by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 2 of
The Reflection ?
After last week's underwhelming premiere, I'm happy to report that The Reflection's second episode is a big step up in quality. While that first episode falsely assumed that an interesting art style and some extended superhero fights would be enough to make an interesting story, this time Hiroshi Nagahama and the rest of the crew at Studio DEEN made sure to actually include some proper worldbuilding and character development. It's still too early for me to be comfortable calling The Reflection an unqualified success, but it does seem to have a lot more to offer than that first episode implied.
Ironically, the storytelling choice that makes this week work so much only highlights what was wrong in The Reflection's premiere. This episode actually spends most of its time doubling back on what we've already seen, starting off with a flashback to the Reflection event from three year ago, and spending much of the rest of its runtime showing the events of last week from a different perspective. We get some context regarding the Reflected terrorists' attack on Times square, which helps solidify what the antagonist group of this series is going to be; interestingly, the leader of the villainous characters bears a striking resemblance to the King of Cameos himself, Stan Lee. While none of these men and women are much more than interesting character designs (gotta love that Scooby-Doo looking spaceman skeleton), I still appreciate seeing their first major act of terrorism unfold in a more contextualized manner.
We also review I-Guy's aerial battle with the bat and frog creatures, and even though I wasn't a huge fan of his overlong action sequence last week, he turned out to be a surprisingly compelling character here. At first, I-Guy came off as a complete cipher, and if you didn't like the design of his suit or the show's general artistic direction, there was no reason to be interested in his ten minute long fistfight with a couple of other no-name villains. Here, we learn of his history as a failed pop-star, and suddenly he becomes much more interesting. Where at first he came off as just another Tony Stark clone, now he's a man who genuinely seems like he wants to help people, but is also using his Hollywood experience to engineer a grand return to the public eye. It explains his flashy use of the Times Square video screens, and his overreliance on that Frankly somewhat irritating) pop song as his theme music. It's not the most compelling or original backstory, but showing his inexperience as a hero and the way he has to work with his crew to both rescue civilians and put on a show is a genuinely interesting take on the “Man in a superpowered robot suit” idea. Plus, he apparently does have some kind of power that was gifted to him by the reflection, one that ruined his career as a singer, which provides some mysteries to explore further down the road.
To be honest, all of this is information that makes the whole extended fight sequence from last week more comprehensible and compelling, and I even think the show might have made a better first impression overall if it had just included this stuff from the beginning. Without any context or personality, the Reflection's premiere felt more like an animation demo than the beginning of a proper story. Here, we have little moments like I-Guy taking a nap on the wing of a plane, or Eleanor drinking an absurd amount of Tomato juice while she continues her research into the Reflected, that demonstrate a level of humanity that I'm very relieved to see. The Japanese girls even get some explanation here, and while they originally seemed like a non-sequitur, it seems they'll be trying to form their own superhero team, which has the potential to be a very fun juxtaposition to the Western themed heroes in New York and LA. In another reality, the Reflection's premiere could have been a two-parter, ufotable style, where the material from both of these episodes could be edited together a bit more gracefully to form a more fleshed out introduction to the world Pow! Entertainment and Studio DEEN are creating together.
If you were really turned off by The Reflection's first outing, that's completely understandable, but this second episode goes a long way to make up for that premiere's mistakes. The animation itself can still be a bit clunky, and I don't know how much I enjoy the limited use of background music in many of the dialogue scenes, but this is a half-hour that gets more right than it does wrong. The characters are more fleshed out, the world feels more put together, and it generally feels like what the introduction to a classic superhero story should be. The show's fusion of anime style with Bronze Age comic book sensibilities may still not an aesthetic that sits well with everyone, but I think the Reflection's visual and storytelling choices are starting to come together into something I'll be looking forward to keeping up with.
The Reflection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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