Wolverine's stand-alone adventures often struggle for traction on this show. The hope going into "Code of Conduct" was that an exploration of his Japanese links would change that. Beyond the comics themselves, few X-Men incarnations have paid the Nippon connection much mind (a couple of episodes of the 90s animated series were about it), which is a pity because it brings a lot of depth to the character. In an effort to tame his bestial side, Wolverine embraces the code of the samurai, an ideal he can strive for but never achieve. It makes for great drama--or at least the decent foundation for a filler episode. Unfortunately, Wolverine and the X-Men fails to capitalize on it.
"Code of Conduct" relies on a fairly clichéd set-up: an old rival from the past returning to wreak revenge. Batman: The Animated Series played with a similar idea and attained supremely engaging results. Here, it just comes across as by-the-numbers. The Silver Samurai (voiced by Keone Young) kidnaps the X-Men in an effort to force Wolverine (voiced by Steve Blum) to fight him. Rogue (voiced by Kieren van den Blink) tags along in a brief nod to a similar run in the comics back in the 1980s, and Director Boyd Kirkland also includes Wolverine's love Mariko (voiced by Gwendoline Yeo), now married to the Silver Samurai and torn between her heart and her duty.
Mariko actually makes for the episode's best subplot, giving Logan someone to pine for (Jean Grey hasn't been on his mind much, it seems) while granting his conflict with the Silver Samurai something other than honor to drive it forward. That's fortunate because the notions of Japanese culture on display here quickly descend into gibberish. "Code of Conduct" tosses around catch phrases like "bushido" and "yakuza" with very little semblance of what they mean… not a huge deal in a children's show, of course, though it does render the ensuing action a little more pointless.
Then there's the fact that the yakuza take out the X-Men with deceptive ease… mostly to put the plot in motion, but leaving awkward questions in their wake (like how a band of normal humans could defeat them so easily when a number of heavy hitters have failed to do so). Kirkland follows it up with some perfunctory fight scenes, a few flashbacks and a cameo from Professor X (voiced by Jim Ward), who helps Wolverine get his mojo back before the big showdown with the Samurai. Rogue has a little fun absorbing the abilities of the ninja who attack them--reminding us that she can steal memories and talents as well as super powers--though her subsequent martial arts bad assery focuses too much on looking cool rather than engaging us more imaginatively.
Blum does what he can to illuminate this corner of Wolverine's soul, and the sense of aching tragedy between Logan and Mariko remains more or less intact. The Samurai, unfortunately, comes across as an arrogant buffoon, failing to measure up to some of the other great villains of the series. Wolverine also shows far too much respect for the yakuza backing the Samurai up, trusting their sense of honor to give the X-Men back if he defeats their champion. It feels too convenient, further adding to the "Code of Conduct's" perfunctory nature.
Luckily, it's a stand-alone episode, which means it can be safely ignored. But the bushido aspects of Wolverine's personality rank among the best elements of the X-Men, and with this show doing so well, it feels like an opportunity wasted. The MRD is back next week, marking a return to business as usual and presumably upping the ante considerably. It's just a pity that this little cul-de-sac couldn't provide more illumination into the character after whom the series is named.