagonist, and save room for spectacle. I'd say the first episode succeeded 2/3 of the time. It's strongest in action sequences, a bit heavy-handed with Emi, but outright overwhelming with its cast and enemy introduction. The strongly choreographed battles felt like a breather, if you can believe it.
The elephant in the room is going to be the 3DCG animation. Anime productions are a mixed bag regardless of art style, be it BBK/BRNK, Knights of Sidonia, or Berserk. Tatsunoko Pro's works have been traditionally animated affairs until now. The studio took it upon themselves to delve headfirst into 3DCG animation for the 55th anniversary project. The result is two-fold. On the one hand, outside of the action scenes, the show has that "PlayStation 2 cutscene" look. On the other, those action scenes are fantastic. Usually three-dimensional affairs have a wobble to them, where character's movements seem to lack weight or impact. This isn't true for Infini-T Force, which truly excels whether Polymar is transforming into a drill or Gatchaman is throwing exploding mini-mines.
Infini-T Force isn't going to hold the same kind of nostalgia for Western mainstream audiences as it will for their Japanese counterparts, and truthfully some of the show's winks are going to be missed altogether. The barrier of entry can be a bit daunting and the staff did few favors to ease newbies into Tatsunoko's own Justice League. Those willing to tough it out will find a competent 3DCG production for a studio's first go around and an exciting action show to boot.
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