Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If You Like That...

Quick note about additional translated work by Koike/Kojima.

Dark Horse has available Samurai Executioner and Path of the Assassin.

Samurai Executioner is the story of Yamada Asaemon, executioner of 'common' criminals for the government in Edo (the capital, Tokyo nowadays) and sword-tester. He is a character who eventually runs across Itto Ogami in Lone Wolf and Cub, but he has a ten-volume manga all his own. He is honorable and expert in his way, as Ogami was, but his circumstances are quite different. He basically addresses many of the questions about samurai society, bushido, and life in general from the standpoint of his official position. The stories each tend to stand on their own, with no overall narrative arc. But each tale is fascinating and the artwork is basically of the same quality and with the same extremes as Lone Wolf. There was something of a melancholy air over the whole thing knowing how this noble character was eventually going to end up, though that finale isn't contained in this work.

Path of the Assassin is probably the weakest entry. It is a good story, and contains quite a bit of action tending towards ninja (shinobi) intrigues as opposed to straight up samurai dueling, the staple of Lone Wolf. But the story is about the friendship and drama surrounding Tokugawa Ieyasu (real historical figure), and Hattori Hanzo (historical figure with a lot of myth surrounding him). So it is more of a history lesson than anything else much of the time. For readers growing up in Japan some or most of this is at least vaguely familiar, and it might be fascinating for them to see the intrigues going on behind-the-scenes to make the historical events play out, but for MOST Western readers it's probably too dense and too dry. Their are endless lists of generals and lords, lots of battles and political manuevering. Dark Horse does an admirable job helping keep track of it all for English readers, but it is just kind of an esoteric subject... for real Japanophiles, samurai or tactical goobs, or fans/followers of studies in history and government. I qualify in some capacity for all of that, but even I find it dry going, if not actually confusing. The realistic grounding of the shinobi skills is pretty cool though. Much the way fantastic aspects of Lone Wolf were handled.

So fans of Kozure Okami should run, not walk to get Samurai Executioner. With Path of The Assassin, you should look over a volume or two to make sure it works for you.

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