Review by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)
For the better part of five decades, comic book fans everywhere have followed the evolution of the X-Men from a small group of quirky mutants into a massive franchise that spans countless comics, animated series, and blockbuster movies. And now the team has finally broken through cultural barriers by becoming the stars of a new anime series from Marvel, a 2-disc set of which hits DVD shelves today.
In the G4 series, Wolverine, Cyclops, Beast, and Storm are reunited by Professor X after the death of Jean Grey splintered the group a year prior. The bizarre case of a kidnapped girl leads the X-Men to Japan where they encounter the U-Men, a fanatical anti-mutant group that has been abducting mutants from the area in order to experiment on them.
From there, mysteries crop up about just who is behind the appearance of the U-Men and their true motivations. The enigmatic Emma Frost, Professor Xavier’s newly-discovered son, and a conspiracy involving The Inner Circle’s reality-bending mutant, Mastermind, all converge to create a sprawling storyline that is as explosive as any comic or movie. All of this action and intrigue is effortlessly weaved in to the usual X-Men themes of tolerance and grief.
Over the course of 12 episodes, the plot plays out more like a comic book than any of the X-Men’s
previous animated shows. Instead of each installment telling a self-contained story, each one is part of a larger tapestry. This is serialized storytelling at its finest. The writing is always engrossing as each episode gives rise to a new question that further drives the main plot along; plus, there are cliffhangers galore. Most viewers should find it impossible not to watch the entire thing in one long sitting.
As the plots and writing hold up their end of the bargain, the visuals remain crisp and kinetic in true anime fashion. The quality isn’t quite up to par with some of the bigger-budget animated exports from Japan, but X-Men still has enough flare and fluidity to keep any fan of Eastern cartoons pleased. Wolverine’s adamantium claws cut enemies down with deadly ferocity as Cyclops unleashes the power of a small sun in the form of his optic blasts without much of an effort. It’s all captured here with explosive style that should convert any non-believer into an anime fan before the first episode is over.
It’s not just anime fans that should be pleased with this, but longtime X fans, as well. Each member of the team is just as they should be: Wolverine is the group’s Dirty Harry, Cyclops is the leader, Beast is highly-intelligent with a bit of dry wit, Emma Frost is sexy and untrustworthy, and Storm is graceful yet real. The interplay between all of them is reminiscent of the days when Chris Claremont and John Byrne saved the comic books from cancellation by bringing a certain amount of angst and believability to the team. And don’t worry about the dubbed voice-acting not working because each character sounds exactly as they should, especially with Steve Blum returning for Wolverine's vocals.
But despite all of the positives, there is a certain amount of disappointment here due to the lack of memorable X-Men villains throughout the series. The likes of Juggernaut, Magneto, Apocalypse, and the other baddies from the team’s rogue's gallery are all absent. The U-Men certainly make for fine antagonists, but it's a bit of a letdown when some of the best are on the sidelines.
The series' morose tone is also a fault. The X-Men franchise has always been dower, but there are instances during the series where the more bleak aspects of the show detract from the overall enjoyment. Almost every character seems to be going through intense physical and emotional pain throughout the entire series, and sometimes a little more humor could have helped brighten up the show's gloomy demeanor a bit. There are only so many times we can watch Cyclops break down over Jean's death without becoming numb to it.
Without a doubt, X-Men is a great addition to the rich animated history of the mutant clan. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original animated series from the ‘90s, but there are moments when it comes impressively close, and that should be more than enough for comic book fans to take this show seriously.
Review by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)