Marvel Comics’ Wolverine is one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. This is for one simple reason—he’s really freakin’ cool. He’s the loner, the rebel, the tough guy, the man with the mysterious past. Throw in unbreakable metal claws, heightened senses, fast healing, and a berserker rage he just barely keeps in check, and you’ve got a hero for the ages.
What casual fans might not know is that Wolverine spent several years in Japan, where he studied the ways of the samurai. He made many enemies in Japan, but it’s also where he met the love of his life, Mariko. Therefore, many of Wolverine’s adventures over the years have had an “East meets West” flavor, which makes it natural that the character be incorporated into the wonderfully weird world of anime.
Marvel Anime: Wolverine begins with Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, in New York romancing his beloved Mariko. Some masked men attack and abduct her. Cut to a year later, when Mariko resurfaces in Japan with a powerful yakuza crime family. Wolverine travels to Japan to rescue her, charging headfirst into a criminal conspiracy that runs deeper and deeper. Along the way, Wolverine teams with female ninja Yukio, and battles some familiar faces, including the cyborg Omega Red and the mad scientists of A.I.M.
Make no mistake, this is not an American cartoon that’s sort-of like anime. This is full-on anime, produced by the appropriately named studio Madhouse, creators of Trigun, Perfect Blue, and Death Note, among many, many others. Expect the anime usual—lush visuals, stylized action, insane fashions, etc. The basic hook is “Canadian superhero visits Japan and takes on the mob.” (See, comic book fans? I remembered he’s Canadian!) Each episode follows the same basic pattern: Wolverine and Yukio fight a bad guy, uncover the next layer in the conspiracy, and then it ends with a cliffhanger for the next episode, usually with Wolverine about to fight another bad guy. The pattern repeats until we get to the big finale.
The approach to the character is kept pretty simple. Wolverine is down-to-Earth, single-minded in his quest to reunite with his lady love. He’s “plainclothes” Wolvie, so the endless “blue-and-yellow versus brown-and-tan” debates will have to wait for another day. His crazy hair is crazier than usual, but this wouldn’t be anime without crazy hair, right? Yukio is really cool, decked out in her all-black ninja duds. With Wolverine as the hero, she fills the “mysterious stranger” role. The villains are mostly stock gangster types, with the occasional super-powered heavy thrown in. Writer Warren Ellis (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) keeps things mostly at street-level heroics, with the occasional killer robot. Later episodes have the action moving to Wolvie’s old stomping grounds in the fictional nation of Madripoor, where one interesting episode breaks the pattern as Wolverine and Yukio struggle along the deathtrap-laden “Hell Road.”
A big draw is the action. Many of the martial arts fights are nicely choreographed and animated, with fluid movements and hard hits. At other times, though, it does the money-and-time-saving freeze frames during the action, seen often in TV anime. Know that this cartoon is not one for the litter kids, as there is a surprising amount of blood and killing. There’s no “he only uses his claws on robots” business this time around.
All 12 episodes are found on this two disc set. The standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby 5.1 Surround mix are solid, with bright, vivid colors and clean, clear sound. A short but interesting featurette is the only extra.
Marvel Anime: Wolverine promises an anime version of Wolverine, and that’s just what it delivers. It won’t be anything new for anime fans, but it nonetheless has a lot of what those fans enjoy. It might be too different for comic book traditionalists, but those with an open mind about a slightly different interpretation of a popular character can find something to enjoy. If you’re not already a comic book or anime fan, I wouldn’t recommend this a starting point.