Let’s go back to our old friends at Madhouse in their attempts to adapt Marvel comics. I’ve already looked at Blade, which was okay, but let’s look at another attempt. In this case, the X-men, a super hero team that hasn’t been well written in the comics proper since Chris Claremont’s run ended. Which is a pity since Claremont’s run made them my favourite super hero team. It’s not like they’ve gotten all bad writers either. They got Grant Morrison and he can do really well when writing original works or when given proper oversight. Unfortunately, they let him off his leash for his run on the book and he piddled on everything, as Grant Morrison is wont to do. Can Madhouse succeed where so many have failed? I’m going to go full blown nerd and take a look.
Our tale opens up with the very end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, which is a bad sign right off the bat. The saga worked in the comics, well the first time it was used, because there was a lot of build up, time to get invested and because it was done in a time when super heroes almost never died and when characters stayed dead as opposed to coming back in a couple months. But this has no build up at all. If you don’t know the comics then you have no reason to care about what’s happening and if you do you’ve probably gotten used to seeing Jean die at this point and it just doesn’t affect you anymore, whether you like her as a character or not. During the fight, the X-men notice that Jean was being manipulated by the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle, which they just refer to as the Inner Circle in this. A year passes and Xavier summons Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine & Storm to the Institute because he finds out there’s something strange going on in Japan. There’s a region where neither Cerebro nor Xavier can scan and mutants there are going missing.
There are quite a few issues in this, some more minor and some significant. I’ll go over them one by one, in no particular order, not including the mishandling of the Dark Phoenix Saga since I already talked about it. For starters, this series has a lot of short, dumb moments. Beast giving a squid a microphone that enables it to speak English, the characters standing around talking and expositing when they should be taking action, the villains having a good chance to kill the heroes but not bothering because they haven’t finished going over the details of their evil plan yet, Cyclops’ motorcycle that fires missiles and laser beams. Why does a guy who can fire solar powered optic blasts need a weapon-laden motorcycle? Does he just have a laser fetish? Wouldn’t that be like Wolverine’s motorcycle having claws? He can just hit the stud on his glove or bring one hand up to his visor. Oh, wait his costume in this doesn’t have the glove button. The field leader of the X-men, Everyone, he gets rid of his iconic costume for something that looks terrible and doesn’t have one of its most useful features. That was surely a smart decision. Those aren’t even all the little dumb moments. There’s a scene where they’re trudging through a blizzard, freezing and shuddering. The problem being that Storm can control the weather. She should be able to banish something like this in seconds so that they can do what they need to do. There’s also a scene where they’re in the Blackbird and a flying mutant attacks them. Who do they send to fight a flying mutant in mid-air, while traveling at a rapid velocity? No, it’s not the person who can fly. They send Wolverine. Yeah, his healing factor isn’t going to save him if he falls off of a flying jet. Hell, Cyclops had to slow his descent to save his life when Proteus threw him off a cliff and this is going to be a lot worse of a fall then that.
Moving on to the bigger problems, there’s a lot of lazy writing in this. Early on, Storm gets weakened from using her powers a bit and it feels like a flimsy excuse to take her out of the fight. The problem is that anyone who knows the character knows that she doesn’t weaken that fast. She once brought a massive storm to Latveria that threatened to destroy Doom’s castle and warped the weather for dozens of kilometres and she only became tired when dispelling it. If you don’t know the character it just makes her look ineffectual, which isn’t an ideal way to portray one of your heroes in a serious work. Beast also gets an electronic scanner that does whatever the plot needs it to do. Then we’ve got Mastermind, who’s the leader of the Hellfire Club in this for some reason. Did they not want to use Sebastian Shaw because that one terrible film made him a nazi? They add telepathy to his powers, even though he’s never had telepathy in the comics, and he’s, apparently, strong enough that he can manipulate the minds of two different mutants who are supposedly the most powerful telepaths in existence. How exactly does he manage that when he’s supposed to be far less powerful than them? Never explained. Then we have our continuity problems. When talking to Hisako, a new character, Storm tells her about how she was lost and couldn’t control her powers properly until meeting Xavier. Except that she had full control over them and was revered as a Goddess when Xavier went to recruit her to rescue the original X-men from Krakoa. Why even change that detail? Then we’ve got the problem with the major conflict. It’s basically a rehashing of the Proteus plot line, except done ineptly. The secondary mutation thing is stupid. Yes, I know they did it in the comics too, and it was stupid there too. The climax is just really weak.
