A good story wrapped in blech.
Overview (Minor Spoilers)
Three years ago, an unknown event blanketed the planet in exotic matter. Those touched by the effects of this event, called “The Reflection”, were transformed. While some were killed, others were transformed, gaining incredible powers. They became known as the Reflected, either Brightstar or Darkness based off the matter that empowered them. We follow one Eleanor Evans, a girl looking for answers and a place to belong. Her power is to teleport to anywhere in line of sight. She’s investigating an enigmatic man named X-On, who fights evil reflecteds by copying and archiving their powers. An attack on Times Square by such evil reflecteds prompts the two of them to look into the man who masterminded it: Wraith. As they investigate him, they find that he has been kidnapping women from the same family for unknown reasons. They take it upon themselves to track these women down and prevent the abductions. Along the way, they make friends with a Brightstar named Lisa, who can transform her wheelchair into a flying mecha. They also meet Michael and Vi, a couple from Baton Rouge who are reflected as well. Together, they track down Wraith and attempt to stop his plans. At the same time, a washed up 80’s rocker uses his vocal mutation to power a battlesuit, and becomes known as the hero I-Guy. When his friends and support team are murdered by Wraith’s cronies, he makes revenge his new melody. Oh, and there’s a quartet of girls in Japan on a trip to America. Who knows what role they have to play in all this?
The Reflection is a series developed by Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, and animated by Studio DEEN, which have been in the anime business longer than I’ve been alive. Like much of the things POW! develops, it has a heavy leaning towards comic book themes and tropes. Everything about the show is a throwback to the early days of comics, from the villains’ character designs and concepts to how characters are named. It also covers the concept of prejudice in a way similar to X-Men. However, the overall story seems more modern in its plot, with multiple overlapping and converging plotlines. It’s an interesting story, filled with unsolved mysteries.
Unfortunately, that is about the limit of what is good in this series. Have you ever picked up a comic book, saw its amazing cover art, but found the art inside to look like a grade-schooler drawing? That’s what happened here. Sure, the animation was handled by Studio DEEN, but it must have been a pair of their interns with an ancient computer in a broom closet. It looks as if the entire thing was made in Adobe Flash, and on a minimal budget. The cinematography is simple, the detail is almost non-existent, and nothing looks the same from one shot to the next. Every time we look at the X on X-On’s facemask, it is uneven in a new way. Powers are rarely impressive, with Eleanor’s teleport ability being little more than a green outline and her being in a new position with no transition. CG is utilized in the series, but exclusively for vehicles and Lisa’s robot. As these are textureless, and mostly lacking in details, they fit in perfectly with the flat art style.This is an amateurish attempt at animation and one that you are more likely to find on a site like Newgrounds than on television.
On top of this awkwardness from how it is animated, the direction and script have some oddities that make you wonder: Is this intentional, or is it just bad? All series long, characters will take long pauses in what they are saying to stare at each other. This happens most often when someone is talking to X-On, at it gets a bit annoying. We just sit there, staring at X-On… who has a mask on, so we aren’t looking at his reaction, and he isn’t moving so there’s nothing to see there. We just stare at this still frame until the other character continues talking. Half of the cast of characters either have no face, or wear a mask, so there is nothing to look at to tell how the characters are feeling. Even then, Eleanor and Lisa, the two who emote the most, don’t have many faces to them.
Aaaand their voice acting doesn’t have much in the way of emotion either. Contending with these odd directorial choices and the terrible animation leaves the voice actors without many queues to draw from, and often, they had to squeeze a lot of words in a small, awkward space. It doesn’t help that there is only one real veteran on the crew. Vic Mignogna plays as X-On, and he plays the character almost like a Spider-Man. He’s sassy, he’s snarky, it’s kinda fun. Everyone else on the team is either an unknown, or someone involved in the production. You’ve got Stan Lee playing as Wraith’s second in command, who looks exactly like him. You have the four girls from the Japanese idol group 9Nine, who performed the ending theme and likely got attached to appeal to Japanese ratings. There’s Trevor Horn playing as himself, since he wrote the song Sky Show for the series, and you can’t escape the stupid thing. Seriously, every time Ian Izzet shows up, they play the same 30-second clip of the song. On a loop. Here’s the kicker. Even though the series is being released in America by Funimation, the English dub was done by POW! Entertainment. What’s your first hint? Terrible audio quality. You can hear mike pops and static. There are odd reverbs from improper soundproofing, and muddied audio due to cheap, amateur-level special effects being added to the vocals.
Despite all these issues with the show, I still enjoyed the story. As derivative of the comic book genre as it was, it had enough mysteries in it that it kept me watching. They teased the second season at the end and left multiple plot hooks open for them to play with next season, but I doubt that it will get picked up.
Best Way To Watch
Watch one episode a week. This will give you plenty of time to recover from all the things that make the show unpalatable. Pair it with a stiff drink to enjoy it further.
I really wanted to like this series. It was made by Stan Lee! It should be great, right? Too bad it isn't. Between the terrible animation, the lackluster voice acting, and strange directing choices, it's hard to see that it has a great story hiding underneath. I give it five points out of ten.