Lone Wolf and Cub: The Bell Warden

June 14th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , ,

The fourth volume of Lone Wolf & Cub, The Bell Warden, is excellent. I enjoyed it more than any other volume so far, in part because it got right into the things that I really enjoy about the series. Lone Wolf & Cub has a couple of major draws for me: the historical fiction aspect and the way Ogami’s quest affects Daigoro. The Bell Warden digs into both subjects, and is stronger for it. There may be a bit of buyer beware below, so, you know, be wary.

Parting Frost is the third of the four stories in this volume, and probably the best of all of them. Ogami only shows up toward the end, allowing the bulk of the tale to be all about Daigoro. It’s a very sad story, as it opens on Daigoro being left alone and wondering about his father. After he realizes that his father is late, he decides to go out and find him. If his father died in battle, so be it. Daigoro will simply die, as well.

What’s striking about the story is just how capable Daigoro is. He’s smart enough to know that no one will be inclined to help him, so he sets out on his own. He knows that his father goes to temples to pray after an assassination, despite walking the assassin’s road. He seeks out a number of them, before finally stopping at one, exhausted and hungry. He gives up and sits down under the stairs of one. The text doesn’t say it outright, but it’s clear that he’s prepared himself for death.


The conflict of the story comes from the appearance of a samurai who looks into Daigoro’s eyes and sees shishogan, described in the book as “the eyes of a swordsman become one with the emptiness of mu, alive in the moment between life and death… the eyes of one who has come in from death, across countless fields of slaughter.” In short, Daigoro knows no fear.

The samurai intentionally watches Daigoro in a flaming field, and assumes that the flames killed him. However, Daigoro is smarter than that. He recognizes that mud doesn’t burn, and if the grass is covered in mud, it won’t burn, either. So, he builds something of a fire break and then partially buries himself in mud. He survives the fire, but nearly dies in the process. When the samurai finds out that Daigoro survived, he feels that he has to test his shishogan, and attempt to see how the child perfected it. When the samurai draws, Daigoro picks up a nearby stick and assumes his father’s Suio-ryu stance, prepared for battle.

This is easily the saddest story so far, but very well done, as well. Kojima draws a specific moment in time, a slow walk into the camera over the course of a page, for both the father and the son. Where Daigoro’s walk was a sign of desperation, Ogami’s is one of salvation for his son, and doom for his enemy. We finally get to see the father rescue the son, and it feels like it has taken forever. The sense of despair and death that permeated the story lifts as soon as we see Daigoro’s eyes widen as he says, “Papa!”


lw-c-04-01“The Bell Warden,” “Unfaithful Retainers,” and “Performer,” are the other three stories in this book. All three have some kernel about Japanese history I didn’t know about, which made them very interesting to me. A bell warden was the man who controlled the nine bells of Edo, the capital of Japan. They were above the law, and “The Bell Warden” is about the spirit a warden must have. The warden hires Ogami to test the spirit of his sons, to ensure that they are worthy of being bell wardens.

“Unfaithful Retainers” was another hit. It detailed the formation of orisuke, who could perhaps be best described as samurai without honor. As values in Japan changed, orisuke became a popular thing to hire. However, their lack of honor quickly led to lawlessness. Orisuke were servants of samurai families and had the right of seisatsu yodatsu, “the right to kill,” but did not apply any rules of samurai culture to their own lives. They had no sense of honor or self-sacrifice, and no bond between servant and retainer. Essentially, they were legal outlaws. Think of them as licensed yakuza.

“Performer” was one the most interesting of the three, and it dealt with tattoo stigma in Japan. I didn’t know this, but tattoos were a fairly serious social stigma during that time. Marking your own skin was a loss of face and status, especially for a woman. Parents getting upset about their daughter getting a butterfly on an ankle are tame compared to how it’s portrayed in this story. Ogami explains that even a peasant or merchant woman would rather “abandon her chastity” than be tattooed. However, the woman he’s hunting, O-yuki, has two monstrous tattoos on her body. There is a yamanba mountain hag, a hideous old woman, on her back, and Kintaro, who is sometimes seen as the son of Yama-uba, suckling her right breast.


I always roll my eyes when people explain skimpy costumes on superheroines as being a distraction during battle. Technique, rather than cheesecake, if you will. However, O-yuki’s tattoos do make a weird kind of sense. Getting monsters tattooed on her body most likely puts a lot of things into the minds of her enemies all at once. She’s an attractive woman, so her swordsmanship is already a surprise. When you combine that with her nudity, and the fact that her nudity has been tainted by not just tattoos, but tattoos of mythological creatures, you probably would gain something of a psychological advantage. There are a number of panels of people looking shocked or scared by her tattoos to top it off, as well.

As I said before, this volume was great. The extra pages given to each story give Kojima room to play with the art some, and I’m starting to get the sense that Koike and Kojima really began clicking around now, or perhaps late in the last volume. Each story in this one is dead on, and I hope volume five keeps up the quality. We’ll see next week!

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One comment to “Lone Wolf and Cub: The Bell Warden”

  1. God, I love this series; nice job discussing all of these stories. I love that one about Daigoro having the look of death in his eyes; that kid is such a good character. It’s fucking heartbreaking seeing all that he has to go through in the series. Keep it up, this is awesome!