We actually have fairly good coverage of the superhero genre in anime. Sure, stories of upstanding heroes saving the day from villainy is a universal staple (and of course, Japan still loves its tokusatsu), but even the Western comic book style, freelance heroics has fair representation. That’s not too surprising considering that Western comic books (or do we call them ‘graphic novels’ these days?) and Japanese manga are cousins, however distant, but it does mean we get anime inspired by works from across the ocean. Along comes THE REFLECTION and the question is what fresh take it intends to offer. I mean, we have Boku no Hero Academia if we want to see the themes played straight, and Concrete Revolutio if we want to see them all deconstructed. Will THE REFLECTION fit on one of those ends of the spectrum, or somewhere in between?
If you came to this show based on our preview, though, what probably really caught your eye was the names behind THE REFLECTION: Marvel Comics great Stan Lee, and Mushishi director Nagahama Hiroshi. That’s quite he marriage, no? Spiderman doesn’t really fit into agrarian fantasy Japan, does he? So let’s split them up and talk about the influences on THE REFLECTION one at a time. We’ll start with Stan Lee, since that one’s the most obvious. If you scroll up and have a look at the screencaps, I think the stylistic flair of THE REFLECTION should be obvious. This is a comic book, with thick lines and solid colours, and abstract backgrounds (not to mention POW!). Sure, we nominally start in Japan, we’re quickly taken to New York (which seems to be where many comic book writers live). And hey, literal X-men. I think we can say this goes beyond being ‘influenced’ by comic books; THE REFLECTION is very deliberate trying to evoke the comic book feeling in its visuals. As if Stan Lee narrating he preview wasn’t enough.
Where does Nagahama come into it, then? Well, I think we should compare it to other shows of its ilk, ‘superhero shows’ as we may call them. Boku no Hero Academia is has high-octane, hot-blooded shounen action. Concrete Revolutio was pure chaos. In contrast THE REFLECTION is actually… rather quiet. With the exception of I-Guy (aka Steve Jobs’ hero alias), who seems to bring his own theme song with him, the general silence is very notable. In fact, outside of action scenes, there is a general stillness to the show. Perhaps it’s that THE REFLECTION is cheap and can’t afford the frames (which is a definite though unfortunate possibility), but it could also be a stylistic choice. We’re a comic book, remember, which is ‘still’ until we turn the page. Regardless, I can imagine the relative lack of animation can be off-putting to some. Perhaps to talk of Nagahama Hiroshi and think only of Mushishi is too much typecasting. More relevant here is, perhaps, Aku no Hana, a much more divisive show that nonetheless managed to tell a powerful story using a… ‘distinctive’ visual style. It may not have been for everyone, ‘ugly’ even, but the unique form of storytelling was very interesting and ultimately worthwhile.
You may have noticed that I’ve just been talking about the style and much about the substance, and that’s because in this pilot THE REFLECTION really sells itself on the style. We don’t really know much about the story, which seems to involve a global disaster and cryptic villains lounging about in high places. THE REFLECTION doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to tell us anything, and that’s fine, because mystery is a tantalising spice, and giving viewers time to work things out for themselves keeps them engaged. Still, how much that works for you will still depend heavily on your reception of the style, and that may in turn depend on your nostalgia for comic books. I strongly recommend you at least give THE REFLECTION one episode, to see it in motion and make a judgment on whether it’s for you. I think it’ll be an interesting exercise no matter what.
ED: 「SunSunSunrise」 by 9nine