Review copies provided by the studio.
When the Marvel/Madhouse anime projects were announced a few years ago, I thought Wolverine was going to be a one-off movie, starring an extremely off-model Wolverine, and I had no idea Blade was even under consideration. As it turns out, Wolverine and Blade were both ongoing series, and they’ve already aired in America on G4. I only know this now because the series are being released on DVD, which the 99% of the nation that can’t watch G4 anymore might appreciate.
Following that original teaser, most of the responses I heard regarding Wolverine were complaints about the design of the character. And, while Madhouse abandoned the Wolverine-in-name-only look from the original teaser, the design for the regular series is still likely to annoy purists. Wolverine should not be tall, thin, and fifteen. He probably shouldn’t be voiced by a young, handsome actor trying to sound gritty, either. The justification for the redesign is that Madhouse has externalized Wolverine’s inner “James Dean” persona, which is certainly an odd rationalization. Isn’t Wolverine supposed to be Dirty Harry?
The story (written by Warren Ellis), however, does bring the character closer to familiar territory. The series is essentially an adaptation of the original Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries, stretched out over twelve episodes. Ellis uses the extra space to touch on various other elements we’ve seen in the comics. Flashbacks to his secret agent days, a Weapon X callback or two, a new female sidekick, Madripoor, and…Omega Red? Yes, there now exists in the world a big-budget anime project that prominently features Omega Red. And Madhouse does an incredible job bringing the Jim Lee design to life. I wish the rest of the designs were as loyal to the original comics, but I guess that’s my western bias showing through.
If you want uncensored Wolverine claw action, this is for you. However, the action often comes at the expense of story. The plots of several episodes are amazingly thin, testing the patience of anyone who doesn’t want to see twenty straight minutes of Wolverine cutting up Madripoor pirates. Obviously, adapting four comic issues into 250 minutes of television is going to require some filler, but the pacing of the show is absolutely glacial at times.
Blade isn’t a specific adaptation, which leaves Ellis free to do a “wandering warrior” take on the character. According to the DVD extras, the vampires in the story are taken from various vampire myths found in Asia, which is a welcome break from the standard Victorian interpretation. These vampires are absolutely freaky, and perfectly suited for Madhouse’s animation style. Blade’s been redesigned with head and face tattoos, along with earrings, making me wonder if this came from the Japanese producers or Marvel employees who wanted to add “edge” to the project. He doesn’t look totally ridiculous, thankfully. His redesign is easier to accept than Wolverine’s, at least.
Ellis doesn’t seem to have a novel take on the character, he’s essentially a brooding, silent hunter throughout the entire series, but the flashbacks in the earlier episodes help to flesh him out. I don’t know if this was ever established in the comics, but in the series, Blade’s partial motivation for hunting vampires is to make amends to the people he killed before he was able to control his own urges. Young Blade is an interesting, sympathetic figure…who’s barely in the show. Adult Blade mutely kills vampires, travels to another Asian location, then kills more vampires. The action’s great, the animation is beautiful, but like Wolverine, the focus is rarely on plot or character. As pure popcorn entertainment, they’re enjoyable, though. I’d again like to repeat my request for a Spider-Man anime, or maybe even Daredevil. If we can get an anime Omega Red, why not an anime Bushwacker?