MARVEL DISK WARS: THE AVENGERS is a co-production between Disney Japan, Bandai (who produce the tie-in game), and Toei Animation (who produce the show, and are famous as the studio that also produced DIGIMON, DRAGONBALL, and SAILOR MOON), and overseen by Marvel "talent scout", CB Cebulski, who's is known for his love of Manga and anime and has done international outreach for Marvel in the past, such as convincing Tsutomi Nihei (BIO-MEGA, BLAME!, and my favorite KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA) to write and draw a really bizarre Wolverine mini-series in the early 2000's, putting Kia Asamiya on X-MEN, etc. As such, it's a very Japanese show, and made to appeal to a Japanese aesthetic, marrying the tropes of shonen (boys) adventure to the Marvel characters; and it's a marriage that works.
WARNING: Spoilers Follow
Akira and Hikaru, and a group of other children, Jessica Shannon, Edward Grant, and Chris Taylor, become enbroiled in the conflict when Dr. Akatsuki is injured and entrusts the DISK biocode installer to his sons; the DISKs are biometically locked and can only be used by someone who has the correct biocode installed into their DNA. During Loki's attack, the children had imprinted with random biocodes locked into various classifications (bringing the game elements into the show); Akira is Tech, Hikaru is Energy, Jessica is Animal, Ed is Power, and Chris is Fight.
|"With all the heroes captured, who is there to punish me?"|
The first six episodes are part of an arc in which each of the kids earns their hero, and they work together to escape the Raft and return to Japan. It also establishes Loki's subordinates, a group of masked terrorists who are ordinary people by day, and are equipped with the Villain DISKs to carry out Loki's long term plans.
|Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wasp, Spider-man|
The brilliant thing about the show to me is the decision to use the heroes to help and inspire these kids, all of whom have some kind of fatal flaw or failing, by giving them a hero that speaks to that flaw. As they have adventures, the heroes inspire the kids to overcome their failings to become heroes themselves, which is, to me, the entire reason superheroes were created and the power their influence on us has. My moral compass was shaped by superheroes, and superheroes helped me get through the tough times I had as a kid, in much the same way they do in the show...except that in the show, the heroes can actually interact with the kids as little holograms that stand on their shoulders and give them advice. :P
|"So you finally decided to notice me...your attention span is awful!"|
So, of course, he becomes the holder of Iron Man's disk; Iron Man is also headstrong and energetic, and even a little ridiculous at times (DISK WARS uses Tony Stark to great comic effect as a charming rogue, who is almost as childish as Akira), but ultimately his saving grace is that he puts intelligence, education, and problem solving above all other things. His interactions with Akira are generally telling him to slow down and think through his problems. Not only that, but since Stark helped build the DISK, he also needs to build a machine to fix their problems, which he gets Akira to assist with since he can't physically do it himself, teaching Akira both science and patience. Thus Akira's course for the series is to go from well meaning but reckless to patient and thoughtful.
|"I address those of this realm; a disaster threatens you."|
and their father left for America to build the DISK system with Tony Stark, is overprotective of his brother and constantly worries about him...so naturally, the hero he is coded too is Thor, whose little brother is the cause of all their troubles. Hikaru doesn't really have any failings, but instead has the pathos of worrying about his brother and if he's failing him as a brother by not protecting him. This resonates with Thor, who in DISK WARS sees himself as the failed brother; he blames himself for Loki's evil, imagining that if he'd been a better brother, Loki might not have turned out the way he did. Hikaru and Thor bond as big brothers, and Thor gives him advice on how to protect Akira without smothering him.
