Lone Wolf & Cub: The Gateless Barrier

May 31st, 2009 by | Tags: ,

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 2: The Gateless Barrier
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1569715033
304 pages

I completely missed this last time around, but so far, the titles of each volume of Lone Wolf & Cub are very specific references to events in the book. The Assassin’s Road, obviously, is the path that Ogami and Daigoro walk. It’s filled with senseless slaughter and cruelty, and leads directly to meifumado, the Buddhist hell and home to demons and damnation. The Gateless Barrier, as explained in this volume, is mumon-seki, walking alone between heaven and earth. The assassin’s road is all there is, and nothing exists outside of it. You become mumon-seki of the assassin’s road.


This volume is a grab bag of stories. There are five of them this time, chapters ten through fourteen. “Red Cat,” “The Coming of the Cold,” “Tragic O-Sue,” “The Gateless Barrier,” and “Winter Flower” brings up the rear. The stories this time around are a good deal longer than before, giving Kojima more time to play with the storytelling of individual scenes and Koike more time to establish a setting. In “Winter Flower,” for example, Ogami appears on-panel for maybe six pages. His voice appears for more often, but he spends most of the story locked in a house. In “Tragic O-Sue,” Daigoro essentially stars for most of the story, up until the end.

lw-c_v2_022Ogami remains just as invulnerable as he was in the first volume. The first story, “Red Cat,” features a tale that should be familiar to fans of The Punisher. Ogami allows himself to be captured and taken to jail to fulfill a job. When he gets there, he’s hassled by the prisoners. They sing a song to intimidate him (no, really). When that doesn’t work, they attack him. Just as in “Wings to the Birds, Fangs to the Beasts” in the last volume, he doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. He takes the beating, not even bothering to grunt. This just pisses them off more. When he finally speaks, it’s to ask where a man is. Once he finds out that the man is on death row, Ogami murders a lot of them. The guards come and he’s taken to death row, to be executed tomorrow with his target.

He finds his man on death row, and they speak briefly. The target is an arsonist, and indirectly caused the death of the warden of the prison. Last time he was arrested, he’d started a fire in his cell, forcing the prison to evacuate. Rather than returning to jail after being temporarily freed, he ran. The warden took his own life out of shame.


Ogami reveals that at some point before getting arrested, he’d fired an arrow into an alcove in the cell (which raises the question of the point of the song and dance earlier). Ogami engineers a situation in which the arsonist and the man who hired him in the first place die, complete with a brief remark to send the latter off. After that, since prisoners must be freed in case of a fire, Ogami walks right out and the chapter closes.

After that, though, we get right into the child abuse.

lw-c_v2_081“The Coming of the Cold” is about two things. The most significant for me is the relationship between Ogami and Daigoro. The chapter opens with Ogami accepting a job and telling his son to wait in a cave until the job is done. Ogami tells Daigoro that if Ogami dies, Daigoro must also die. If he’s patient, it will come.

Disaster strikes and an avalanche causes a cave-in. Ogami is disguised as an inspector, and can’t break character, so he says a brief prayer to the demons of meifumado for Daigoro’s salvation, as he can no longer pray to the gods or Buddha, and goes about his mission.

The mission is definitely the focus of the story, while Daigoro plays a backseat role. It is another “Ogami walks into an area, kills someone, espouses a philosophy that makes the assassination okay, and walks out untouched.”

It’s already pat for LW&C, and by far the least interesting portion of the story. The history lesson is interesting, and kantorai, “the coming of the cold,” is an interesting philosophy. Boiled down, it is about war, and how war is always about pressing the attack. Ogami applies it to his and Daigoro’s life on the assassin’s road. That’s all well and good, but– we’ve been here before.


At the end of the story, Ogami retrieves Daigoro from the cave-in, confirming that the demons of hell are on their side. I feel like more should’ve been done there, but I’m not sure what. It just feels like an average lead story and a half-finished subplot.

The next story, “Tragic O-Sue,” is definitely the best of the book. Up until the end, it’s a tale of Daigoro alone, with a great example of the legendary status of Lone Wolf & Cub. Daigoro is playing alone in a creek, while his father is passed out from a fever. The fever portion isn’t revealed to us until later, so for all we know, it may be a plot of Ogami.


