by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
The Reflection ?
One aspect of reviewing anime I've really come to appreciate is that I'm often required to finish series I otherwise might have dismissed. Sure, that means I've had to sit through my fair share of dreck, but it also means that I get to experience the joy of discovering a show that gets better as it goes along. The Reflection's first episode was pretty bad, and while the subsequent episodes definitely picked things up, it's only about halfway through that the show is starting to find its feet. That certainly doesn't make it a “great show”, but after this honestly enjoyable episode, I'm feeling much more comfortable in labeling The Reflection a good show. It still has its problems, but it's also starting to really embody the goofy fun inherent to Silver Age superhero comics.
A lot of this has to do with Merchant and Trader, aka Michael and Vy, who are the central focus of this week's story. It turns out that these two aren't actually human traffickers, but a benevolent couple who hide other persecuted Reflected in their underground bayou mansion. Not only is “underwater bayou mansion” a delightfully goofy thing to see realized in anime form, Michael and Vy themselves are fairly compelling characters. On the night of The Reflection, Vy was beside herself in anger as Michael gambled away their savings. Michael was hit by the green light (or as I like to call it, The Good Guy Beam), while poor Vy was transformed into a telekinetic lizard monster made of psychic energy and metal when she encountered the Purple Smoke (aka The Bad Guy Cloud). Michael ended up losing his sight, which acts both as a ham-fisted metaphor for his emotional shortsightedness and a convenient way to turn him into a suave combination of Matt Murdock and Professor X, since other Reflected are the only things he can see.
Michael and Vy's relationship immediately becomes one of the most human and relatable stories the show has given us, despite the messy storytelling behind it. Vy turning into a mute, seemingly mindless beast is an interesting way of showing how she might express her own feelings of helplessness regarding her husband, but her victimhood doesn't really jive with how Michael and other characters have insisted that any Reflected touched by the Bad Guy Smoke are inherently selfish or sinister people. Having the jerk husband be hit with the light while the suffering wife is hit by the fog would be a perfect opportunity to highlight how this assumption of binary morality among the Reflected is faulty, but that theme has yet to be broached. Also, the scene where Vy regains her humanity and uses her powers to protect Michael is admittedly badass, but the turn in their relationship feels rushed and unearned. This is the kind of moment that works after weeks of character development; cramming it all into the span of a single episode seems ill-advised.
Still, the Michael/Vy story gives The Reflection some much-needed humanity and emotional drama, even if it is a little cheap, and as a result, the whole episode feels more urgent and compelling than ever before. The shootout in the bayou is just as limited in its animation and scope as any of the other fights the show has given us, but the fact that the audience is invested in the fates of Eleanor, Lisa, Michael, and Vy makes it a tense and effective climax regardless. Not only does Lisa get another moment to prove why she's easily the best character in the show, but Eleanor finally gets to use her teleportation powers to kick some butt and fend off Sheriff Dallas' trigger-happy cops.
The episode overall just felt tighter and much more confident in its plotting and themes. Lisa's trip through Mardis Gras was another fun example of the show's unique take on a distinctly American setting, and I really liked how her story actually tied into Eleanor's plot, using the young boy from last week to get the gang back together. There was more exploration of the prejudice against the Reflected, and the show even parallels Michael hiding underground with the New Orleans' Underground Railroad. Comparing the plight of the Reflected to that of American slaves is hardly accurate to say the least, but it does demonstrate this crew's effort to represent American history and culture, which is always appreciated.
There are only two major qualms I have with this episode. The first is that the show has still not bothered to explain what Steel Ruler and her gang are planning to do, nor why they need to hunt down and kidnap these seemingly random women to do it. Also, it remains frustrating that X-On is more or less a background character, popping in only to help out and mumble exposition. We know more about Michael and Vy after one episode than we've learned about X-On in five weeks. I get that being enigmatic and standoffish is part of his character, but that doesn't keep him from being the weakest link of the cast. Given how much this episode got right though, I can hardly complain. Eleanor and her friends are finally starting to feel like heroes, and the action has started finally living up to the series' comic-book roots. For the first time, The Reflection has managed to be more than just vaguely interesting; this episode was actually fun.
The Reflection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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