ever dream of a world where almost everybody read comic books?
Ever lay awake at night, imagining a place where comics are
the mainstream form of printed entertainment? Well, there
is such a place and the name of this mythical land is .Japan!
comic industry is huge and it's directly related to the anime
market, many books beginning as manga (the Japanese equivalent
of "comics") and later becoming movies. One of Japan's
most famous manga is Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's Lone
Wolf and Cub.
published in 1970 under the title Kozure Okami, Lone Wolf
and Cub has been collected and re-published all over the world
and has spawned a television series and series of six films
entitled Baby Cart Assassin. It is a classic story in Japan
and now thanks to a publishing deal with Dark Horse Comics,
it's available in the United States.
and Cub: The Assassin's Road is the first in the collection
that exceeds 30 volumes. It is the tale of Ogami Itto, former
kaishakunin (the man appointed at the time of seppuku or ritual
suicide, meant to cut the head from the body after ritual
disembowelment, the most respected position for a samurai)
to the Emperor himself, and his three-year old son Daigoro.
great treachery, the Yagyu clan has disgraced the Ogami family
name, and caused the deaths of Itto's wife and the rest of
the Ogami clan. When Itto is ordered to commit seppuku, he
refuses, slaying those who oppose his escape and winning his
freedom. No longer permitted to be a samurai, Itto becomes
the assassin called Lone Wolf and Cub, taking jobs as they
come, but demanding to know the reason behind his assassinations.
he takes his son Daigoro in a specially made cart as they
travel, walking the path of meifumado (Buddhist Hell), all
the while seeking revenge on the Yagyu, hoping to restore
their family's honor.
is an education in itself. Lone Wolf and Cub has been praised
for its meticulously researched recreation of Edo-Period Japan.
Any reader delving into the series gains a cultural education.
contains approximately 7 to 12 different stories of Ogami
Itto and Daigoro's jobs and experiences. And in a nod to translation
sticklers, all terms in the books that do not have a direct
English equivalent are left in their original Japanese and
can be found in the glossary provided in each volume. Some
volumes also carry small surprises in the back; the first
volume has an article excerpt titled The Ronin Report, describing
the evolution of the samurai warrior, while the seventh contains
an essay on women's roles featured in Lone Wolf and Cub.
is spectacular in the way it immerses the reader in ancient
Japanese culture. One begins to understand what terms like
"honor" and "loyalty" mean to the Japanese
when such terms are demonstrated by the willingness of a samurai
to guard the place where his master died for the rest of his
life (volume 7), or by the bloody revenge enacted by a dead
samurai's sister (volume 7).
is a superb writer whose historical fiction knows no equal
and each of his stories brings with it some type of philosophical
question; for example, in volume 2, Itto ponders the righteousness
of killing a Buddha who is causing inadvertent destruction
to a local village. When Itto questions himself, the reader
does also, dwelling on the moral questions presented to him,
though seeing it through the filter of bushido (the Way of
the Warrior described in the series) and judging it thus.
is as masterful as manga has ever been drawn. Kojima does
not draw in the cartoon-ish style many Japanese artists use;
his depictions are cinematic and his characters are delicately
rendered. Each character is defined well, and most are free
from the "facial sameness" that many manga characters
suffer from (for example, ever try mentally switching the
hair cuts on Gundam Wing characters and seeing if they look
is $9.95, which means if you plan to buy the entire series,
save up, but it is worth the investment. Reading Japanese
comics, a literary field with a multitude of genres, helps
us to appreciate the kind of diversity possible in the American
comics field, if only some more people were willing to stray
from the beaten path of cape-and-tights comics. So pick up
a copy and broaden your international horizons. Who knows,
you might become an otaku (or fan, for those of us without
a Japanese glossary).