Wolverine — Looking at the 1982 Comic Book the Recent Anime was Based On (and guess what Marvel used in the text?)

My blog is an anime/manga blog with the occasional look at Japanese culture.  Today, I’m going to take a small departure from the norm and go back to the 4-issue 1982 Wolverine comic book series from Marvel, from whence the 2011 Wolverine anime used as a foundation. Since I don’t own the original four comic books, I’m using the Wolverine graphic novel, which also includes Uncanny X-Men #172 & #173 in addition to the four Wolverine comic book issues.  This piece will focus on the Wolverine comics though I’m thinking I’ll do the X-Men part in a 2nd piece.  Since I’m betting many of you never read the original comic books nor the graphic novel reprint, I’ll do my normal summary/review format.

Update: This comic book series was also the basis for the 2013 The Wolverine movie.

SPOILER Summary/Synopsis:

After Wolverine is forced to kill a bear that had been illegally shot with an arrow, he takes days to track down the hunter responsible and brings the man to the authorities. After doing his civic duty, Logan finds that the mail he’d sent to his Japanese girlfriend Mariko had been returned unopened.  A call to the embassy reveals that Mariko had been summoned back to Japan. When his calls to her in Japan result in others hanging up on him, he goes to Japan himself, hooking up with his immigration buddy Asano, who lets him know that Mariko was forced into an obligation marriage after her father Shigen returned from a very long absence.

Donning his Wolverine gear, Logan heads to the Yashida estate and finds Mariko in the garden. He’s horrified to learn she’s been abused and when her husband Hideki shows up, Wolverine knows that the husband is to blame.  Mariko prevents him from killing Hideki, so Wolverine prepares to leave, only to be attacked and hit by multiple, poisoned shuriken. He’s then taken to see Shigen, who’s flanked by Mariko and Hideki on a small stage with a couple of sumo in front acting as guards. Shigen is impressed with Logan’s Japanese skills but does not like his gaijin attitude. However, Shigen is willing to allow Logan to prove Mariko right by fighting him in combat using boken practice swords since Shigen does not feel Logan worthy enough to fight with a katana.

The fight starts and while Logan is skilled with a sword, Shigen is an expert and begins beating Logan.  Realizing that Shigen’s blows are striking in places that will eventually kill him, Logan discards the sword and uses the claws. This action dishonors him in Mariko’s eyes and the subsequent beating he takes at Shigen’s hands causes her to reject Logan. Cast out on the street for dead, Logan awakes to find some Japanese thugs reading to do some damage on this gaijin. Before they or Logan can act, they drop dead as a result of a strong woman named Yukio, who’s taken a liking to Logan.

Logan passes out again but is awakened in an abandoned building by Yukio as the two come under heavy attack by ninja assassins from a group known as The Hand. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Logan ends up taking out the lot of them and then flees with the mildly wounded Yukio to his hotel room where she discovers he heals very quickly. Yukio decides to show Logan that she’s skilled in the art of love as well as war and though Logan finds her attractive, his love for Mariko is stronger. As such, he leaves her though she is sure that “Logan-chan” will be hers as she finds Mariko unworthy of him.

Sometime later, Yukio pays Shigen a visit in disguise and she’s not happy that as Shigen’s chief assassin, The Hand were playing for real in their fight the night before. She takes out one of The Hand members who’d been hiding nearby as an annoyed Shigen reminds her that she is his servant and thus he can do with her as he wills. Nevertheless, he explains that had The Hand attack not been real, Logan would have noticed and Shigen’s plans to have rival Katsuyori killed would be ruined.  However, once Katsuyori is dead, then Shigen wants Logan killed as well.

Yukio’s story on Katsuyori is that he’s a crime boss who’s death will free her.  Thus, the two of them infiltrate the Katsuyori residence while Shigen’s official representatives of Mariko and Hideki arrive for peace talks. Katsuyori has arranged for them to watch a traditional Japanese play Chushingura. Logan, in full Wolverine gear, sees that this is a trap to kill Mariko and Hideki and thus springs into action, going berserk and slaughtering his opponents in front of Mariko, something he’d never wanted her to see.  Katsuyori flees with his wife but Yukio is there to make sure he meets his death.

Logan participates in some underground fight with a sumo and wins as Yukio cheers him on. When Asano arrives to get Logan to help him, Logan goes with Yukio instead. Yukio takes the very drunk Logan out to the railroad tracks where they are nearly killed by a passing bullet train except that Logan had just enough wits about him to sense the danger and get out of the way.  He passes out and Yukio decides to protect him so when the Hand arrives, unhappy with her progress, she battles them. She wakes Logan up but when he groggily calls out Mariko’s name, she kicks him unconscious.

Returning to the hotel, Yukio is frustrated that Mariko is first in Logan’s heart and she knows her actions won’t be forgiven by Shigen. When the hotel door opens, Yukio hides as Asano enters. Meanwhile, Logan comes to and returns to his hotel room where he discovers Asano is dead. The scent on the blade is the same poison that affected him when he first arrived in Japan. He realizes that Yukio has been playing him all along and since she’s in the room, he tells her to kill him now. She flees and he pursues and catches her.  She tells him she loves him as he loves her since they are kindred spirits. Before Logan can do anything, the Hand attacks en mass and Logan is forced to kill all his attackers.