|"This pain is nothing...it will fade!"|
|"Violence is bad!"|
|"Can you handle this?" "Of course I can!"|
|"We'll call this a draw."|
|"I am the one who decides my limits!"|
Beyond that they boil down the other characters to their most basic ideas; Captain America is the worlds greatest fighter and a man of unbreakable resolve and discipline. Hulk is a gentle giant prone at rest, and a terrifying monster when angered. Thor is stoic, serious, grand, and has a code of honor similar to that of the samurai that resonates with the Japanese audience. Wasp is very much like she is in the comics; a trendy, modern, woman. She's a fashion designer and a hero...the Mary Tyler-Moore of superheroes, she stands toe-to-toe with the other heroes despite her small size.
|A Wide World of Heroes|
|"You want power? But with great power...comes great responsibility."|
|"I wish I had a biocode...so I could make you work harder, Tony."|
Another thing I can appreciate about DISK WARS is it's approach to the cultural divide. The two leads are, of course, Japanese, but the rest of the characters are all American, so it mines this for comedy but also for plot, demonstrating the difference between our cultures and parodying them, such as when the kids go out with the heroes to explore Tokyo; Captain America insists that Chris adapt to Japanese culture by learning how to eat the food, encouraging him to try Japanese delicacies that seem strange to an American pallete. Wasp and Jessica go clothes shopping in Harajuku for Gothic Loli dresses. Edward and Hulk go to Akihabara where Ed wows Otaku with the depth of his knowledge for obscure Marvel trivia by explaining the difference between Thor and Beta-Ray Bill. The effect of this is to show Japanese children that as strange as our culture is to them, their culture is equally strange to us, but that we can overcome these differences to work together towards a common good. It's a really nice sentiment, and it's one that has actually been a common thread in all of Marvel's attempts to market to the Japanese in their other anime properties (most successfully in the excellent IRON MAN anime).
But, most importantly, MARVEL DISK WARS is a show about heroes, both super and ordinary, and revolves around acts of heroism both big and small, but they mostly focus on the aspect of heroism that resonates most with Japanese culture; the value of sacrifice. Akira and Hikaru's father, Dr. Atsuki dramatizes this by sacrificing his glory as the creator of DISK, allowing Tony Start to take all the credit, to protect his children...his only takes pride in knowing that he created something that helps the world. When Loki captures Pepper, the heroes are powerless to move against him, except for Thor, who cannot imagine conceding a fight. Captain America talks him down, and Thor sacrifices his pride, kneeling to Loki to save the innocents he threatens. The kids sacrifice their carefree childhoods to take on the mighty burden of protecting the Earth from Loki's plans. Sacrifice comes up again and again as part of the plot.
Beyond that other aspects of being a hero are explored and dramatized; Ed overcomes his cowardice to confront those stronger than him. Jessica uses her intelligence and wits to steal Wasp's DISK from the villains. Chris overcomes apathy and selfishness to learn empathy. Akira learns to think before he acts and consider how his actions affect others. These are all great lessons for kids to learn, and they're dramatized in a clever, engaging, and often exciting way.
The typical tropes of anime actually work well for the show; heroes respresent the standard archetypes of anime, and they all have their specific skills and powers, calling out their attacks in dramatic fashion ("Wasp...STING!" "Shield...THROW!"), and reciting a catch phrase that sums up their character when they are summoned by the kids who use their own catch phrase, "D-SMASH!" ("In the name of Mjolner!" Thor, "It's party time!" Iron Man, "Soldiers! March on bravely, without fear!" Captain America, etc etc). It's fun and wacky and allows kids to identify with their favorite characters when they go out ot play later, simulating their attacks and mannerisms from the show, and the Marvel characters actually lend themselves surprisingly well to these tropes.
Overall, for a crass commercial tie-in, MARVEL DISK WARS is surprisingly smart and engaging, communicating very simple, clear, ideas, and making maximum use of the Marvel Universe in some creative and novel ways. The animation in the first few episodes is pretty good, but quickly slides into barely adequate TV animation, and while some of the character designs are really strong, others are just garrish (MODOK, and Tony's weird soul patch for example), but ultimately don't really impact on the overall experience. I found it all to be surprisingly enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone with kids or fans of the MARVEL UNIVERSE as a whole.