Earlier this month, Madhouse's X-Men anime miniseries debuted on Animax in Japan. We checked out the first three episodes and found that this show effectively balances high-octane mutant fighting with (cornball yet endearing) soap operatics. Cyclops is so emotional!
Like Madhouse's Iron Man anime, X-Men was plotted by Warren Ellis and will debut in America later this year on G4. Unlike the opening of Iron Man — which turned Tony Stark's power suit foibles into a rote mecha tale — X-Men takes its anime transformation in stride. Spoilers on!
Plot-wise, X-Men contains elements of Chris Claremont's Dark Phoenix Saga, Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men, and Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. The very first episode kicks off with the death of Jean Grey. The Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club has brainwashed her, and to prevent Dark Phoenix from destroying her teammates, Jean seemingly commits suicide via telekinetic spontaneous combustion.
After her death, the X-Men disband for a year to pursue their interests (Beast teaches a squid to teach college, Wolverine goes to Madripoor, Cyclops mopes), until the kidnapping of mutant teenager Hisako "Armor" Ichiki brings the team to the Tōhoku region of Japan...and into conflict with cyborg mutant organ harvesters the U-Men. The plot will be familiar to long-time X-fans, but it's remixed enough to offer something new.
As I mentioned before, X-Men seems comfortable with its anime trappings. Part of this has to do with the history and overall tenor of the X-series. Even during its most memorable runs, the comic book could be exceedingly romantic and florid. Think Cyclops and Jean Grey's doomed romance, Wolverine's unrequited love for Jean, Charles Xavier's unrequited love for Jean, etc. Certain scenes — like Cyclops endlessly whining about Jean Grey's death, Wolverine's subsequent cowboy speeches, and Hisako learning to use her powers — are chock full o' overwrought introspection and thus par for the course.
Also, the X-Men aren't unfamiliar with the anime aesthetic. Kia Asamiya illustrated Uncanny X-Men a while back, Street Fighter design studio UDON once drew Deadpool monthly, and no discussion of X-Men anime is complete without an obligatory nod to "SHOCK!" It doesn't feel out of the ordinary to see Wolverine levitating and frozen mid-berserker rage (or Cyclops delivering a teary-eyed inner monologue while wistfully staring off into the sunset).
If there's any fault with X-Men, it's the recurrence of Cyclops' hokey hand-wringing, but that in of itself is entertaining. Hating on Cyclops is an old pastime for X-fans, and it's unintentional comedy when his gloominess gives Wolverine roid rage. Despite these spates of melodrama, X-Men has crackerjack fight scenes and a kinetic pacing that are shades of X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. Also, its end credit crawl is jazzy stuff. I'm looking forward to this series coming stateside.
Hat tip to ramaYS for pointing this out on the YouTubes.