Logan realizes he’s failed Mariko and Yukio by accepting Shigen’s premise that he’s nothing but an animal in human form. He decides to change this and has a message sent to Shigen that Wolverine is coming. Shigen gets Wolverine’s message quite clearly and tells his advisers that honor demands he stay and fight Wolverine. The Hand does manage to capture Yukio, who is brought before Shigen. He gives her a severe beating but is stopped by Mariko. Before Shigen can do more, word comes that Wolverine has arrived. Hideki takes Mariko and flees, only to encounter Wolverine, who’s just slaughtered many foes. Hideki holds a gun to Mariko’s head but is killed when Yukio arrives and takes him out. Yukio kisses Logan and leaves him as he’s unable to forgive her for Asano’s death but unable to repay her for Mariko’s life.

Logan faces Shigen, who has a real katana, and the two battle. Logan gets the upper hand and kills Shigen.  Mariko enters and takes her father’s sword. Logan knows by rights, his actions should make them enemies. However, she had already come to know her father as evil and her husband as an unworthy abuser. She knows Logan’s actions were honorable and thus she hands him the family sword and her love.  After he heals, months later, they send a wedding invitation to the X-Men in New York.

Thoughts/Review:

As I thought when I watched the Wolverine anime, I had read the first issue of the Wolverine comic book but for whatever reason, I never read any more and never owned it.

Anyway, one interesting decision the anime producers made was to abandon the Wolverine as an X-Men aspect.  The anime always had Logan wearing civilian clothing and nearly everything seemed to take place over a period of a couple of days (or so it seemed to me).  In the comic book, Logan wears his Wolverine costume a great deal of the time, though a good deal of that, he’s without his head gear.

As to the stories, it is easy to see why the anime writers chose this comic book as the foundation for the anime.  The comic book doesn’t bother explaining Logan and Mariko previously meeting and falling in love so at least the anime writers decided to fill in that gap to a small degree.  The comic book does repeatedly remind us at the beginning of each issue who Logan is — Wolverine. The anime writers do that in the beginning but then don’t have to do it again because they assume folks will either pick it up if they are late arrivals or will go back to the beginning and see the explanation.  I guess that’s the difference between printed, monthly media and weekly animated media.

One area the comic book excels in is overall story.  To be fair to the anime writers, they had twelve episodes to fill and this comic series wouldn’t do that, even with padding, and remain accurate.  So, as I said in my anime review, that story suffered from many pointless, side-track battles whereas in the comic book, the battles all have purpose.  Having Logan go up against a ninja organization in the comic books is much more interesting than having Logan go up against stupid thugs in the anime. The comic book doesn’t bother introducing other powerful mutants or the like because ninja are enough.

That’s not to say the comic book story is perfect.  In is a bit disjointed at times, especially between issues and that’s mainly due to the comic book deciding to reintroduce Logan as Wolverine each time.  However, the overall story of Logan coming to Japan for Mariko, Shigen manipulating Logan into dishonoring himself in front of Mariko, Shigen having Yukio manipulate Logan to remove Shigen’s rival, Yukio’s falling in love with Logan, and Logan’s subsequent discovery of the truth and return to take down Shigen works much better.  Plus, while the anime story was a simply “rescue Mariko” story, the comic story was much more than that as Logan had to decide if he were truly the beast unworthy of Mariko or if he were a man and an honorable one at that.

It may surprise folks to know that these four issues of Wolverine were CHOCK-FULL of Japanese honorifics.  ^_^  I kid you not and this is from 1982, when anime and manga didn’t have much of a foothold in the U.S.  While U.S. publishers ran in stark fear of Japanese honorifics for years (and in many cases still do today), Marvel Comics and writer Chris Claremont (and Frank Miller as well since he apparently had a hand in crafting the story) embrace Japanese honorifics and culture heavily.  They don’t bother educating the audience on honorific usage either (which I think could have been done somewhere either at the beginning or end of the comic book) but instead go full steam ahead.

So, Logan initially affectionately addresses Mariko as “Mariko-chan” before seeing her battered face and switching to the more serious “Mariko” is written.  Chris apparently figures that even if you don’t understand the meaning of the “chan” honorific, you’ll understand that it was being used to denote closeness and affection.  Ditto when Yukio addresses Logan as “Logan-chan.”  The honorific “san” is used quite a bit and the honorific “sama” shows up some too.  Again, Chris expects the story to carry the weight of the different honorifics without needing to define them.  Chris apparently decided that the “dono” honorific might be a bit too much because instead of Shigen being addressed as “Shigen-dono,” he’s addressed as “Lord Shigen” (and ditto for Mariko who’s addressed occasionally as “Lady Mariko”).

Chris doesn’t just stop with the usage of Japanese honorifics.  There’s the frequent use of the term “gaijin” when Shigen, Hideki, or other Japanese opponents address Logan.  Again, the term isn’t defined, but Chris uses his story to reflect that they are being insulting to Logan.  There are other Japanese terms as well and even some whole sentences in Japanese, though spelled out in Romaji.  So much Japanese would seemingly turn off readers, but clearly that was NOT the case and the comic series was so well received that not only would the X-Men have a 2-issue followup story, but years later, the Japanese would use the story themselves for the anime series AND the upcoming new Wolverine live-action movie will apparently be based on this comic series. ^_^

I do highly recommend this comic series for those who liked the Wolverine anime or even for those who didn’t but like the Wolverine character.  While I no longer get money for Amazon sales (thank you greedy politicians), I’m providing a link so you know the exact graphic novel to pick up and purchase through someone else who can get a commission on the sale.

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