Going a bit outside the norm here as I’m looking at a 4 hour anime, but it’s short enough to be watched in 2 sittings, so I’m giving a look. But there’s several big obstacles. It’s Marvel and Madhouse, which didn’t exactly produce gold the two previous times. And let’s be blunt, Marvel has rarely been any good in animation. So I’ve got to endure 4+ hours of this project. How did it go?
Marvel Anime: Iron Man (2010, 287 minutes)
Plot: Tony Stark goes to Japan to oversee the building of an arc reactor power plant, only to find the plant under attack by the forces of Zodiac, which include a very familiar face from his past.
Source Material: We’re more or less in MCU territory. The series does set up a version of Stark’s origin that’s not exactly the movie but his characterization and the focus on the arc reactor are pretty much straight out of the film. There’s also a very conspicuous use of, if not Ramin Djawadi’s exact cues, then suspicious soundalikes. That said, canon is played with in key ways, something Marvel allowed. As for reminding me of the comics, well I’ll get to that in script.
Animation: Madhouse can make a gorgeous work. In fact, it’s pretty rare that the animation isn’t at least solid during this work. Frequently the animation is really stunning with action particularly great. Iron Man himself translates perfectly to anime while his armored foes are all unique. Characters are strong though Tony Stark could do without that glint in his eye. He’s a bit creepy looking at first.
Script: It’s not shocking that American comics translate well to a serialized animated series. It’s shocking that it’s not very common. This series draws from a story by Warren Ellis and scripts by Toshiki Inoue. They knock it out of the park. This is a supremely well structured story that manages to feel like the comics at its core. While there are concessions to anime tropes, including making Zodiac a mecha force, these all work because they’re more or less Iron Man tropes as well. Tony Stark is nailed as a character. There’s also a potent political thread to the entire show, which examines US interests in Japan. Seriously a great script.
Voice Acting: Solid if unnotable. Because it was episodic, I shifted between the Japanese and English versions. I don’t really have a preference for either. Both are quite good. For the English dub, Adrian Pasdar, who would return for Heroes United, does a fine job as Tony Stark. Supporting voices are strong as well. I’m not effusive, but really this is quite a bit above the norm.
Final Verdict: It feels nice to say this: 5/5. I was ticking at a strong 4 but the last few episodes, which included a few surprising twists, made this the very first Marvel Animated project I’m thoroughly recommending. I think the extra time actually worked to its advantage as this feels far better fleshed out than the usual Marvel project. If you’re an IM fan, well worth your time.