On the positive side, they do handle the conflict with Emma Frost joining the X-men somewhat competently.
This series has some characters who were interesting and well developed… in the comics. You wouldn’t know it to watch them here. They come across as pretty one-dimensional and a lot of their dialogue is stilted. To make matters worse, their habit of standing around rambling about how “they should do something” while not actually taking action makes them look like a group of incompetent morons. Xavier gets it the worst since we find out that he has yet another kid he never knew about. Dude, use a damn condom. The villains aren’t any better. Mastermind and his group get a really good opportunity to kill the X-men but they take so long to get around to it that the X-men escape. Our secondary villains, the U-men, are just stupid and evil for the evils. They’re like a 90s dark and gritty take on badly written Silver Age villains who never got developed . We have Grant Morrison to thank for this stain on the X-men’s Rogues Gallery, and I do hope that someone rubbed his nose in it and told him that he was being bad. Otherwise he’ll never learn. On a slightly positive note, there is some stuff with Emma Frost acting as a teacher to Hisako that’s pretty decent.
I will give the series some credit on this one. There’s a lot about the art that’s really well detailed and done. Unlike the Blade anime, they actually get Wolverine’s brutish appearance basically right. Although he’s still too tall and his height fluctuates from scene to scene. Seriously, they make him roughly as tall as Storm and she’s supposed to be a good twenty centimetres, or eight inches, taller than him. Speaking of messing up with Storm, they get her eye colour wrong in this. Although the X-men do, for the most part, look like themselves. I will, however, say that the art really fails when it comes to facial expressions. The major characters spend the bulk of their time grimacing, snarling or just looking generally grim even when nothing bad is happening. Are super heroes not allowed to have fun ever? They also made the bold choice of using the worst costumes the X-men have ever sported. See, there was a time when Marvel decided that super hero costumes couldn’t be colourful or visually appealing, they had to be stupid looking and with really muted colours. In this case, mostly black with a little bit of dull yellow. The one exception is Emma Frost, who gets a costume so ridiculously fan-servicey that it makes her White Queen attire look prudish. The fight scenes are mixed. Some of them work pretty well, others are a garbled mess where you can barely tell what’s happening.
The cast they get in this isn’t bad, but they don’t exactly give their best performances. I don’t blame Tamura Yukari, Hisakawa Aya, Morikawa Toshiyuki or any of the other actors for that. They’re just playing a group of perpetually snarling people who don’t have any emotional depth. Because that’s the route Madhouse decided to take. The music isn’t bad either, but it is kind of dull.
There are a few scenes between Emma Frost and Hisako where Hisako seems to be a bit “hot for teacher” but that’s the extent of the ho-yay for the series. A possible schoolgirl’s crush.
This series is really bad. The story line is riddled with problems, both small and huge, without having anything to make up for them. The characters are insultingly one-dimensional, particularly if you’re a fan of the comics. The art is the best part of the series and even it has its share of issues. The voice acting is passable but not good. If you want to see the X-men at their best, track down anything from Chris Claremont’s run. It lasted nearly two decades so there’s a lot there. Alternatively, you could look for the 90s cartoon from Saban Entertainment. If you want to see them at their worst… well, this isn’t as bad as House of M, but it wouldn’t be a bad choice. My final rating is a 2/10. Next week, Ankoku Cat.