I had high hopes for the Reflection. Because the title sounds quite cool.
But after going through 4 episodes of Reflection (and reflecting), I suddenly developed an urge to re-watch Full Metal Panic! (FMP). Both are stories of characters who acquired special powers from a once-in-a-life-time-freak-event. But the similarity ends there.
Reflection’s animation style drew a lot of flake because it seems lazy – characters with no faces drawn in, insipid action sequences, backgrounds with little or no details etc. I don’t mind a change once in a while if it helps the story.
The 60ish sound track received its share of criticisms as well. Nostalgia fades quickly when they play sky show once too often.
The show begins with scenes of memorials for a global catastrophe (the Reflection). There is something seemingly ominous about the time stamp on each frame. Japan, 11:57 pm. USA, 10:57 am. Is something going to happen at 12 midnight? Or 11 am? I wish they’d get to the point quickly. Then the scene then cuts to New York City where strange creatures are seen flitting amidst skyscrapers – mutants created by the Reflection.
Episode 2 follows the same template: quick shots of various famous places around the globe. Again, that ominous feeling. At 2am New york time (no dates though), strange greenish lights flood the sky and descend onto the ground. People start to drop to the ground like flies. Body bags are shown, lined up neatly on the ground. This is the reflection, as it happened 3 years ago. My first thought: are the streets of New York city always this full of people at 2am?
Ok, so those who didn’t make it – died and those who made it mutated.
Those who mutated are neatly filed into 3 distinct camps: the villains’ camp, led by a woman who is able to ignite/combust at will (Wraith), the good guys’ camp (X-on) who is dressed in a suit not unlike Spiderman’s and who may also be collaborating with the authorities. Finally, there is I-guy, an independent clad in a metallic armour suit reminiscent of Ironman. It’s easy to guess who are the villains here. They have the (villainous) stamp on them. I-guy’s personality is also as clear as a bright sunny day – it’s all about I.
The villains have no qualms drawing attention to themselves. Gone are the days where the villains mask their actions and intent in the dark of the night. Here, they behave like wanton terrorists on drugs. The villians tried hard to make a statement about something. But what? Unlike K, where the power factions are built around distinct personalities, we can’t feel for these caricatures.
In fact, creating brouhaha is an old trick. These days, terrorists make statements by remotely staging big-scale events using pawns, such as ploughing cars into crowds, suicide bombing, taking down national monuments. Anything to inflict maximum damage using the barest of resources. Villians wearing their intent on the sleeves brazenly showing themselves on stage seems old school, out of touch and wasteful. The smart ones don’t dirty their own hands anymore.
So, after 4 episodes, we know how the mutants got their powers, but we still have no idea what caused the reflection (aliens? nuclear fallout?). We also know the bad guys were affected by the smoke whereas the good guys by the light (aw, life’s so unfair). But is that enough to keep the audience piqued?
Full Metal Panic is completely different.
You expect it to be the usual high school romance-comedy but its not.
It starts with a bang. A Russian Hind helicopter in pursuit of a jeep bumping frantically across a snow-laden forest. Just as the Hind gleefully unloads its ammunition onto the jeep, a Mecha (Arm Slave) materialises suddenly, takes it down with aplomb, saves the distressed damsel. But no, she’s not the main character. That role belongs to a beautiful but fiesty (bossy) Japanese high school girl.
The narrative cleverly steers back to japan.
The team that brought down the Hind is assigned to guard the girl from kidnappers (foreign intelligence agencies) but they are not to alarm the Japanese authorities. Note that FMP was written during the Cold War era so the foreign intellience agency here refers to the KGB.
Part of a mysterious mercenary armed organisation known as Mithril, the team doesn’t know why the girl is targeted but orders are orders. The pilot of the Mecha, a boy, infiltrates the high school, pretending to be a transfer student (he’s the right age and race). The girl thinks that the boy is a stalker; weird, interfering but interesting. The rest of her class thinks he is a just an obsessed military otaku who belies understanding. He fumbles, over reacts while trying to ‘protect’ the girl, not realising he is gradually attracted to her. A perfect boy-meets-girl story.
Mithril destroys the KGB research facility. Believing the KGB to be impotent for a while, they relieve the team from guard duty. But other forces are at work and soon the girl is taken hostage together with the rest of her classmates during their school trip.
The plane that they take is hijacked and made to re-route to a mysterious (impoverished) country. They capture the girl, sending her into a laboratory for ‘testing’. Gradually, the boy and girl come to realise why she is targeted – somehow somewhen, the girl acquired knowledge of ‘black technology’ – technology so progressive (and frightening?) that it will make nuclear power obsolete.
The boy and the girl escape but are trapped and cornered and only able to avoid capture again by a hair’s breath (with the help of the boy’s reliable Mithril colleagues). As the anime progresses, the back stories of the boy, his comrades, Mithril and the whispereds are fleshed out.
FMP is a prime example of an anime that has successfully meshed mecha, school-life, comedy and romance (and this was in 2002). Plus there is enough action and mystery to keep our hearts pounding. In fact, my heart skipped a beat when i read that season 3 is in the works and will premiere in 2018. I’m definitely looking out for that one.
I’m going to stick to rewatching FMP. As for the Reflection, as I’ve said, I’m done with reflecting.