– BONUS ROUND –
Even before it was released, The Reflection was a pretty controversial title. Despite the staff including some incredibly talented names, this show received instant ire from some hardcore fans due to the involvement of Stan Lee. To many his creative direction was enough to sour them on the series. After all, a lot of people watch anime to escape traditional American comic book and animation storytelling. However other fans remained hopeful, since both its director Hiroshi Nagahama and character designer Yoshihiko Umikoshi cited this series as a passion project of theirs. With both being such big names in the industry, working on shows like Mushishi and My Hero Academia, it seemed a little ridiculous to brush off the entire project due to just one producer.
Personally, I was somewhere in the middle. On one hand I thought the Stan Lee hate was a bit over the top, but on the other I couldn’t help but be somewhat cautious. I mean, as much as I wanted to trust the staff, superheroes have just never been my thing. So in the end, I decided to reserve my judgement, and after waiting a few extra weeks for this first episode to premiere, I can finally cement my opinion on it.
Now if there’s one thing I can say about this opening episode of The Reflection, it’s that it’s definitely attempting to be different. In fact the plot here is probably the most straightforward thing about the anime so far, opting for a sort of normal world turned superhuman plotline you’ve likely seen in many other stories. One day a strange light drifted over the world, and now it has mutant superheroes. It’s not really that unique, and frankly this episode only provides the barest bones of set up. There are essentially three central characters, a hero called I-Guy, a teleporting girl named Lisa, and the superpowered man she follows called X-On. Not much is known about these characters or their motivations, so the episode here mostly works as a tone piece. Something to prime your palate for the coming episodes.
And that, my friends, is where The Reflection really sets itself apart. I wasn’t expecting to be reminded of Flowers of Evil while watching The Reflection, but considering both they both the same director, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like Flowers of Evil, The Reflection is slowly paced, focusing on lingering shots of characters facing each other and a few quiet moments of civilian pastime. The animation here also shares Flowers’ lack of adherence to typical anime design sensibilities, with thick lined character designs and solid color backgrounds that seek to emulate the pop art stylings of early comic books.
Anyways, while I can appreciate these artistic choices on some level, the final product is a bit of mixed bag. On one hand, I really enjoyed the episode’s opening moments. The paper lantern scene was striking, and the opening seconds of the fight with I-Guy were quite well animated. At its best, Nagahama and the staff at studio Deen manage to make this thing look and feel like a 50’s comic, with some striking still shots and a few great action cuts. When it falls short though, it can get really bland, featuring a lot of plain backgrounds, stiff motion, and boring shot compositions. Part of me really wants to defend the art style, but unlike Flowers of Evil, the ugliness of this show doesn’t really do anything to enhance its atmosphere. The rotoscoping in Flowers of Evil helped tap into the work’s themes and setting, but here it just looks like the staff attempting to aim high but falling short.
I also can’t help but complain about how Nagahama’s affinity for slow pacing only really hurts this premiere. Like I said before not a lot happens in this episode plotwise, which would be fine if this show had something interesting to offer, but the lack of any strong visual or story hooks means that much of the episode is a slog. Sure, there are few good moments here and there, but ultimately I walked out of the experience more confused than interested.
Still, I can’t hate The Reflection’s opening episode. It may be flawed and have some really annoying production issues, but its attempts to carve out a unique space in the anime market force me to appreciate it on some level. There’s a level or risk taking here that you just don’t see in a lot of other titles, and while the story has yet to showcase a similar eye for strangeness, there’s still some potential. But in the end I have my limits, and I think The Reflection has passed them pretty definitively. For now, I’m going to have to give this one a hard pass.
The Reflection is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.