by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
The Reflection ?
So it turns out I-Guy is even more of a Tony Stark type than we thought, and that's saying something. What's even more interesting is how this latest episode of The Reflection subverts the usual superhero tropes of the main character addressing their personality flaws by donning the spandex/robot suits. Characters like Iron Man and Doctor Strange may be notoriously arrogant, but their super-heroic transformations reigned in the worst of their selfishness, at least just enough to keep them likable. This doesn't seem to be the case for Ian Izette, who actually resents how much the public loves his heroic persona, since his own personal glory has long since faded. His pathetic attempt to hijack a singer's performance only to remember that his Reflected powers make his singing voice literally destructive is a very Tony Stark at his worst stunt, not unlike his meltdown in Iron Man 2. Ian might have the tech and the crew to pull off some flashy heroic stunts, but his new career seems to be doing him more harm than good.
While I enjoy what the show is doing with Ian's character, he remains completely divorced from Eleanor and company's cross-country trek, which makes his scenes feel more like diversions than they should and highlights the janky plotting The Reflection has been struggling with so far. After four weeks, we still have almost no clue who the main antagonists of this story are or why they're kidnapping Reflected people. It seems like we might finally get some answers next week, but I don't think the exposition needed to be drip-fed this slowly. We learn the names of the villains who've been kidnapping and trafficking Reflected, Merchant and Trader, but any actual information about them is still being saved for later. The fact that the citizens and police of New Orleans are so casual about Merchant and Trader operating in broad daylight does help highlight the prejudice against the Reflected that exists in this world, which is a mainstay of superhero comics, especially Marvel stories, but I still feel like these episodes could be doing more to advance the plot and worldbuilding.
I will say that I appreciated the group's trip to Louisiana, even if it felt a little odd to have Lisa and X-On confined to a car for the whole episode. I just love seeing anime take on depicting the more unique settings of the US, and New Orleans is one of the most recognizable and eccentric cities in the country. It's also kind of funny to see some of the quirks that come along with having a Japanese crew write American characters, such as Lisa mistaking Lake Pontchartrain for the ocean, as if she's never seen such a large body of water before, despite growing up only a few hours south of one of the biggest lakes (and tourist traps) in the northeastern United States. This isn't so much a criticism as an observation; so often, Americans in anime are played up as fun-loving blond stereotypes or militaristic boogeymen, and the actual culture of the United States doesn't usually come into play. If anything, it makes The Reflection that much more unique.
Speaking of what makes the Reflection unique, this episode further cements my feelings on the show's controversial visual style, which is to say that I genuinely love the design and color work that goes into this series, but the animation itself is much more uneven. For the most part, the show's dialogue scenes and small action beats work perfectly well, but there are certain moments that fall flat specifically because of director Hiroshi Nagahama's particularly unique vision. This week, this problem stands out in the scene where Ian storms the stage. Usually I'm not bothered by how distance shots will obscure or completely remove facial features from characters, but the technique really doesn't work when someone is supposed to be singing on a stage. Watching the faceless woman wiggle back and forth ever so slightly as Ian tried to sing was both eerie and hilarious, and I don't think either of those emotions were intended.
What all of this means is that The Reflection doesn't continue to improve this week so much as it remains standing still. I still like Lisa a lot, and Eleanor's story is gradually becoming more interesting, but both the scripting and the visuals remain very inconsistent. What's more, The Reflection seems to be actively trying to skirt audience expectations; it's both a superhero anime and a love letter to American comic books, but its remarkably understated scenes and leisurely, dialogue-driven script actively push back against the medium's most recognizable hallmarks. Heck, the show even seems to make a joke out of this with its Japanese magical girl heroes. They're the most identifiably “anime” aspect of The Reflection by far, and the show delegated them to maybe a minute of screen-time and a newspaper headline. For all of its faults, The Reflection seems to be telling the exact kind of story it wants to tell, and that's worth some respect in and of itself.
The Reflection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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