Back when I did the “tokusatsu” primer (as of this writing I need to go in and fix the dead video embeds and maybe drop the page idea) I talked about the Japanese superhero type known as the “metal hero”, a style that has all but vanished. Even then they’re token appearances or just a theme for that year’s Kamen Rider. For Western audiences one of my examples for equivalents they might understand outside of VR Troopers and the two Beetleborgs series, which Saban managed to get out just before the metal heroes disappeared from Japanese TV and gave them no new footage to work with, was Iron Man. By that point the Marvel Cinematic Universe had begun with the first Iron Man so you didn’t have to be a comic book fan to get the reference. And seeing how few armored heroes there are outside of comics and animation, he’s probably the best example I could use.
I guess the movies did well for Japanese audiences because an Iron Man anime, one of four produced by Sony and famed Japanese animation studio Madhouse, came out in 2010. Oddly, Spider-Man is not one of the four despite Sony actually having the movie license with old Peter and two other versions of Spider-Man already known in Japan–the famous live-action re-imagining with the giant robot and the sadly lesser known manga that was actually pretty close to what you’d expect to a “what if a Japanese man was bit by a radioactive spider instead of an American one” would look like. Poor Yu Komori. Instead we had Blade, the X-Men, and a solo outing for Wolverine, all other Marvel heroes with successful movies. Oh, maybe that’s why no Spider-Man. That franchise wasn’t a success since Spider-Man 2 until Into The Spiderverse outside of the MCU movies.
Playing off ideas from the movie, Iron Man sees Tony Stark bringing his Arc Reactor to Japan, trying to give up being Iron Man and finding successors through his new Dio armor. However, it gets stolen by a “Japanified” take on the Marvel villain organization the Zodiac and Tony has to suit up again to stop him. Thanks to the Sony-owned YouTube channel Throwback Toons I get to show you the first episode. Enjoy.
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Tony creating a series of armors seems out of touch with various comic versions of Iron Man. War Machine started out as one of his armors before it became James Rhodes’ personal armor, but otherwise Tony showed reluctance in mass producing and sharing his Iron Man armor secrets even when you ignore the events of the Armor Wars. I guess the movies don’t have an Armor Wars and now probably won’t unless Rhodey takes his part in that plot should the MCU finally give him his own movie. Still, it feels weird seeing him do that in light of the comics.
Zodiac in the comics (and I had to look this up because I don’t have any stories with them and sadly only know them from the lackluster Avengers: United We Stand animated series) used more traditionally American supervillain costumes and gear, but in this series they employ mecha, giving Iron Man a serious threat, and used more Japanese-themed backstories, some of which are rather tragic. It’s certainly an interesting take. I won’t reveal one of the villains but I was unlucky enough to have missed the ending so I still need to see what happened to him. All I’ll say is that he plays a significant role in Iron Man’s history.
For the nerdier types out there, the official designation for the universe the Marvel anime takes place in is Earth-101001.
The show is available through various streaming services, but since those are paid services right now (it used to be up on Sony Crackle but I don’t see it there now) you’ll have to check to see if it’s available to you. It’s certainly worth a watch and I hope Throwback Toons posts more episodes.