Over the past year, Marvel has tried to broaden the appeal of its heroes and capitalize on its characters’ movie success by a lineup of creating anime-influenced TV shows based on some of the company’s heaviest hitters. The first one out of the gate was Iron Man, which is now collected in a 2-disc DVD set that hits stores today. In addition to having an authentic anime style, courtesy of Madhouse Studios, the series was also written by famed Iron Man comic book writerWarren Ellis.
The series' first episode starts with Tony Stark traveling to Japan to oversee the construction of an Arc Reactor that will be able to provide limitless energy to the world, thus promoting world peace and prosperity for all. Stark is hoping that this move will also facilitate his wish to hang up the armor and retire from the superhero game. Unfortunately, none of that works out as the terrorist organization known as The Zodiac attempts to destroy the Arc Station and ruin Stark’s reputation over the span of the series’ 12 episodes.
Throughout the series, Iron Man fights off against some of Marvel’s more obscure villains as he bobs and weaves around industrial espionage, the mysterious return of his old mentor, Ho Yinsen, and a corrupt Minister of Defense with some secrets of his own. And, to really make this feel like a true Marvel experience, here are familiar supporting characters that pop up from time-to-time, such as Pepper Potts and Wolverine. But fear not, anime fans, there's enough here to separate Iron Man from a normal Marvel production, including sexed-up women and more giant mechs than a Transformers garden party.
On the visual end, Iron Man's animation is fluid and exciting, especially during scenes involving Ol' Shellhead battling against mountainous, metallic menaces. These fights get the adrenaline racing, but Madhouse Studios also brought a certain beauty and grace to these scenes that's wholly unique. In fact, after watching the entire series, it's clear that this show captures the movements and high-tech fighting style of Iron Man better than any of the recent films.
And speaking of the movies, fans of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 should instantly recognize the design aesthetics here, including the suit-of-armor itself and the world's overall high-tech look. From his impenetrable emotional façade to his womanizing ways, this version of Tony Stark is a near-perfect replica of what Robert Downey Jr. has brought to the character on the big screen, which all amounts to a series that's lighter and more action-packed than the much darker X-Men anime.
Not every episode is perfect here, though, and the 12-installment story arc does tend to drag at times. Episodes like “Outbreak” and “Technical Difficulties” seem like they exist solely to stretch out the series’ length. What other reason would there be to watch Iron Man fight killer cleaning robots, computer viruses, and boring sentient satellites? There are also times where the show's direction falters, especially when transitioning from scene to scene; these can be jarring at times and the flow of the show can suffer because of it. Thankfully, other than a few hiccups, Iron Man often times has the scope and direction of a big-budget movie, as opposed to a simple cartoon.
But the biggest problem with the series is that some of the minor villains featured in each episode fall a little flat at times. Sure, there's a compelling mystery driving each story forward, but as we’re waiting for it to unfold, Iron Man is forced to do battle against the giant robots from The Zodiac that have very little personality of their own. A few classic Iron Man rogues like Whirlwind, Whiplash, and Ghost would have made for much better adversaries than what we've got here.
All in all, Iron Man is an impressive look at a classic Marvel character from a new perspective. It has an intriguing story that unfolds slowly over the course of the 12 episodes, but there's enough action and humor sprinkled throughout to make each one watchable.