Tony Stark relocates to Japan to build the world’s first arc reactor power station and to form a small army of next-generation Iron Men, Iron Man Dio.
Iron Man sort of lends itself to anime. Stories about people piloting robot suits are a genre unto themselves in Japan. From Mobile Suit Gundam to Evangelion, to Macross; Tony Stark and his robot amour a practically a cliche.
To compensate for the relatively unimaginative Iron Man, the Japanese production staff loaded the series with a vast array of bizarre robots for Stark to face off against, one per episode; though some go a little too far and just end up looking silly, like the one that causes tornadoes. But the odd robots do lend the series a genuine ‘anime feel,’ enough to make it seem authentic, and not just heartless work-for-hire commissioned by American producers who don’t know or care about the medium.
In the extras, the producers talk about the popularity of the movies and not wanting to alienate their fans. We see this in Tony Stark’s character design, obviously, but we also get an origin story episode that is very similar to the one seen in the movie, though slightly tweaked to fit into the larger narrative.
Tony Stark’s character is also copied straight from the films. Confidence edging onto arrogance, but with an underlying decency. That said, there’s a hint of Japanese-ness to him. Every once-in-a-while, he’ll speak with a deferential respect that doesn’t quite fit his personality. It’s almost like the actor playing him feels guilty about it and tries to soften him up in a way that’s acceptable to Japanese society.
The subtitle translation changes his character a bit as well. There was one line in the island episode which jumped out at me. Tony Stark yells in Japanese, ‘hey, over here!’ but it’s translated in the subtitles as, ‘hey, sweet cheeks.’
The show feels cheap. The music is bad, thoughtless instrumental stuff that’s better suited to an ’80s video game than a modern TV series. The robot animation looks pretty good, but the rest is dull and limited. Character designs are on the realistic side, with a bit of western influence.
In the realm of animated series based on American comic books, Iron Man is pretty good; certainly better than the American version produced in the ’90s. There are some standout episodes, like the aforementioned Island adventure, where Tony has to build an escape plan out of a scrapheap, and the satisfying two-part finale.
While the American and Japanese sides of the production are integrated well, the competing views keep the series from excelling on either side. It’s a pretty good anime and a pretty good comic book story; but nothing about it achieves greatness.