Panel room 1A24 of the Javits Center was looking pretty shabby by Saturday evening at New York Comic Con. The chairs were in disarray and the floor pocked with litter, but the level of excitement in the room was higher than at a red carpet premiere as fans poured in see the first episode of Marvel's "Iron Man" anime. More than two hundred fans jostled each other for seats and cheered even the generic trailers that were showing on the screen before the panel started.
The anime, produced by the Japanese animation studio Madhouse and based on ideas from Warren Ellis, will run on the G4 network in the U.S. beginning next summer. It is in Japanese with English subtitles.
Blair Butler of G4's "Attack of the Show" hosted the event, introducing the panel members as "The Lord of Marvel PR, Mr. Arune Singh, the Baron of Marvel TV, Jeph Loeb, and the Duchess of G4 programming, Erika Lewis," and then went straight into the screening.
In the anime, which was also shown at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Tony Stark has decided to retire as Iron Man, and he heads to Japan where a new Iron Man suit is being developed and pilots are being trained to use it. (The suit, Iron Man Dio, looks like the original except for having a color scheme of blue and silver; no new features are discussed.) He has chosen Japan, he explains, because it is the only country he can trust to use the suits only for defensive purposes, and his Arc Station will be a free source of clean energy. The Japanese people have greeted this project with mistrust rather than gratitude, however, and Stark seems puzzled. The female scientist who is working on the project with him (and whom he hits on immediately) suggests he try to understand things from the Japanese point of view, but it doesn't seem to take. There's also a bit of byplay with an earnest but clumsy young female reporter, who enacts a hoary anime cliché by falling on top of Stark and then slapping him.
The episode's best line comes when the reporter asks Stark what he looks for in a woman. "Two X chromosomes," he retorts. "I'm not picky. I don't have a type."
When the suits do get their big debut, in an air show, Stark turns out to be in one of them after all, but something goes wrong and he crashes to the ground. When another suit goes berserk, he dons the old red and gold suit and heads off to stop it. The episode ends with a startling twist, when Scorpio (from "The Zodiac") appears out of nowhere to attack Iron Man. After throwing him off, Stark returns to retrieve the Iron Man Dio suit, only to find it has mysteriously disappeared.
After the screening, Loeb described Marvel's anime plans, which will consist of four 16-episode series featuring, in turn, "Iron Man," "Wolverine," "X-Men" and "Blade." Although this news had been previously announced at SDCC, the audience greeted it with enthusiasm, their cheers and applause growing louder with each title.
"We always want to capture the spirit of what it is that is Tony Stark, that is Pepper, so it will be true to canon in that way," said Loeb. "The stories will take place in the Pacific Rim, in Japan or that area, but as you can tell, there will be a reason why. We don't want to have everybody just look like anime running around that part of the world, we wanted it to be part of the story."
"I do want to add this is not an exclusive universe to each particular cartoon story," Loeb said. "In other words, Wolverine may stop by in 'Iron Man,' and Iron Man may stop by in 'X-Men,' and they all may be piling on to the 'Blade' series when we get to there."
"So we could have a Wolverine-Blade smackdown?" asked Butler.
"There is a fairly serious chance," Loeb responded.
The only thing the audience didn't like was hearing that they will have to wait until summer 2011 to see the rest of the series; that announcement was met with loud groans.
Loeb said the anime are designed to appeal to mainstream audiences as well as anime fans, and that they skew a little older than traditional cartoons. "You don't particularly see it in this one," he said, referring to the "Iron Man" anime, "but when you get to Wolverine, he is cutting up folks pretty well."
The panel concluded with the trailer for the "Wolverine" series - again greeted with loud cheers from the audience - which showed anime Wolverine fighting in a dojo and, in one scene, falling from a building and slowing himself down by digging his blades into the wall, sending off a shower of sparks.
Trailers for both anime are available at Marvel's website.