by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Reflection ?
Before I had seen anything else going into the summer season, The Reflection was one of the series I was the most excited for. The series is a collaboration between Pow! Entertainment (created by Stan Lee, of Marvel fame), famed Studio DEEN, and director Hiroshi Nagahama; seeing as anime and superhero comic books are my primary geek obsessions, this seemed like a match made in heaven. The show itself seemed poised to be the anime take on an American superhero story, complete with the tried and true premise of random people all over the world being given super powers because of some supernatural event, and I absolutely couldn't wait to see how it shaped up. Fast forward a couple of months and The Reflection is finally here, but unfortunately the results are more mixed than anything else.
The biggest sticking point for a lot of viewers is probably going to be the art style and animation The Reflection indulges in. Framing its characters in thick, bold outlines and having the entire world shaded in bright, deep colors definitely gives off the feel of a western comic-book, even if it isn't necessarily accurate to what comics in the West actually look like these days. Additionally, you can feel Nagahama's influence all over this series, as the flat facial features and tendency toward more naturalistic, less expressionistic animation feels very reminiscent of Flowers of Evil. That show garnered its own controversy over its reliance on hyper-realistic rotoscoped animation, and while The Reflection isn't based in rotoscoping techniques, it still very much feels like a sister-production to Flowers of Evil when it comes to the design of its characters faces and their overall sense of movement.
To be perfectly honest, I really dug this artistic choice, and it's probably my favorite things about the series coming out of this premiere episode. Some of the backgrounds end up feeling kind of washed out and flat, and the fluidity of the animation itself is inconsistent at best, but it's interesting and unique enough to keep my attention. There are some shots, such as the Kirby-crackle infused space panorama that I-Guy summons on to the Times Square video screens, or the imagery of the titular Reflection washing over the planet in a neon glow, that look downright gorgeous. It definitely is an esoteric choice though, and it certainly lacks the out-and-out flair of similar series, like My Hero Academia. It won't be for everyone, and while I personally enjoy it, it will also probably be the single biggest factor turning people off of the series.
There's a much bigger problem than the art, though, and that's the pacing of the direction and the script. There really is very little plot to cover here: A new, Iron Man-esque hero named I-Guy debuts in Times Square, while another man named X-on does battle in the streets, while a photographer named Eleanor pursues, seemingly gifted with her own powers of teleportation. The dialogue and character interaction here is minimal, and the whole episode really just functions as a setup for a story that should be familiar to anyone who's kept a pulse on pop-culture entertainment for the past 20 years.
And yet the final shots of several scenes are held for two or three seconds longer than they need to be, and the two major fight scenes of the episode are stretched out inordinately to fill out time. The episode opens in Japan and spends time on a lantern festival and the chatter of some teenage girls for no discernable reason, and the whole episode just feels so long. Simply put, this episode really had no business being a half hour long, and by taking a short, 11-minute episode's worth of story and stretching it out to twice that length the whole premiere of The Reflection really dragged. To put it even more simply, this was a really boring episode to sit through.
Given the amount of time and money I've dedicated to collecting comics, Marvel comics especially, over the years, there is a lot I'm willing to forgive in my superhero stories. I can forgive wonky or experimental art in the Reflection, because the art in comics is changing all the time, and I'm okay with giving the show a couple of episodes to find its groove. I'm even cool with the Reflection's played out premise and, to put it politely, recognizable character designs. This show is obviously meant to be a loving homage to American superhero comics, so I'll overlook the fact that I-Guy is just an Iron Man rip-off, and X-on is literally just Cyclops and Rogue from the X-Men blended together. It's all in good fun.
What I have a much harder time forgiving, though, is when superheroes are boring. We live in perhaps the most superhero-dominated pop-culture landscape in history, and there simply isn't any time to waste on boredom. This Reflection's unique art just isn't enough to save it from its overlong fight scenes, sloppy direction, and criminally underdeveloped characters. I can see some potential in the Reflection, and I desperately hope it can live up to that potential now that this snooze-fest of a first episode is out of the way.
The Reflection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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