If you read my introduction to Iron Man, you might have noticed that I’m kind of a big fan. Couple my love of the comic-book Tony Stark with my desperate need to see something good after the disappointment of last season, and you get some fairly high expectations that Madhouse needed to live up to. Thankfully, that’s exactly what they did, but not quite in the ways I expected.
Instead of retelling Iron Man’s origin story, the first episode introduces us to Tony Stark when he’s a well-established superhero. Stark wants to build one of his famous arc reactors in Japan, which he claims will give the country unlimited, free energy. The Japanese public, however, is skeptical. Since the arc reactor is what powers Stark’s Iron Man armor, who’s to say he’s not trying to build an absurdly powerful weapon under the guise of philanthropy? So, Stark–the stereotypical wealthy American who revels in excess and the occasional vice–is forced to figure out how to get the Japanese to like him while trying to dodge the tough questions and charm the pants off of a spunky reporter named Nanami Ota.
And then the Iron Man Dio, Stark’s prototype for a mass-production armor, somehow goes out of control and starts blasting the landscape. All in all, not the best day he’s ever had.
It is, however, a darn good episode, and I’ll explain why after the jump.
What I Loved
The Characters: Tony Stark is pretty much perfect. He may not be the (admittedly fantastic) Robert Downey Jr. interpretation, but he acts and talks exactly like I imagine the comic book version does. Though Pepper Potts makes only a brief appearance, the two new female characters more than make up for her absence. Chika Tanaka, the Japanese scientist overseeing the new arc reactor project, provides a more serious and stoic version of Potts’ camaraderie with Stark, while Nanami Ota helps lighten the mood with her goofy kind-of-a-failure-but-kind-of-a-success approach to journalism. I wonder if this is Madhouse’s attempt to create a Japanese Jimmy Olsen. Probably not, but I want to believe it is.
The Story: The purpose behind this adaptation is to introduce Iron Man to a Japanese audience, right? So hey, why not make the story about Tony Stark visiting Japan and trying to get them to like him? I love how that concept is so simple and yet so wonderfully meta. It’s also a good challenge for the character; Stark has always been known as charismatic, but only in the West. He’s not used to Japanese culture, which means that specific skill which he’s relied on for most of his life could suddenly get him into a lot of trouble if he doesn’t learn how to adapt. And he has to do this while battling an unknown villain that seems to be trying to prove that Stark’s technology is dangerous. There’s a lot of potential here, and I hope Madhouse can take advantage of it.
The Animation: Look, I hated Highschool of the Dead, but I’ll admit it looked pretty. Thankfully, so does Iron Man. It may not be as stylish as Samurai Girls, but it’s realistic, detailed, fluid and just plain nice to look at. If Madhouse keeps this level of quality for the whole season, I’ll be happy.
What I Hated
CG Armor Fights: Unfortunately, Madhouse didn’t decide to stick with their perfectly fine animation for the Iron Man suits. To be fair, the CG versions don’t look bad; it’s just that they don’t look nearly as good as the rest of the show. The animation is fluid enough, but the textures aren’t very detailed and look like plastic sometimes. Sadly, this seems to be a specific design decision, so I doubt Madhouse is going to ditch the CG.
The Quick Climax: While the first 18-or-so minutes of the show had great pacing, the final few minutes–where Stark chases down the Iron Man Dio in his personal Iron Man armor–felt very rushed. This is especially noticeable with the abrupt entrance and exit of the scorpion-thing, who seemed to be a member of a group of bad guys that Stark will likely spend most of the series fighting. Not only was there no build-up to his appearance, but Stark dispatched him almost immediately. So much for being threatening.
In Medias Res: This is the most nitpicky of my complaints, partly because I’m not sure if it’s actually a problem. As I mentioned in the plot summary, this series throws you into the story with very little introduction to who Tony Stark is, why he’s important, or why everyone is calling him “Iron Man.” If you’re like me, that’s fine. You know what’s up and don’t need to read the manual. But if the purpose of this show is to introduce Iron Man to a new audience, it seems odd not to slip in a quick flashback or something as a courtesy to people who have no experience with the character. On the other hand, maybe I’m not giving the newcomers enough credit. So if anyone who’s new to Iron Man is reading this, I’d like to know your opinion.
The story, though simple, gives Madhouse plenty of ways to challenge Stark with physical and social conflicts; and it certainly helps that the story is anchored by a solid cast of characters. The CG is on the ugly side, yes, but it takes up such a small part of the total animation in this episode that it barely affected my enjoyment. In fact, I can say the same thing about all my nitpicks. The first episode wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot of fun.