Monday, January 3, 2011

Lone Wolf and Cub: Volume 1 The Assassin's Road by Kazuo Koike

A wandering rōnin (masterless samurai) and his small son are looking for work. Their flag proclaims them to be the "Lone Wolf and Cub" who are known throughout the area as swords for hire. Ogami Ittō is doing his best to provide and care for his son in while in a dangerous line of work. Most of his jobs are assassinations, which hasn't made him very popular and he has plenty of enemies who would dearly like to run him through.

Although I imagine this is a pretty realistic idea of what life was like for a rōnin in the Edo-Period, I didn't find it to be a very compelling story. A most of his jobs were very interesting and contained likable supporting characters, but some lacked drive and left me wondering what the point of including that particular tale was. I also found the lack of over-reaching plot a bit bothersome. Even if all the plot had shown by the end of this volume was a hint of motive for Ogami's choices and what he hoped to accomplish by wandering Japan, I would have at least felt like there was a point to the book. Perhaps it is revealed more in further volumes.

I also found Ogami Ittō hard to like or relate to, he often seemed overpowered and smug. A few slip-ups or even a slight show of emotion now and then would make him feel a lot less wooden. I did enjoy the fact that he is not shown as noble and perfectly moral, but willing to sacrifice a good bit of his soul in order to keep his son and himself alive.

The incredible artwork does make up for a lot of the story's flaws. Reading these older mangas drawn in heavier, serious-looking, slow-to-create crosshatched pen and ink makes the relatively quick and easy modern process where the main artist creates what is basically a rough draft that is cleaned up by a team of assistants, before being swiftly screentoned and speedlined (if the whole piece wasn't done on a computer) look completely bland in comparison. Just think about how much longer and more care it takes to crosshatch all your shading than rub a piece of screentone against the paper and be done.

The artwork ranges from blocky and weighty to light and airy, without losing the artist's own style and the serious feel of the comic. The layout in this volume creates an amazing sense of space despite the fact that the book itself is very small.

3 Stars

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