Due to a misunderstanding, Daigoro ends up cutting the son of a metsuke, a chief inspector, with a sword. It’s a little ridiculous to see a three year-old with a sword, but when you consider his life it makes some sense. Daigoro is taken hostage by the boy’s guards, and is tied up in the house. He’s beaten and interrogated, but never speaks. When the metsuke returns home, he realizes who Daigoro is, and orders him to be tied up without food or water and guarded 24/7.

The metsuke knows of Lone Wolf & Cub, and reasons that the son must have some way to signal the father to spring a trap. He doesn’t know who he is here to kill, or why, but he’s determined to prevent it, even if it means starving a child to death.

However, a new servant girl, not comprehending the situation, feeds him at night. She’s caught, beaten, and assumed to be the daughter of Ogami Itto. She’s imprisoned with Daigoro, who finally snaps. He looks at the metsuke and a hateful maid and sees them as the demons of meifumado. He attacks them, and then scrambles back to his father’s place. Ogami is better now, and simply remarks, “I don’t know what you’ve done, but can you reap what you’ve sown?” as Daigoro holds a sword that’s as tall as he is.


This is exactly what I wanted out of the previous story. I finally realized that Daigoro is trapped on the assassin’s road, the same as his father, but has nowhere near the same cognitive capacity. He’s stoic, barely verbal, and truly his father’s son. He emulates his father’s stance, he sees the demons that his father prays to, and he isn’t afraid to attack someone several times his size.

I think this was supposed to show how much of a samurai’s son he is, particularly in light of the metsuke’s wimpy child, but it just comes across as sad. Due to the actions of a rival clan and his father, Daigoro has no chance of a normal life. It kind of sucks all the romance out of the idea of hero with a baby. If the situation lasts for any significant period of time, the kid’s going to end up pretty broken. It’s pretty awesome to see Daigoro hanging onto his father’s back during a battle, but it’s also kind of heartbreaking if you put any thought into it.

“The Gateless Barrier” is the most out there of the five in this volume. Koike and Kojima play around with the timeline of the story some, cutting to an extended flashback just as Ogami reaches his target. It feels very cinematic, down to the freeze frame just before the flashback finishes. The flashback explains Ogami’s mission, and even shows that he isn’t 100% infallible. He discovers the idea of the gateless barrier/mumon-seki after failing in an assassination attempt, and the source of his actions before the flashback is revealed. When the flashback ends, he straight up cuts a Buddha in half in front of an entire town and walks away.


This volume just hammers home how amazing and skilled Ogami is, even as it further establishes the fact that he isn’t necessarily a hero. He’s still a rebel, a ronin, and an outlaw. He still murders men for money, and puts his son into amazingly dangerous situations. I don’t think that any of those will change over the next 26 volumes, but I’m sure that we’ll gain more info on and his justifications for traveling the assassin’s road.

Next week is volume 3, The Flute of the Fallen Tiger. It’s the first volume that will be entirely new to me, since I’ve owned the first two volumes for a while. I’m wondering if it will be composed of the normal stories, where Ogami enters a place, kills, and leaves, or if there will be more introspection or dealing with other issues instead. I hope that the extended stories stick around. I like how they have much more room to breathe now than they did in volume one.

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5 comments to “Lone Wolf & Cub: The Gateless Barrier”

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  2. I’ve been reading LW&C for the past couple weeks (I’m up to volume 19), and Koike does play around a lot with that basic plot (Itto assassinates someone). You think at first it’s going to get repetitive and boring, but he manages to come at from so many different angles that it doesn’t. There’s also a point where assassinations begin to take a back seat to the overarching quest, which provides respite from the repetition.

  3. I hate to say it, but if you found book 2 starting to drag, you’re on for some hellaciously drawn out storytelling. The payoff at the end is pretty good, and the series definitely has its high water marks along the way (heh).

  4. It isn’t dragging, per se– more like I recognize a formula, and I wonder how they’re going to spin it.

  5. Oh, there are places where it’ll drag and you’ll be thinking to yourself you read that exact story 10 volumes ago. I promise you this.