Lone Wolf and Cub 4

December 7, 2011

Kazuo Koike / Goseki Kojima – Dark Horse – 2000 – 28 volumes

I’ve got several volumes of Wounded Man, Lone Wolf and Cub, and Crying Freeman in my to read pile at the moment. I’m pretty sure the depravity is starting to spread to my unread shoujo series, so I thought I should get some read. Lone Wolf and Cub is the best one, so let’s try that first.

I had forgotten how good this series was. Or this volume was really great. There are four stories in here, and only the second, Unfaithful Retainers, was something I couldn’t get into. Unfaithful Retainers had a lot more to do with the social system in place at the time, specifically hired retainers for samurai families and how corruption devolved the positions into a kind of collective gang. Ogami was hired to help take out several of the retainers, while two children took revenge for their father. It just wasn’t very exciting stuff compared to what the rest of the volume had to offer.

The first story, the Bell Warden, was about the bell warden, a time-keeper, hiring Ogami to battle the men in position to take his place. If Ogami could kill them, then the men were never meant to hold the position of Bell Warden since you have to be able to fight your way through even a siege on the city in order to keep the time. Not only was this story’s premise ridiculous, each of the three men Ogami fought was a master of some sort of bizarre weapon. The battles themselves were pretty fantastic, and all of them were mostly just both sides resigning themselves to the fight, then doing it. The ending made the premise even more hilariously overwrought. Still, it was pretty great stuff, and watching the men battle it out in an unusually picturesque countryside setting was wonderful.

The second half of the volume contained the two best stories, though. The first, Parting Frost, was about Daigoro and what would happen should Ogami ever not return from one of his missions. The story follows Daigoro around as he searches for his father, then slowly resigns himself to living, as he must. He gets caught in a flash fire, then challenged by an adult samurai in another fairly humorous confrontation. While it did strike me as ridiculous that the man would bother to raise his sword against a five-year-old naked boy, his reasoning was that Daigoro possessed the eyes of a man who had resigned himself to the cycle of life and was not afraid. Apparently only the most seasoned swordsman possess such eyes. The reunion with Ogami at the end of the story was also wonderful.

Performer, the last story, was all kinds of crazy. A woman with a grim reaper tattooed on her back and a demon breastfeeding on her front is out for revenge. Ogami is hired to kill her, and we follow him as he traces her path and reconstructs her life. Her tattoo really is visually arresting, and as part of his research, Ogami finds the artist who gave her the tattoo, who walks him through the process. The fights are a thing of beauty when the woman strips to the waist to do them, and the various people she’s run across over time feel quite passionately about her. And because you have to depict her tattoos as unusually and frighteningly as possible, the art is also a major factor in this story, and as always, it is beautiful. This is quite possibly the best Lone Wolf and Cub story I’ve read yet.

Now on to Wounded Man, because I am a masochist.

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