Last fall, Madhouse began airing the first of four Marvel adaptations for the Japanese audience with the release of Iron Man. With the Winter season in full swing, it’s now James Howlett’s turn for the anime treatment. Is Wolverine better than it’s predecessor starring Tony Stark? And how will anime and comic book fans react to this incarnation of Marvel’s favorite fuzz-ball?
Wolverine is asked by a Japanese agent to help bring down Shingen Yashida, the leader head of organized crime syndicate Kuzuryu and father of Logan’s missing-for-a-year girlfriend, Mariko. Once told that his flame has been in Japan since her sudden disappearance, the X-Man goes head first into a series of battles to bring down the Yakuza boss. With the help of a mysterious woman also carrying a vendetta against Shingen Yashida, Wolverine hurtles to free his girlfriend from being pawned off in an arranged marriage.
I couldn’t fathom anything more difficult than finding something good to say about The Cape, but I was wrong. If there is anything positive with Madhouse’s take on Weapon X, I’d say that there is an air of familiarity to the the story that they’re trying to tell, which is in contrast to the studio’s approach with Iron Man. Wolverine pining over Mariko and getting sucked into Japanese shenanigans isn’t unfamiliar territory if you’ve heard of Mariko and Shingen in the first place. So, even though there are a lot of stylistic changes for the sake of appealing to Japanese audiences, the core of the story is something that fanboys can latch onto.
Though the main plot of Wolverine may be recognizable, the character himself is not. Rather than be the brash, steely Canadian with a soft spot for women, Logan’s been turned into a Japanization of how that character would be overseas, and unfortunately, that makes him almost the total opposite of where the character currently is in comics and has been for a while. The most flagrant example of his mischaracterization is in a line he says to Mariko:
“I’ve never been the type to live in the past or the future. The present is the thing I care about the most.”
This is a man with extreme survivor’s guilt. He’s lived multiple lifetimes and has had to see all of his lovers murdered or sacrificed because of him. In reading Wolverine: Origins, the depth of Logan’s wracked conscience and how that affects all of his present relationships is on heartbreaking display. After decades of characterization and development, Wolverine has only recently come to terms with the fact that he should learn to forgive himself, live in the present, and think about the future instead of dwelling in the past. It’s his raison d’être. So for the anime to either ignore or misinterpret it seems like the worst sin of storytelling, let alone in adaptation.
Any other flaw in the show is a footnote. Sure, his healing factor looks a little too fast for what it should be; he’s Hugh Jackman tall instead of Wolverine short; his interactions with women are more James Bond than Clint Eastwood; he’s losing hopelessly in sword-fights despite being a trained samurai; or that the writers seem to ignore the adamantium that reinforces his skull for the sake of plot. At the end of they day, the failure to understand Wolverine on a basic level is so profound that it’s easy for the viewer to just detach immediately and look at the show without the Marvel label. Sadly still, Wolverine is visually lack-luster. There are hardly any key frames that capture the viewer’s attention, the ‘animation’ is merely a slideshow of poses with quick flashes across the screen, and at the end of the day, the show looks much worse than Madhouse’s first attempt in Iron Man. So once again, Madhouse seems to have alienated both audiences in an attempt to have their cake and eat it too.
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