My dreams sort of came true when it was announced that Marvel Entertainment would team up with the Japanese animation studio Madhouse to deliver stylish television cartoon series starring some legendary superheroes.
The latest complete sets to arrive on DVD, Blade Anime and Wolverine Anime (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, not rated, $19.99 each), each offer two discs comprising a dozen 23-minute episodes loaded with anime-inspired action.
In the past, I've chronicled my beef with the lazy superhero cartoon design seen in many of the stand-alone animated movies spearheaded by Marvel and DC. The only standouts, including "Batman: Gotham Knight" and "Halo Legends," caught my attention because of some amazing work from a stable of anime artists.
So this appears to be a perfect opportunity to let sequential art shine through the animated format.
Let's start with "Wolverine Anime," a series highlighting the feral mutant's tragic time in Japan and his attempt to rescue his true love, Mariko Yashida.
Legendary comic writer Warren Ellis crafts a template for the adventure based on the work of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's miniseries from the 1980s.
Unfortunately, the totally miscast voice of actor Milo ("Heroes") Ventimiglia as Logan is twinned with a horribly misshapen, elongated and lanky design for Wolverine. The gruff, growling Canuck no longer resembles the compact, squatting bull in a china shop fans know and universally love. And is that a mullet? Yikes!
All is not lost, as viewers get an M-rated video game's worth of bloody, hack-and-slash violence with plenty of stylish killing as our hero pulls out his Adamantium claws and challenges the crime organization Kuzuryu and A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) terrorists.
Viewers will find lots of grunting, cries of anguish, perspiration droplets on brows and strategic sprays of blood along with beautiful females with doe eyes to appreciate. Guests such as Assassin Yukio and X-Men's Cyclops might hold the comic-book fan's interest.
I also enjoyed a pair of early episodes that highlight a satisfying fight between Wolverine and a Soviet mutant, the mercenary Omega Red.
Next, "Blade Anime" does not disappoint on any level, with the sword-wielding half-human, half-vampire Blade realized for his ultraviolent mission to stop his fanged brethren.
Warren Ellis offers an adaptation of Blade's conflicted mythos (including his origin) through an adventure across Southeast Asia that also introduces Far Eastern mythology and lore tied to blood-sucking predators.
The story finds our hero out to stop mortal enemy Deacon Frost from unleashing a vampire civil war upon the world and, while in pursuit of this supervillain (who killed his mother) he runs into a bizarre creature in nearly every episode. There are tentacled torsos that split from bodies, winged harpies with blood-sucking tongues, an army of pint-sized red demons let out of a bottle, a variety of creepy mutant creatures and even an organic steel vampire to cross Blade's exotic paths.
The series is clearly in the comfort zone of Madhouse (consider its work on "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust") with some incredibly visceral battles, explosive vampire kills (reference the animators' work on Blade's deadly sword technique and residual move used against a werewolf and a Watertiger) and unusual camera perspectives.
Actor Harold ("Lost") Perrineau does an admirable job as the voice of Blade, while the character design deviates from the 1970s Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan version. This Blade is bald, with cranial tattoos, tinted Bono-style glasses and a mustache and goatee. He looks like a meaner version of actor Wesley Snipes' film portrayal of the vampire killer.
Viewers will get hooked quickly on the awesome series and definitely won't complain about a team-up with Wolverine in "Claws and Blades."
Best extras: From "Wolverine Anime," pop in Disc 2 and watch a 30-minute round-table discussion (subtitled in English) with key production staff (including directors Hiroshi Aoyama and Fuminori Kizaki) about Madhouse's interpretation of Wolverine and the X-Men along with a look at the animation process.
From "Blade Anime," Disc 2 contains another 30 minutes' worth of subtitled interviews with director Mitsuyuki Masuhara and production staff explaining many of the creative and artistic choices made to bring the Daywalker to animated life. It's mandatory viewing for the anime fan.
Additionally, but not nearly as impressive, each set offers a pair of featurettes (roughly nine minutes long) tied to the character's transformation to the anime style and a look at each hero's personality and motivations.
In all four, look to interviews with pop-culture powerhouse creator Jeph Loeb (head of television for Marvel Entertainment) and Mr. Ellis for the most relevant insights to the series.
Also, each featurette tempts viewers with glimpses of comic art from creators including Adam Kubert, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont and some dynamite black-and-white illustrations from Gene Colan.
Read all about it: For "Wolverine Anime," viewers must pick up the trade paperback Wolverine ($16.99) collecting the four-issue Miller/Claremont miniseries from 1982 as well as Uncanny X-Men Nos. 172 and 173.
For "Blade Anime," I suggest going back to the hybrid's roots and appreciating his battles against the most powerful vampire of them all. He co-stars often in the three-volume, trade paperback collections Essential Tomb of Dracula (averaging $14.99 per book). The set compiles the entire 70-issue run of the series and stars awesome art from Mr. Colan.
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