It's hard to think of new and interesting things to write about another Lone Wolf & Cub volume because I usually would be just repeating the obvioIt's hard to think of new and interesting things to write about another Lone Wolf & Cub volume because I usually would be just repeating the obvious: great art, fantastic stories, gripping action, et cetera. But Volume 6 continues the development of Daigoro's character that was so masterfully done in Volume 5. Now I see how this is more than just an action book....more
It sounds trite to say, but the best description I can come up with for this series is that it’s like Lone Wolf & Cub’s twisted older brother. TheIt sounds trite to say, but the best description I can come up with for this series is that it’s like Lone Wolf & Cub’s twisted older brother. There’s more nudity, more decapitation, more rape, more bloodshed, and more plain old depravity in a random chapter of this story than in entire volumes of LW&C. After my first exposure I was afraid that they were just doing it for pure shock (I have nothing against shock for shock’s sake, but these creators are usually more thoughtful than that). But now I realize it’s showing the reader the dark side of that life in an attempt to enlighten and provoke thought.
But I should talk a little bit, specifically, about Volume 3: The Hell Stick. The thing I liked the most about this collection is that the most interesting characters in each of the three stories are the supporting characters. Yamada Asaemon, the main character, is a ronin who tests swords for the shogun. He could have been written as a brute, but he’s a quiet, thoughtful man who has a unique view of the world, and who affects nearly everyone who stumbles across his path. He’s interesting enough, but in this volume he’s much more like a device that allows other interesting stories to be told. In every story I’m presented with someone who appears to be one kind of character but then ends up acting another; someone who you think you understand as just a caricature and then, after their story is explained a little more, you realize just how much more layered they are. It’s character studies surrounded by titillation and violence.
The woman who comes to live with Asaemon in “The Hell Stick”; the ugly brute trying to take Asaemon’s job in “The Mad Sword of Tsukuba Bakushu”; the tortured Catcher Kasajiro in the final story of the same name: all of these characters are more interesting than our Samurai Executioner. It’s not just their backstories that make the book interesting, but the way he affects their lives and changes them, for good or ill. Asaemon isn’t simply reduced to a cipher in the book that’s named after him: he does as much by simply interacting with these characters than by engaging in swordplay. And that’s the best part of this volume for me: they’re not just hack-and-slash samurai adventures. They’re thoughtful and profound stories of human nature.
I’m not going to say they’re perfect books. There’s a definite undertone of misogyny in a lot of the stories; like I said before, there is a significant amount of rape, and way more topless women getting their heads cut off than one would expect. I understand that some of this is a reflection of the historical period, but there’s a lasciviousness to some of the figures that points to something a little bit more. And I’m just not the kind of guy who gets off on my sex mixing in with my violence. But most of the stories, even some of those that have the sexualized violence, are so psychologically and intellectually compelling that I can’t help but like them in spite of it. And the art is always great: Kojima’s action is teriffic, but it’s in the quieter moments, the landscapes and the backgrounds and the panels that build the scenes, where he really shines. Samurai Executioner may be hard to take at times, but it’s always exciting and compelling....more