Wolverine has faced many challenges in his long life, but he’s also found love on several occasions. Logan has loved many women, with one of his most enduring relationships being with Mariko Yashida. Their relationship is essential to understanding who Wolverine is as a person because Mariko is a physical representation of his relationship with Japan. The Comic Vault is taking a look into the nature of their dynamic in order to see how Mariko inspired Wolverine to become a better version of himself.
Wolverine and Mariko first met when the X-Men were called to Japan to stop the terrorist Moses Magnum. Mariko came from Clan Yashida, a family within the Yakuza. She was the daughter of Shingen Yashida and had ties to the criminal underworld. This didn’t stop Wolverine from falling in love with her and after their first meeting he gave her a chrysanthemum to remember him by. The flower is an important part of Japanese culture, so Logan’s decision was based around wanting to know her on a more personal level.
Mariko became attracted to Wolverine as well, to the point that she would visit him frequently in the US. Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s Wolverine did a phenomenal job of adding depth to their relationship. Logan returned to Japan to see Mariko, only to find out that her father married her off to another member of the Yakuza. Even though her husband physically abused her, Mariko felt honour bound to continue the marriage.
Shingen manipulated Wolverine into giving into his rage, which caused him to be involved in the assassination of a rival gang member. Mariko witnessed Wolverine in a feral state, making her afraid of him. Mariko eventually discovered that her father was honourless. She planned to slay him and commit seppuku in order to maintain the honour of her family. Wolverine averted this by killing Shigen in fair combat, thus preserving Mariko’s honour and demonstrating his respect for traditional Japanese culture.
Mariko saw Logan as a principled warrior, with the two of them agreeing to marry. However, the marriage was called off when Mariko was under the mind control of the supervillain Mastermind. When she broke free, Wolverine and Mariko continued their relationship, but she couldn’t commit to him fully until she’d cleaned up the criminal legacy of her family.
Tragedy struck again when Mariko was poisoned with blowfish venom on the order of her rival Matsu’o Tsurayaba. To preserve her honour and to avoid a painful death, Mariko asked Wolverine to mercy kill her. Logan reluctantly agreed. He chose to honour her memory by mutilating Tsurayaba on the anniversary of her death every year.
What does Mariko represent for Wolverine?
I’ve already talked about Wolverine’s status as a failed samurai. Mariko is the physical manifestation of his quest for honour. As a ronin, Logan felt he needed to prove something and looked to Mariko as an opportunity to better himself. An example of this is when Logan dreamed that he was a lone samurai facing down an entire army in order to reach Mariko in a castle. Despite his most valiant efforts, Logan was overwhelmed and the dream version of Mariko chose to kill him, seeing him as nothing more than an honourless dog.
The dream was an extension of Logan’s self-loathing and disgust at the animal within. It could be argued that he held Mariko on a pedestal, viewing her in an idealised manner.
In the wider bubble of Japanese culture, Wolverine and Mariko’s relationship could be likened to the story of Orihime and Hikoboshi. This story is at the centre of Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival. Every year, people celebrate Tanabata by writing wishes on paper and placing them on bamboo branches. The festival is a celebration of love.
As the Tanabata story goes, Orihime was the daughter of the Sky King Tentei and wove stunning dresses every day. Her father was impressed with his daughter’s work, but Orihime was sad because she couldn’t meet and fall in love with anyone.
Tentei arranged for his daughter to meet a cow herder called Hikoboshi. The two instantly fell in love and married quickly. The marriage was happy, but Orihime no longer wove cloth and Hikoboshi let his cows wander. In anger, Tentei separated them across the river of The Milky Way, forbidding the two lovers from seeing each other. Yet Orihime’s tears moved her father and he allowed them to meet every year on the 7th day of the 7th month.
When Orihime and Hikoboshi tried to meet for the first time they couldn’t cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime’s tears called down a flock of magpies that made a bridge with their wings and she was finally reunited with her husband.
Like Orihime and Hikoboshi, Wolverine and Mariko are star-crossed lovers separated through culture, family and events beyond their control. This didn’t stop them from finding their way back to each other.
After decades of being dead, Mariko was recently resurrected as the Scarlet Samurai. She came face to face with an older version of Wolverine and a world that was different to the one she left. With her resurrection came a desire to live by her own terms. Mariko had spent her life living up to her father’s standards, while trying to undo the criminal history of the Yashida clan.
Mariko’s return opens the door for a variety of new stories and character development. Old and new readers have been given the opportunity to see how resourceful the character is. Mariko’s status as a female samurai not only makes her unique, but her ties to the Yashida family make her a force to be reckoned with.
Therefore, Wolverine’s connection to Mariko can be seen as a metaphor for his relationship with Japan. No matter how chaotic and messy his life has become, Wolverine will always be drawn back to the place where he can find a moment of peace.
Mariko is certainly one of the great loves of Wolverine’s life, but who is his true love? Here’s my opinion.