DVD Review: Madhouse Studios' 'Marvel Anime: Iron Man'

With the distance of a few days behind me, my feelings on Madhouse's X-Men anime have soured more than during the initial viewing. Even though it specifically called out surface elements from the series, populated the show with characters bearing the names of familiar heroes and villains, and even borrowed heavily from classic stories like "The Phoenix Saga," Marvel Anime: X-Men still failed to feel like anything more than some generic anime script with Marvel dressing. Actually, it took Madhouse's very solid take on Iron Man to realize how much of a wash their previous effort was: where the latter was concerned with name-checking as many familiar X-Men elements as possible, Marvel Anime: Iron Man is a decidedly more specific vision of its character. And while it's not exactly a 1:1 take on the Tony Stark we all know and love (and sometimes roll our eyes at), it's a far more successful adaptation which looks to get to the heart of the character.

As with X-Men, Madhouse's script (based on a story by Warren Ellis) contrives to get Tony into Japan for the length of the series. In this case, it's to introduce a new, experimental arc reactor which will provide clean, free energy to the world while also hanging up his helmet and retiring his Iron Man armor. If you guessed that a new ultimate power source and the introduction of an enhanced "Dio" model Iron Man armor might end up being the target of some villain's mysterious machinations, then congratulations, this isn't your first rodeo.

Tony is bedeviled this time around by the mysterious Zodiac, one of those shady groups content to fling themed henchmen at their foes—in this case, you've got a mech in the form of a bull (Taurus), Scorpio is appropriate a scorpion, and so on. The big villain here, the final boss if you will, isn't all that compelling in the grand scheme of things, although the mid-boss working for him is a character with an intriguing link to Tony's past.

What makes Marvel Anime: Iron Man so watchable is this take on Tony which sets out to reach the far end of the character, long past the point where he's had a career as Iron Man, where he's looking to put his evil-fighting ways aside and build peace on the foundations of his science. While it all kind of falls apart in the last couple of episodes (kind of spectacularly, actually), the work to build Tony up as someone trying to use his technology in a new way is well-argued here. Voicing Stark for English-language audiences, Heroes star Adrian Pasdar plays the character as the exuberant playboy we all know and love, but with less of that bottled darkness that Robert Downey Jr. brings to the role on screen.

As for the look of the series, it's a mix of traditional animation and extensive CG, particularly with regards to Iron Man and his mechanical foes. It's a slick look that's actually well-executed throughout, although many of the Zodiac designs still pull from that same same-old, same-old well of baroque constructions on top of generic bug and animal designs.

In terms of special features, there are a couple of making-of docs, one focusing on the tech used by Iron Man, and another focusing on bringing the character to this particular medium (Warren Ellis, on camera here, never looked so cuddly), but it's most celebratory stuff that doesn't really provide all that much in the way of insight into the production.

Marvel Anime: Iron Man is available now.

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