After the Iron Man debacle, I can’t say I was looking forward to Wolverine. After all, it was being made by the same studio (Madhouse) and had the same art style that Iron Man used. And to top it all off, the promo wasn’t exactly flattering in terms of animation quality. On the other hand, there were some things that gave me a little hope. Most importantly, the director was different. Also, near the end of Iron Man‘s run, Jon pointed out that it behaved like a brainless action movie. While that doesn’t work so well for a story that features Tony Stark, there are plenty of fun Wolverine stories that are stupid action plots. If Madhouse decided to go as crazy with Wolverine as they did with Highschool of the Dead, maybe it could actually work.
Unfortunately, the first episode was noticeably worse than Iron Man‘s (which was at least above average), and I have my doubts that it will get better from here.
Check out my detailed thoughts after the break.
What I Liked
Action Scenes: I’m going to have to temper this a little. The fight scenes are decent and certainly a nice distraction from the major flaws in this episode, but they aren’t eye-catching. Wolverine’s sword fight with Mariko’s father is the clear stand-out (the choreography is actually quite good), though his creative use of a beer can against the cloaked A.I.M. members was pretty nice, too. I just wish the fights were a little more brutal. This is Wolverine, after all. Leaving a trail of blood spray and missing limbs is what he does best, but the most violent imagery seems to be reserved for Wolverine’s injuries. Everything else is fairly tame.
Crime Island: Yeah, I know, an entire island nation-state built by a bunch of cooperating criminals sounds pretty silly, but it’s just silly enough to work for a show about Wolverine. Why? Well, first I’ll take a quote from Chris Sims’ review of the Wolverine: Weapon X comic book.
Wolverine, after all, works best in the same way that a lot of heroes do: when he’s utterly outmatched and comes out ahead anyway. The problem is that after 30 years of stories about a berserker Canadian samurai secret agent killing machine super-hero with unbreakable bones that can heal from a mortal wound in a matter of panels, it’s gotten awfully hard to raise the stakes. But then comes Aaron, and instead of wringing enjoyment by playing off Wolverine’s unbeatable status and inevitable victory–a technique that literary historians are no doubt going to be referring to as The Ennis Method–Aaron finds a way to outmatch him with a gang of villains that are similarly enhanced, but with guns that shoot cancer and claws made of lasers.
One more time, that’s: guns that shoot cancer and claws made of lasers.
The short version: by allowing yourself to come up with absurd ideas, you can pretty easily think of ways to challenge Wolverine and have a lot of fun in the process. Crime Island is brilliantly simple yet packed with possibilities, which makes it the perfect location for Wolverine to get stranded in. Imagine this: Wolverine’s girlfriend gets kidnapped and taken to the tallest skyscraper on Crime Island (which, of course, would be the center of the island). Wolverine has to go there and beat every criminal organization on the island until he makes enough friends and clears a big enough swath through enemy territory to finally make it to the skyscraper and have a battle to the death with whoever the Main Bad Guy ends up being. Is it stupid? Oh yeah. But could it be really fun? Definitely. And there’s still a possibility that Wolverine will take a similar route.
What I Hated
The Story: Unfortunately, it seems like Wolverine wants to take itself pretty seriously. From the laughably lame romance scene at the beginning (who is this girl, and why does Wolverine care about her?) to the incredibly boring infiltration mission near the end, Wolverine really struggles to find anything interesting to do. As I mentioned with Crime Island, the pieces are there. The writers just can’t seem to figure out how to put them together.
And I know I’ve said this already, but it bears repeating: who the hell is Mariko?
The Characters: Probably my biggest issue with the first episode is that Wolverine doesn’t behave like Wolverine. At the risk of sounding like an entitled comics fan, Logan should be an impulsive, sardonic lone wolf with a lot of rage bubbling beneath the surface. The Logan in this show is just…I’m not really sure. He’s clearly supposed to be romantic (even though the corny dialogue doesn’t get that across very well), and he cracks jokes a couple times. So maybe he’s a lighter take on the character? But then he gets really stoic and serious whenever the plot starts moving; and near the end of the sword fight, he flies into a rage. So what kind of personality is Madhouse going for, exactly? Generic shounen anti-hero? Whatever he is, he’s not very fun to watch.
Also, why introduce a completely new (and useless) character like Mariko and skip over all the initial stuff that happened between her and Logan? If I don’t know why they fell in love in the first place, then I’m going to have a very hard time caring if Wolverine manages to get her back. If Madhouse wanted to start in medias res like this, why not choose a character with an existing history? Like…I dunno…Psylocke? That way you can have a Japanese love interest (playing up the East-meets-West theme) who not only fits well with Wolverine’s personality but also can do more than just stand around and gaze wistfully at him. Plus, you give yourself a nice way to segue into the X-Men anime you’re releasing next season.
While it’s not terrible, the first episode of Wolverine is definitely disappointing. What’s most frustrating is that there are brief flashes of a good show surrounded by all the dullness. If Madhouse can just focus on those good ideas and really flesh them out, Wolverine could be quite a bit better than Iron Man. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.