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Mirrorman REFLEX - Focus 1: Kishin - And where does the newborn go from here?
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Mirrorman REFLEX - Focus 1: Kishin
So I watched this today.

I do wish it had English subtitles; being that it's for an older audience, the show's not quite as easy to follow unaided as, say, Keita Amemiya's super-robot series Tekkouki Mikazuki. But since this came out seven years ago, and I've been trying to see it on and off for the duration of those seven years, I guess I can't complain. (Well, except about the shitty nu-metal song that plays while Mirrorman is fighting; I think it's just fine to complain about that.)

Anyway, Mirrorman REFLEX is a modern-day update of an Ultraman-style tokusatsu show from 1971. Unlike most such shows, however, the original Mirrorman had the benefit of pedigree: both Ultraman and Mirrorman were created by Tsuburaya Productions - the studio founded by special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya. And with even a quick glance at the show's basic structure, you can totally tell: Mirrorman told the story of a young man who gets brought into a super-science organization called the Science Patrol Science Guard Members; secretly, the young man has the ability to transform into the size-changing superhero Ultraman Mirrorman, which proves extremely useful when Earth falls under attack from giant monsters on a weekly basis. (To be fair, Mirrorman had more going on in its backstory than just that, and I think the main character spent a good portion of the early episodes not being a member of the SGM; still and all, the basic structure is pretty much identical.) The early episodes of the original series were dark and weird; a lot of it took place at night, and a lot of the special effects scenes were just very strange. Unfortunately, in the hopes of boosting ratings, the show's creative team was forced to drop the darkness in later episodes; some of the weirdness stayed, but Japanese superhero shows in the '70s were pretty damn weird anyway, so that part was probably seen as being pretty safe, ratings-wise.

Mirrorman was a series that was fairly well-regarded by tokusatsu fans, but never really achieved the success necessary to be on par with the cultural icon that Ultraman had already become by that time. In the mid-2000s, however, there was something of a mini-renaissance in dark, adult toku shows: the same period brought us Golden Knight GARO (which I've already discussed), Ultraman Nexus, Shibuya 15, and Mirrorman REFLEX - all sci-fi/superhero shows meant to appeal to an audience of older teenagers and adults. Thus, REFLEX is able to retain - and even enhance - the more shadowy tone of the early part of the old school show, and the end is result is a tiny bit like what might come of grafting Ultraman onto one of the Ringu or Ju-On movies (but only a tiny bit).

Mirrorman REFLEX was a three-episode direct-to-DVD series; each episode was about 45-50 minutes long, and much of the first episode, at least, is very much a mood piece - or at least, it seemed as such to someone who couldn't understand the dialogue. The story concerns a female scientist named Asami Hiro who's doing research into some kind of ancient mirror; eventually, she uncovers some magic words that summon monsters from another dimension into our own. This attracts the attention of a group of odd people, from whom she is rescued by our hero, Akira Kageyama - an Internet radio broadcaster (yes, seriously) who is constantly warning people of the dangers from the world beyond the mirrors. Akira also has the ability - with the aid of his niece, Momoso, and a mirror identical to the one Asami has been studying - to transform into the armored warrior Mirrorman, and protect our world from the incursion of evil from beyond.

It's a standard set-up, but it's fairly well-executed; and in the show's favor, even though I'm likely never going to completely grasp what's going on, I'm still interested in seeing what happens next. It's atmospheric and well-directed, and I liked their portrayal of the new Mirrorman, Akira: he's very shabby, we never see him interact in a meaningful way with anyone other than Momoso, and he always vanishes immediately after the monster(s) is (are) defeated. It's interesting to see a Japanese series where the hero is kind of a hikikomori, albeit a bit older than most to whom that term tends to be applied. Of course, this aspect of the character will probably soften in the coming two episodes, but such is the nature of storytelling: your hero has to change over the course of your story, or else why are you telling me this story?

I also like REFLEX's shift in focus from the vaguely sci-fi-ish nature of the original series to something a bit more folkloric. Where this is most apparent is in Akira's henshin (transformation) sequence. In order for Akira to turn into Mirrorman, Momoso must play a flute and sing a little song; presumably, Akira's hand motions and poses are also necessary for some reason beyond just genre conventions. The whole thing feels very ritualistic, and in particular carries a bit of an air of Shintoism to it, which is neat; it serves to give REFLEX a distinctive flavor, even among similar supernatural shows like GARO.

On the downside, the series probably didn't have the budget Tsuburaya would typically give to even one of their TV shows, and this is unfortunately apparent in some of the effects work: the "blue flame" effect that manifests throughout the episode looks a bit lacking, and while the model work is still good, there's fairly little destruction of those models - which is a shame, given that part of the appeal of shows like this is seeing two huge things wreck some shit up. As well, the Mirrorman suit suffers a bit from the lack of funding: a lot of the suit appears to be made from fairly standard fabric, rather than the rubbery material typically used on Ultraman shows, and thus the "guy in a suit" impression is a bit harder to shake than usual. The mini-monsters in the opening sequence also kind of just look like Tusken Raiders with Jawa eyes. Fortunately, the episode's main monster, Shiyu, still looks pretty good, and I liked his fight with Mirrorman; the choreography wasn't anything special, but Shiyu has neat, if simplistic (and admittedly somewhat nonsensical), powers that are cool enough to make up for the lack of intricacy in the choreography. (And can you imagine trying to coordinate a really complex fight when one of the guys involved is wearing something as heavy as that suit? Sheesh!)

I don't know if this was quite worth the seven years it took me to be able to see it, but I was still pretty happy with what I got; it's flawed, but quite solidly entertaining regardless. I recommend Mirrorman REFLEX to anyone who likes superheroes, giant monsters, or giant superheroes who fight giant monsters.


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