The first series in the Marvel Anime line of animated series which take classic and established Marvel Comics characters and give them a Japanese spin was the twelve episode 2010 production of Iron Man. As Marvel more or less gave Japanese animation studio Madhouse, the production company responsible for the show, carte blanche to do with the characters as they saw fit, this isn't quite the typical Iron Man origin story you might expect it to be.
Based on a script by legendary comic book scribe Warren Ellis, the storyline sees wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (voiced by Keiji Fujiwara in the Japanese version and Adrian Pasdar in the English version) head east from America to Japan where he intends to assist in the construction of a new Arc Reactor energy station but just as importantly intends to demonstrate the capabilities of Iron Man Dio, which he hopes will fill his shoes when he gets around to retiring from the Iron Man game, something that he's been giving some serious thought to. Things start off well enough but before you know it, a terrorist organization named Zodiac has stolen the Iron Man Dio armor and has gone completely haywire with it - on top of that, they also take control of the Arc Reactor station. Stark has no choice but to take responsibility for his creation, suit up, and head out as Iron Man to stop Dio from wreaking havoc across Japan.
Thankfully for Stark, he won't have to go this alone. Zodiac has a seemingly endless supply of giant robots to use in their fight, so it only seems far that Tony team up with Japan Self Defense Force Captain Nagato Sakurai (Jim Yamanoi in the Japanese version, Travis Willingham in the English version) who pilots a robot dubbed the Ramon Zero. Soon Stark realizes that within Zodiacs ranks and hiding under the Dio armor is Ho Yinsen (Hiroaki Hirata in the Japanese version, Kyle Hebert in the English version), an old friend of his who he thought to be deceased all while a female newspaper reporter does what she can to keep tabs on Stark. Things aren't going to be easy for Tony in Japan, not by a long shot.
Ellis' story does an interesting job taking Stark out of his usual element and placing him smack dab in the middle of some interesting situations. Definitely a stranger in a strange land, Stark has some serious PR problems upon his arrival in Japan. Though his mission is noble - to allow his technology to assist in a project that will provide energy for the entire country - he's still (understandably) seen by many as little more than an arms dealer, a man who profits off of war and death. The fact that he can and does come off as arrogant doesn't often do him any favors either, and these elements of his personality definitely come into play as the story starts to unfold. Of course, the emphasis of the series is on the action and the battles between Iron Man and the different Zodiac robots that have been constructed to stop him, but there's enough legitimate character development here and a few interesting plot twists that you may or may not see coming to make this more than just armor suited battles and colorful animated explosions. Given that this series clocks in at just under five hours, that's a good thing as it keeps us interested in what's happening.
As far as the animation is concerned, the team at Madhouse have done a very good job bringing Iron Man into the anime universe. Of course the style is different than what you'd get from an American animation house but that's not a bad thing, it makes the material seem a little fresher than it might be otherwise. The human characters don't appear too exaggerated or disproportioned and the robots and armor suits seen throughout the series look great. There's loads of style here and quite a bit of great detail in the backgrounds throughout the series to enjoy. All in all the series has a slick and colorful look to it that feels 'right' for Iron Man. This, coupled with a pretty decent storyline, makes this one that fans of the character should enjoy.
Each episode of Iron Man is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and for the most part they look very good on DVD. There is a bit of shimmer here and there but outside of that the lines in the animation are clean and well defined and the colors are reproduced very nicely. Detail looks good and there are no issues with any compression artifacts nor are there any issues with edge enhancement. Black levels are nice and strong and overall the series looks great.
Shout! Factory gives you the option to watch the series in your choice of English or Japanese language by way of two Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks with optional subtitles and closed captioning provided in English. As to the quality of the audio, no complaints here, these are both solid tracks through and through with good surround use and nicely balanced levels. The sound effects and score used throughout the series has some nice punch to it and there are some fun directional effects noticeable as well.
There are a few decent extra features included in this set, and on disc one we start off with the ten minute Re-Imagining Iron Man featurette in which Ellis talks about how and why he did what he did with the character in Japan and what he was trying to get across with the story. Ellis is always an interesting interviewee and this piece is par for the course in that regard. The five minute Voicing Tony Stark is a brief interview with voice actor Keiji Fujiwara who talks about what he tried to bring to the role and how he came on board this project in addition to his thoughts on the influence of the feature films on this anime version. Disc two kicks off with 21st Century Hero, a seven and a half minute featurette that explores the technology that Stark and the other characters use in this series and which offers up some interesting real world comparisons between what we see here and what's actually used by the military. Special Cross Talk - Marvel Anime's Iron Man And Wolverine is twenty-nine minutes of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the people at Madhouse who made this series and the Wolverine anime series happen. Topics include the various characters that populate the two storylines, some crossover elements, the use of computer animation for certain scenes, character design and more. It's pretty in-depth and quite interesting - definitely the highpoint of the extras on this disc.
Sony Pictures' two-disc DVD release of Marvel Anime's Iron Man - The Complete Series is a good one, offering up each and every episode of this entertaining and action packed series in great quality and with some pretty decent extra features too. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.