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Marvel Anime: Wolverine

12-Episode series from Madhouse and Marvel Entertainment

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Engaging Material That's Decidedly Eastern in Execution

  • Jun 28, 2014
To be completely honest,To be completely honest, my first taste of western mythos combined with eastern animation practice came in the form of 2008’s Gotham Knight.  When the film(s) concluded, my own conclusion was that the practice of combing the two elements was anything but a smooth one.  It was rather interesting to witness what anime masters were able to do with the long standing DC franchise but as a whole it felt too dark, disjointed and frankly strange to warrant a repeat viewing for my taste.
Enter 2010 when the practice of combining American comic material with Japanese anime would surface once again.  This time it would be Marvel properties, four of them to be exact, produced in collaboration between Marvel Entertainment and Japanese animation studio Madhouse. The four twelve-episode series were based on Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men, and Blade respectively.
As anyone who follows anything about Wolverine likely realizes, his backstory makes for perhaps the smoothest transition into anime material; after all, according to 1982’s  limited comic series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, we learn of a whole period of Logan’s life spent in Japan following events taking place in WWII.  It is this era that Wolverine the anime covers (it is also this era that was used in the 2013 live action film The Wolverine).
To summarize the plot concisely and without spoilers, Logan learns that his true love, Mariko Yashida, who disappeared a year earlier, has been taken to Tokyo by her father Shingen Yashida, the head of the Japanese crime syndicate Kuzuryu to be wed to crime boss Hideki Kurohagi. Wolverine goes on a quest to rescue Mariko and hack, slash and otherwise dispatch a whole plethora of opponents along the way.
I realize that sounds alarmingly simplistic but truly, that is the plot.  Madhouse takes its time spanning 12 twenty-two minute episodes (284-minutes total) to tell this tale in a manner that only anime could.
It goes without saying that there are notable differences in philosophy between the American and Japanese approach to animation and perhaps nowhere are these differences clearer than in an instance like this; where a long standing American institution, one we have all seen animated dozens of times over throughout the years, is subjected to the full anime treatment then brought back to the US with your choice of original Japanese dialog track, English dub and the option to run subtitles beneath either.
Right off the bat I have to confess that some elements work here in the format, perhaps even succeed while others fall flat.  Let’s take a look at some of these nuances in the hopes of determining whether this collection is right for you.  We’ll begin with the pacing of the piece; which can only be described as anime.  If that means nothing to you, imagine an episodic story that is serialized in the strictest sense of the term.  Episodes can (and frequently do) end on absolute cliffhangers with no hope of resolve until future episodes in the arc.  Minimal time is spent catching the viewer up on past events.  In short, this is a single tale broken up into 12 individual chapters rather than 12 separate episodes comprising a single season as is common here in the US.
Furthermore anime takes a very methodical and plodding approach to its storytelling, often giving the impression that it is under no pressure whatsoever to hurry the prose along.  As such it’s not uncommon to encounter entire episodes that advance the overall plot no further than 18-minutes of a fight sequence (complete with blood and intensity).  Again, not right or wrong, just different from the western school of thought on animation.
Visually the piece is all eastern; which is to say beautiful throughout.  Never mind super saturated color pallets or anything “cartoony” for that matter.  The look of the show is almost like portrait art set into motion.  Madhouse truly spared no expense in bringing its renowned artistic quality to the franchise.
Exposition falls onto the “show” not “tell” side of the coin and as a result don’t expect abundant dialog here.  Many episodes contain only a handful of spoken sentences and are instead visually intensive with multiple flashbacks and points of view to consider.
I have to say that about my own biggest complaint to the series stems from the fact that the titular character is portrayed in a light that long-standing fans of the material may find askew.  The bestial, short, stout and foul tempered Logan/Wolverine of comic lore is absent entirely here and in his place is a tall, lean mullet-sporting mutant.  Yes they’ve included his extra-sensitive sniffer, fangs and trademark adamantium claws, but the character is rife with the cold, quiet distantly disturbed quality that seems to be a staple among lead anime roles.  Combine this with the minimal dialog and (with the English actor especially) a delivery that sounds forcefully monotone and emotionless and you come away with a Logan who is equal parts Cloud Strife and Neo from the Matrix.
All in all, despite how it may seem by my critique, I do find the process of witnessing the translation of a beloved franchise through a different philosophy of animation to be an enjoyable one.  The price is certainly affordable to warrant adding the complete anime to any collection though I don’t suppose it will be loved by any and all fans of the Wolverine/ X-Men franchise.  Going into it expecting anime that just so happens to involve Marvel characters makes it far more enjoyable than expecting Madhouse’s interpretation of say X-Men Evolution.
