The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Infini-T Force ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
For more than two decades, I was a hardcore American comic book reader/collector, and I usually delighted in crossovers, whether it was intracompany affairs like Avengers vs. X-Men or intercompany projects like DC vs. Marvel and Witchblade/Wolverine. So a series like this, which unites four classic Tatsunoko Productions heroes from the early-to-mid-70s, is right up my alley. But there's one big problem in this case: one of the characters, Polymar of Hurricane Polymar, is pretty obscure in the West despite its '90s remake getting a North American release, and Tekkaman isn't exactly a household name among American otaku, either. (For that matter, Casshan in his original form probably isn't well-known, either, since most fans are probably more familiar with Casshern from Casshern Sins in the late 2000s.)
The first two episodes don't do anything to make this all accessible to newer fans, either. Yeah, you have these four heroic types in battle suits doing all kinds of cool fighting maneuvers, but there's nothing here to help us understand who they actually were in their original worlds. Viewers are expected to be familiar with all of them coming in. Given that most of these heroes haven't been active in other anime projects over the decades since their premieres, that seems like a big miscalculation, even for a clear nostalgia piece.
In other circumstances that might not matter, as there's still an enormous potential cool factor for this premise even if you don't know the heroes. Unfortunately, the story is also saddled with a female lead who would be wholly boring if it wasn't for her attractive design. Despite her comfy lifestyle, she suffers from a malaise of the soul so deep that she gambles with her life on her motorbike, but little effort is taken to make this at all interesting. I could also rag on the lame motive for the lead villain, which seems to involve the ultra-generic premise of destroying most worlds so the he can realize his one Perfect World. I'm guessing that his daughter will prove to be the centerpiece of that, making the villain one of those “I'll kill the world for my daughter” kinds of guys. Sometimes this premise can be good if the villain is compelling in other regards (see Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale), but I have yet to see much hope of that here.
The technical merits are pretty decent as 3DCG anime goes, even if the body language animation is still distractingly unrefined in some places. There's definitely nothing wrong with the attractive character designs, either. That's not enough to offset its other problems though, which leave me wanting for more and not in a good way. So this is by no means terrible, but it's still a disappointment.
I probably enjoyed Infini-T Force more than I ought to have, given that I have only a passing knowledge of the four franchises it's crossing over. The story brings together characters from Gatchaman's original 1972 incarnation (Ken), Hurricane Polymar (Takeshi), Casshan (Tetsuya), and Tekkaman (Joji) and pairs them with Emi, a disaffected, clinically depressed teenage girl who spends her first major moments on-screen basically trying to commit suicide by traffic. Emi, of course, is the daughter of the Big Bad, known only as Z, who has destroyed the heroes' worlds, landing them in hers. Since she's managed to accidentally gain possession of the Case her dad was using to wreak havoc, she's somehow ended up being worthy of the guys' protection and her father's new nemesis, although he doesn't know it yet.
The whole thing reminds me of the sort of games my sisters and I used to concoct – you know, the kind where the Barbies teamed up and attacked the plastic animals and the My Little Ponies and She-Ras had to work together with the animals to stop Barbie's evil plans. (We were weird kids.) What's particularly fun about it is the way the characters retain some of their original traits – Ken is very clearly from a different time period, largely acting like a dinosaur where his expectations of women are concerned (“All girls can cook,” he says to a girl with a microwave) and being utterly unable to use a smartphone because it doesn't have buttons. Tetsuya being the closest to Emi's age, the two of them immediately hit it off and run around acting like the kids they are while the other three stand around discussing serious stuff, and Takeshi's obsession with friendship reflects the themes of his shounen origins. Meanwhile Emi is the poster child for the modern angsty teen, which is probably going to be more of a problem for the heroes than anything her dad can throw at them.
I imagine to viewers with more familiarity with the original franchises, this is much more of a treat. That it's still fun as someone who knows the names and dates and not much else says something, especially since the 3D animation is not what many of us are looking for in anime. It's done decently well, without noticeable stiffness or awkward facial movements when people are speaking, and if Damien looks like David Bowie in Labyrinth skinned a flamingo and draped it over his head, well, at least he moves nicely. Plus Tetsuya brought Friender, his blue Doberman, which makes this an automatic win in my book.
Overall, this was a pleasant surprise, with episode two's further explanations making it the more interesting of the two thus far available. If you're in the mood for something strangely grounded despite its over-the-top premise, this is worth checking out – and that goes double if you actually really know the characters.
It's a little strange seeing a crossover special of a canon you have no familiarity with. Such stories are clearly building on years of assumed behavior, but all you actually see is the surface tip of the lore iceberg. Infini-T Force is just such a property, crossing over Gatchaman, Casshan, and two other presumably classic heroes into one multidimensional muddle. As a story, it's not particularly thrilling. As a spectacle, it works out okay.
Infini-T Force's premise is that the mysterious villain Z is going around destroying worlds, and the heroic refugees of these worlds who do battle with him all end up congregating in one central timeline. Forced to work together in order to defeat Z and hopefully reclaim their homes, a menagerie of classic sentai warriors are thus combined into one super team. It's basically The Avengers predicated on a sentai supergroup, constructed mostly as an excuse to see classic heroes fighting together.
Infini-T Force's storytelling reflects its action-oriented goals. The premise here is pretty thin, and the villains all hang out in one ruined stadium while waiting their turn to punch good guys, underlining the fact that we're basically in videogame-narrative territory. The various heroes actually have a decent rapport, and the dialogue can occasionally approach naturalism, but there's always a line like “appropriate for the destroyer of all things, his name is the very last letter of the alphabet… Z” waiting around the corner. Infini-T Force's story is pretty much just a justification for its premise.
What Infini-T Force actually does care about is sweet fight scenes, and on that front, the show definitely delivers. Infini-T Force is animated in a style of CG that looks more like a fighting game cutscene than a stab at traditional animation, which can get awkward during the more mundane conversations, but enables some very dynamic fight scenes. The show's direction takes more cues from Hollywood spectacles than other anime, and the choreography of the big battles is consistently strong. If you're interested in seeing classic sentai heroes exchange blows, Infini-T Force nails that particular goal.
In the end, I can't see this show really succeeding for someone who isn't already invested in its various sentai protagonists. The story is paper thin, the aesthetic is pretty flat, and the animation style only really works for the fight scenes. Infini-T Force is a fairly unique property, but not a terribly good one.
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