Summer anime are finally coming to an end, but that just means we now have whole seasons to binge. For dedicated fans, it’s certain to be a time of eye-guzzling new shows. If you’re looking to fill the gap, look no further than the silent heroes of last season. Especially those like THE REFLECTION that bridge the gap between Western comics and Japanese anime.
Marvel creator Stan Lee had quite a hand in this series, more or less writing the entire story and creating many of the characters. On top of that, he had some oversight over the series’ first season, blending his unique style with animators to create a fusion seldom seen before. For fans of classic comics, the art style will look quite familiar. Anime fans will recognize the dialogue and personalities of the main characters. But the storytelling and incredible world building are things any watcher can appreciate and enjoy.
Stan Lee has been alive for nearly a century, but it’s only recently that he’s pushed his work outside of the US. Apart from Stan Lee, some great creators have a role in the show. THE REFLECTION is directed by Hiroshi Nagahama (MUSHISHI). Yoshihiko Umakoshi (HEARTCATCH PRECURE) leads character design and Studio Deen handles the animation production. This kind of collaboration brings in a lot of diverse talents.
THE REFLECTION commit to its story and unique form quite well. The comic book art style enhances the anime style storyline, creating an immersive mystery difficult to turn away from. Ordinarily, it’s quite difficult for a series to accomplish both of these things well. But with a season’s worth of episodes having graced the anime world, THE REFLECTION has proven itself as a contender despite its unique presentation.
So What is it all About?
As with any Stan Lee story, there’s always an intriguing origin story. THE REFLECTION centers around a pretty basic premise. Three years prior to the show’s beginning, a strange green light and thick smoke surrounded the planet. This strange event caused plenty of fatalities and confusion, but it also had a different, more significant effect. Some who survived the odd ordeal gained extraordinary superpowers. The event is known as (surprise surprise) The Reflection, and those who received superpowers by way of it are termed Reflectors.
In typical comic book fashion, not all those endowed with powers use them for good or even general life. A significant portion of Reflectors become villains and use their power for crime. Unsurprisingly, plenty of people opt to be superheroes, too. This is a world in which powers are becoming normalized, and it’s not at all strange to see two powerful people battling it out in the skies of a metropolis while thousands of citizens watch anxiously from below.
This sort of quick storytelling is meant to show viewers that superheroes have only come around recently. What’s really important is that there is still a lot to learn about Reflectors, such as their powers and the strange events that started it all. One of the first introduced non-superhero characters, Eleanor Everts, even uses her unique power of teleportation to try and track down a superhero to understand her ability a bit more.
Golden Age Aesthetic
The art style of THE REFLECTION is likely the most jarring part of the entire show. The images are meant to mimic the dark lines and shading of golden age comics, and each scene feels like a panel of a comic book. This brings a bolder color palette that anime normally lacks. Individual scenes are incredibly colorful and vibrant. The pose of a hero or a detailed city street both pop off the screen while the sun sets colorfully in the background. In terms of capturing that comic panel feel, THE REFLECTION absolutely hits the bullseye here.
While the individual frames of the anime are fantastic, comic book visuals bring their own set of complications. One that many can probably foresee is the one thing that sets comics and television apart: movement. Because things are drawn in a style best suited for still images, movements sometimes feel a bit forced and thick. Especially when it comes to big super-powered fights, it’s difficult to balance a detailed color palette while incorporating detailed movement and action.
While this leaves a bit to be desired in terms of dynamic movement, it does mean that THE REFLECTION doesn’t sacrifice its animation style to mimic other anime. Watching a brawl is still enjoyable and the heroes themselves look distinct. For comic book fans, this might be a comfort. The art style is nearly identical but the anime (obviously) has more movement that a 2D comic. For anime fans, it surely will be a departure from standard shows. A lot of anime sacrifice general visual quality so the one big fight every season can have a lot more effort put into it. By avoiding this habit, THE REFLECTION achieves constant general quality across the entire series.
A Mysterious Story
The story of THE REFLECTION is one comparable to a lot of other ‘super power’ anime. The crucial difference between the shows is that abilities are new. However, there are some familiar hero types in the first few characters we get to meet and see in action.
Eleanor Everts, the woman with the power of teleportation, is a reporter trying to track down the hero X-ON and learn from him. After getting close enough to exchange words, the reporter asks the masked hero to take her on as a student. She wants to make the best use of her powers and understand what it really means to have them. In a bit of a twist from the damsel in distress narratives that usually unite male and female characters, there seems to be a glimmer of master/student connections building. Unfortunately, X-ON turns her down.
In this way, THE REFLECTION nicely dodged a common cliche of its Western comic style and its Japanese manga influence. What is extremely familiar, however, is the masked man slinging webs across the city. This isn’t the only instance of familiar powers either. One of the earliest villains is a man who ignites himself and controls fire, very reminiscent of the Human Torch. Later, we see a man controlling a metal suit quite similar to Iron Man. While the Marvel hero template is certainly a ubiquitous one, it was a bit surprising to see characters so similar to existing heroes. Seeing them in an anime was a nice blend that brought the two worlds together.
This is something that, depending on the viewer, might be a major pro or a major con. For me personally, I tend to hold genres separate in my mind. Marvel movies are Marvel movies, and anime is anime. Many who have watched THE REFLECTION have complained of it being too similar to most superhero tales. I think those familiar traits are more a strength than anything else. The concept of humans getting powers after a catastrophe is standard for Marvel. The same holds true for villains who reject a world that ‘otherizes’ them. However, both are certainly new to anime. Similarly, components like incredible opening music and internal struggle are much more common to anime. In this way, Japanese styles can lend to western stories that usually just revolve around pure action.
On top of that, even Marvel movies usually have pretty understood causes of powers. THE REFLECTION involved a lot of searching to understand the origin of these abilities and its implications on the world. The series explores this mystery in a way that is not only engaging but plenty entertaining.
A Series to Remember
The first few episodes show that the series is incredibly promising. The unique blend of art styles, music, and story from opposite ends of the world will feel simultaneously familiar and strange to a multitude of viewers. It’s probably best to judge the aesthetics personally, and checking it out is well worth it. There’s certainly some repetition from a lot of comic book heroes we’ve seen in the past, but none so egregious that this is a copy of anything.
Overall, THE REFLECTION is distinctly Stan Lee. Whether you’re a fan of comics or a die-hard anime fan, this is a series to check out. The intersection of the two will give both types of viewers plenty to like, and a great story to follow. As someone who hadn’t read many comics beyond those in the Sunday paper, this was a great introduction. If you’re looking to learn more about what happens when styles collide, look no further. Now that the first season is over, I can only hope for more incredible medley anime like THE REFLECTION.
Featured Image from Anime News Network