 my first taste of western mythos combined with eastern animation practice came in the form of 2008’s Gotham Knight.  When the film(s) concluded, my own conclusion was that the practice of combing the two elements was anything but a smooth one.  It was rather interesting to witness what anime masters were able to do with the long standing DC franchise but as a whole it felt too dark, disjointed and frankly strange to warrant a repeat viewing for my taste.
Enter 2010 when the practice of combining American comic material with Japanese anime would surface once again.  This time it would be Marvel properties, four of them to be exact, produced in collaboration between Marvel Entertainment and Japanese animation studio Madhouse. The four twelve-episode series were based on Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men, and Blade respectively.
As anyone who follows anything about Wolverine likely realizes, his backstory makes for perhaps the smoothest transition into anime material; after all, according to 1982’s  limited comic series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, we learn of a whole period of Logan’s life spent in Japan following events taking place in WWII.  It is this era that Wolverine the anime covers (it is also this era that was used in the 2013 live action film The Wolverine).
To summarize the plot concisely and without spoilers, Logan learns that his true love, Mariko Yashida, who disappeared a year earlier, has been taken to Tokyo by her father Shingen Yashida, the head of the Japanese crime syndicate Kuzuryu to be wed to crime boss Hideki Kurohagi. Wolverine goes on a quest to rescue Mariko and hack, slash and otherwise dispatch a whole plethora of opponents along the way.
I realize that sounds alarmingly simplistic but truly, that is the plot.  Madhouse takes its time spanning 12 twenty-two minute episodes (284-minutes total) to tell this tale in a manner that only anime could.
It goes without saying that there are notable differences in philosophy between the American and Japanese approach to animation and perhaps nowhere are these differences clearer than in an instance like this; where a long standing American institution, one we have all seen animated dozens of times over throughout the years, is subjected to the full anime treatment then brought back to the US with your choice of original Japanese dialog track, English dub and the option to run subtitles beneath either.
Right off the bat I have to confess that some elements work here in the format, perhaps even succeed while others fall flat.  Let’s take a look at some of these nuances in the hopes of determining whether this collection is right for you.  We’ll begin with the pacing of the piece; which can only be described as anime.  If that means nothing to you, imagine an episodic story that is serialized in the strictest sense of the term.  Episodes can (and frequently do) end on absolute cliffhangers with no hope of resolve until future episodes in the arc.  Minimal time is spent catching the viewer up on past events.  In short, this is a single tale broken up into 12 individual chapters rather than 12 separate episodes comprising a single season as is common here in the US.
Furthermore anime takes a very methodical and plodding approach to its storytelling, often giving the impression that it is under no pressure whatsoever to hurry the prose along.  As such it’s not uncommon to encounter entire episodes that advance the overall plot no further than 18-minutes of a fight sequence (complete with blood and intensity).  Again, not right or wrong, just different from the western school of thought on animation.
Visually the piece is all eastern; which is to say beautiful throughout.  Never mind super saturated color pallets or anything “cartoony” for that matter.  The look of the show is almost like portrait art set into motion.  Madhouse truly spared no expense in bringing its renowned artistic quality to the franchise.
Exposition falls onto the “show” not “tell” side of the coin and as a result don’t expect abundant dialog here.  Many episodes contain only a handful of spoken sentences and are instead visually intensive with multiple flashbacks and points of view to consider.
I have to say that about my own biggest complaint to the series stems from the fact that the titular character is portrayed in a light that long-standing fans of the material may find askew.  The bestial, short, stout and foul tempered Logan/Wolverine of comic lore is absent entirely here and in his place is a tall, lean mullet-sporting mutant.  Yes they’ve included his extra-sensitive sniffer, fangs and trademark adamantium claws, but the character is rife with the cold, quiet distantly disturbed quality that seems to be a staple among lead anime roles.  Combine this with the minimal dialog and (with the English actor especially) a delivery that sounds forcefully monotone and emotionless and you come away with a Logan who is equal parts Cloud Strife and Neo from the Matrix.
All in all, despite how it may seem by my critique, I do find the process of witnessing the translation of a beloved franchise through a different philosophy of animation to be an enjoyable one.  The price is certainly affordable to warrant adding the complete anime to any collection though I don’t suppose it will be loved by any and all fans of the Wolverine/ X-Men franchise.  Going into it expecting anime that just so happens to involve Marvel characters makes it far more enjoyable than expecting Madhouse’s interpretation of say X-Men Evolution.
Engaging Material That's Decidedly Eastern in Execution Engaging Material That's Decidedly Eastern in Execution Engaging Material That's Decidedly Eastern in Execution Engaging Material That's Decidedly Eastern in Execution Engaging Material That's Decidedly Eastern in Execution

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Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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