Few Marvel characters are as well equipped for the world of Japanese animation as Iron Man.
Essentially a mech in a cyberpunk world of man machine interface, nanotechnology and vast corporate power – the sleek, kinetic visuals of aerial combat, all afterburners and targeting locks, and War Machine’s spinning mini gun and air-to-air missile batteries finding a perfect home in the hands of Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Death Note animation giants Madhouse.
Striking enough of a balance between the look of the Marvel cinematic universe and the world of Marvel Anime: Iron Man to feel like a seamless interquel to whatever it was you just watched or are about to watch – the launch of Tony Stark’s new experimental satellite finds itself crashed by some heavily armoured mercs and a mysterious villain whose technology outclasses even our wisecracking hero.
With Rhodey believed dead, Stark goes off half-cocked food revenge, forcing SHIELD kingpin Nick Fury to dispatch intolerably smug marksman Hawkeye, and improbably busty (this is anime, after all) super-spy Black Widow to rein him in.
Stark briefly finds an ally in The Punisher, voiced by The Walking Dead‘s simmering bad ass Norman Reedus, who is able to hold his own against the superior marksmanship of Clint Barton and the superior hand-to-hand skills of Natasha Romanoff through judicious use of flash bangs and skullduggery. When people talk about the triumph of humanity over the superhuman, it’s Frank Castle’s real world military training and lack of restraint they should be thinking of, not Bruce Wayne’s fantasy super-science and grappling hook, but the brief digression into shady arms deals and dusty gun-slinging in the streets of Karachi only serves to underline how incongruously anime everything else is.
From the poorly detailed CG landscapes our hero flies over, to the plot, paper-thin characters and even the dully obvious electronic score – all the tropes that non-fans quickly tire of are in full effect. The worst offender is this movie’s obscure nemesis, the Technovore, a cybernetic organism plucked from the septic tank of 90s comics, and wedded to more recent (and more effective) Iron Man antagonist Ezekial Stane.
This incarnation of Stane – sharing his name and the barest sliver of his background with the original – is about three distinct anime cliches welded together, presumably to compensate for how many of the other characters’ depictions have been governed by the source material. Clad in the Technovore’s nano-spore armour he’s sleek and inscrutable, wraith-like and all-powerful, outside of the armour he’s youthful and serene, and then finally – spoiler alert – he turns into a big fleshy monster Akira-style and begins to take over, or destroy – who really cares? – the world.
Considering the title offers so much instant, boxfresh synergy with Japanese animation – in direct contrast to the ghastly 1998 X-Men manga comic, for example – it can only be hubris that caused Madhouse to think it wasn’t enough to just show audiences Iron Man/War Machine dogfights like never before, or a team-up that freed from the squeamish constraints of Western animation allows The Punisher his full lethality.
No, they had to overseason it with a whole host of anime cliches so dull and tired that even the novice will become quickly bored.