THE REFLECTION – 02

This week’s THE REFLECTION didn’t so much move the plot forward as provide voices and context to the various players we saw in action last week. But I couldn’t help but wonder if most (or all) of the new information presented this week could have filled in all of the long pauses last week, adding pace and urgency to what was, if I’m generous, a slog.

Upon inspecting Red’s Baltimore apartment, X-On concludes that she’s stalking him. She wants him to teach her how to use her powers properly so she can use them for good like him, but he’s “not feeling it” and would rather she redirect her focus on someone else…say “Wraith.”

Meanwhile, after his little battle in New York Ian saves some suit fuel by hitching a ride on a jetliner’s wing before landing in his very Tony Stark-like Malibu beach mansion, where a team of men (rather than robots in Tony’s case) disassemble his suit to reveal a bearded old musician who had one big hit, “SKY SHOW”, in the 80s. The Reflection gave him a new life as a hero, a mantle he’s comfortable staying in the suit to nurture.

While the bad guys, seemingly led (or at least counseled) by a guy who looks just like Stan Lee, ponder their next move, eager to gather more ability users to their side, Red researches “Wraith” and notices something on the NYC camera footage (though the zoom-in-and-enhance only reveals a larger blurry black blob to us).

Then there’s that group of high school girls in Japan we saw in last week’s cold open. As their classmates talk about NYC, they prepare to decide on a name for their “group”, suggesting they have powers and are ready to work together to use them. It’s no coincidence that the ED consists of four Japanese girls in what looks like school uniforms singing and dancing.

But again, due to the questionable animation (gutsy in theory, lazy-looking in execution), and inefficient use of time, I’ll have to qualify last week’s “watchable” 7 with this week’s “niche appeal” 5, as this is certainly an acquired taste. Put together, THE REF is an underwhelming 6 so far…but I still want to know what happens next.

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THE REFLECTION – 01 (First Impressions)

THE REFLECTION immediately sets itself apart from the rest of Summer with several distinct visual qualities: highly graphic animation, an understated, rather drab palette, no gradients, and a very thick black line work. Like the animation, the sound is sparse and atmospheric…until it’s not; in quick flashes of intense action, sound, and Henry Jackson/Alan Silvestri-style superhero music.

It is very much a superhero comic book brought to life on the screen with as little modification as possible. It’s as if there are beats and pauses where nothing happens, just as if you were lying on the floor, your eyes going from panel to panel. Only word bubbles are missing, though the vast swaths of LCD and LED panels visualize some sound effects, Batman-style.

It’s not quite explained what’s happening; things just kinda unfold, and I’m thankful for that. And it’s pretty easy to see what’s happening: people with powers, aligned on both the good and bad sides, are battling each other, causing a fair amount of collateral damage (though nothing like The Avengers).

The focus is on an Iron-Man like powersuit hero and a more ground-based red masked guy in a tight bodysuit with a big X emblazoned on his face, calling to mind Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Deadpool.  He’s able to absorb the powers of anyone he touches.

A photojournalist gets lots of nice shots of X-guy’s fight, but when she ends up caught by a bad guy, she uses her own pretty slick teleportation power to escape, thus not having to be saved.

After a lot of back-and-forth, both X-Guy and the Caped Robot Guy prevail in their battles, each using big loud, devastating finishing moves with authority. Robot Guy then reluctantly introduces himself as “I-Guy”, and is very stingy with answers, except that he probably won’t be able to save NYC every time, since he’s based in L.A.

All four bad guys are placed under arrest by suits and SWAT officers belonging to a S.H.I.E.L.D.-style organization “higher than the FBI”, but while in transit, all four are released by stronger bad guys, though one is apparently killed, presumably for failing. Those two bad guys meet atop one of the Chrysler Building’s chrome eagle gargoyles, adamant that things have only just begun.

Later, the photographer returns to her exposed brick apartment in BALTIMORE, MARYLAND (a very specific American city for an anime) and watches some video on her computer that serves as exposition: three years ago the mysterious “Reflection” incident gave many humans (like her) superpowers. Some went good, some went bad.

What no one knows is how or why. While we’re not sure Red has taken a side yet, and is content to document battles between “The Reflected”, it’s clear she’s not with the metal-manipulating woman or the flame-wreathed “Russian Ninja,” and she’s attracted the attention of someone who seems to be her favorite hero: X-On…who has followed her to BALTIMORE, MARYLAND.

THE REFLECTION is a bit of an odd duck. It features very straightforward heros-vs.-villains story, and a relatively straightforward introduction to the world and its various players, and the potential for some rip-roaring action. And yet it made the choice to eschew an overly flashy visual presentation for very sparse, elemental aesthetic, all thick lines and solid colors.

While perhaps not the prettiest or most precise, and even a bit sluggish at times, I enjoyed the show’s unique (for this Summer season) look and feel, and am interested to learn more about this Baltimorean woman and her role in all this.

P.S. Marvel’s Stan Lee himself announces the next episode. Whether he’ll do them all, or they’ll be done by a new famous comics world player each week, we will see. UPDATE: He’s involved in the production, so it’ll probably be him every week. 

P.S.S. MAL apparently HATES this show, with a dismal rating hovering just above 5. It’s a small sample (a little over 1,000 users) but still surprising to me.