Lone Wolf & Cub
This is the infamous tale of former high executioner (the kogi kaishakunin) Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro on there quest across Japan for vengeance against those who have disgraced their family and murdered Itto's wife.
Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima have created this epic cinematic tale about Itto descent along the assassin's road into meifumado (Japanese land of demons) so that he can ultimately take his revenge against the Ura-Yagyu clan who framed him. This tale covers 28 volumes of almost 300 pages each so epic truly is the word. This tale covers 28 volumes of almost 300 pages each so epic truly is the word. Now the first thing that strikes you about this series is Kojima's artwork, which is detailed full of energy and so very bleak and evocative of the Edo-period setting of this tale. The fight scenes are phenomenal with the action looking general fluid and natural, brutal and visceral at the same time. As in most samurai tales the body count is high and the loss of limbs, eyes and the innocence of all around is a staple of these stories. The character designs for all the principal characters in the story are superb and highly individual and striking. The character designs for many of the secondary and incidental are rather samey though, but this does not impact on the drama or depth of the story.
The story is of course what makes an epic so good. It draws you in makes you care about the protagonists, in the really good epics also makes you care for the nemesis and keeps you hooked into the tale. Now Koike is very good with his tales of tarnished humanity and none better than here in Lone Wolf & Cub. Almost everyone that Itto comes into contact with are bitter and worn in some way. The world in which these people inhabit is constricted by the tightly regimented social caste system that appears to be beating everyone down. And the recurrent use of the code of bushido and its ultimate expression of bloody violence in many cases to save a bushi's face all serve to present Edo-period of Japan in a stifling, oppressive environment.
The early parts of the series are episodic in nature: Lone Wolf is given an assassination contract, he outsmarts all people protecting the assassinatie (is that a word?) and then kills whoever he was targeting. Followed by a quick moral about the way of the warrior and Itto walking into the sunset.
This changes over the series focus more on not only the Yagyu clans attempts to silence Itto on his journey, but also on how Itto closes down parts of the Yagyu clan and takes steps to expose their treacherous nature to the Shogunate. There are also the intermittent stories that center on the Cub- Daigoro and these are for me the best segments in the saga. Koike treats these stories really touchingly as Daigoro is a child unlike any other due to his upbringing he is stoic like his father, dauntless and pure. But the innocence of a child has been denied him by the path his father chose, and Koike always manages to make the reader remember that this world that we are reading about is not really appropriate for a child. Of course the closer the end is the more focussed the tale becomes on the rivalry between Ogami Itto and Retsudo Yagyu that started the whole thing in the first place, and their ultimate showdown.
Now this series is a high quality production. Dark Horse publishing realized they had a top property here with a lot of potential for sales outside Japan. The quality of transfer is good, the translation solid with any awkward to translate words left in the Japanese and a glossary provided. The series is also good value with each volume being over 300 pages but most under a retail price of 7.50.
Now I know this review has not been particularly critical and that's because I really cannot find any faults that really impact upon the strength of this series. There are reasons why this series has spawned toys, a computer game (I think), Frank Miller, a TV series and the Babycart series of movies. This really is one of those genre defining series that should be looked into by anyone wanting to read a morality, a saga about one mans quest for vengeance, a study of the degradation of Japan during these years, or just a brutal samurai tale with no mercy. This story is fantastic and deserves the highest award I can give - a shiny nickel.
Fist of the North Star“
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