Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Path of the Assassin

July 5th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , ,

Path of the Assassin volume 1: Serving in the Dark
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1593075022
320 pages

Yeah, I didn’t finish this one.

The biggest problem with Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible is the inconsistent tone of the series. Invincible veers from pretty enjoyable JRsr-era Spider-Man superheroics and drama to early Image blood-n-guts fairly regularly. And, well, the bits I like are like old Spider-Man comics. The bits that are covered in blood and severed limbs? Not my thing.

Path of the Assassin has a similar problem. It has a really interesting premise. It isn’t what I expected at all. Rather than being about a ninja steadily and stealthily killing dudes, it’s almost a goofy buddy movie. Hattori Hanzo is assigned to protect and serve Tokugawa Ieysasu, future ruler of Japan. Hanzo is a ninja, from a clan of ninjas, and is ordered to “serve in the dark.”

Pretty heavy, right? I thought so, too, up until Ieyasu plays with his wisp of a mustache in a mirror, frowns, cuts off a few of his pubes, and then fastens them to his face. Ieyasu is 16. Hanzo is 15. Ieyasu is pretty ineffectual and awful. He isn’t a bad person, exactly, just inexperienced. Hanzo isn’t all that much more experienced, but he’s a ninja, so he gets to do a lot of cool things.

I was digging it until the big tone shift came. Ieyasu is due to be married in a couple days, and he has no idea about sex. He asks his new ninja servant to show him what a man does with a woman. Not with a hooker, because you pay them to do whatever you like, but with a woman. So, Hanzo jumps in a river, drags a woman to shore, and rapes her. Later, after lying to and killing a few dudes Ieyasu still has questions. (Hanzo and the girl are still nude.) Hanzo gives Ieyasu some old fashioned knowledge from back home (“Sleep six times and listen to the woman’s bosom.” After that, you’ll know whether or not she loves you.), and then the girl, who actually saved Hanzo’s life shortly before, decides that not only is she going to take the fake name Hanzo made up for her when the guards approached, she is going to stick with him because now no man will have her. That’s amore, right?

Ieyasu later tried to apply those lessons to his new wife, who by the way had a previous lover he doesn’t know about, but found that he could only do it from behind. He pondered the reasons why, wondered why it worked fine for Hanzo, and blah blah blah this chapter is called “Oppressive Night of Ass” and is boring.

It’s not even the rape or dumb (and surprisingly explicit!) sex scene that really did it. I mean, they helped by being so terrible, but they were just a part of the problem, rather than my biggest problem. By now, about a third of the way through the volume, I’d realized that I was already getting bored, and a ridiculous twist like that wasn’t happening. The goofy interactions between Hanzo and Ieyasu were pretty good, if overly cute. But the switching between stiff samurai drama (which includes LW&C-style violence, rape, sex scenes) and the goofiness doesn’t work for me.

Like Invincible, it feels like a couple different books mashed together. The samurai stuff wouldn’t be out of place in Lone Wolf & Cub at all, and I think the relationship between Hanzo and Ieyasu has legs. The two halves of the story just don’t mesh well. The serious bits are too serious, the goofy bits are too goofy. I mean, every page of the fifteen page sex scene between Ieyasu and his new wife features Ieyasu pulling awkward faces, and he’s a George Costanza-looking chubby awkward guy.

Path of the Assassin can’t decide between being a light action comedy tale and a hardcore samurai drama. I’m open to either of the two styles. The mix of styles, though, doesn’t work for me. Lone Wolf occasionally does a goofy story with Daigoro, but it’s never quite so off the mark as the image of Tokugawa Ieyasu, of the brief pubic hair mustache, creepily observing his pet ninja raping a girl and taking mental notes. Path went on for fourteen more volumes, the latest of which was just released, so there must be some merit to it. Perhaps it improves later on.

Next week, we’re back to Lone Wolf & Cub, I think.

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2 comments to “Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Path of the Assassin”

  1. […] on vol. 1 of Ouran High School Host Club (Sesho’s Anime and Manga Reviews) David Brothers on vol. 1 of Path of the Assassin (4thletter!) Ed Sizemore on vol. 5 of Sundome (Comics Worth Reading) Zaki Zakaria on vol. 1 of […]

  2. Path of the Assassin gets a lot better in the subsequent volumes. Oddly, it shifts tone again to become a much more political series, focusing on the hows and whys of Tokugawa taking over the country.

    It does retain a bit of the buddy comedy elements, but I guess that’s because the author wants to bring down somewhat two literally legendary figures to a more human and understandable level. Sure, this is the future ruler of all Japanm but he still worries about whether or not his wife loves him, or if its possible for him to satisfy her. Sure, dude is arguably the most famous and accomplished ninja of all time, but even ninjas don’t spend all their time killing dudes and spying on generals and such.

    I can’t justify that rape scene though. Whether or not it actually happened, it and the subsequent fall out are messed up on so many levels I tend to forget it’s even in there. It read more like the kind of sensationalist “hey! look how edgy this book is! read the next issue!” stuff far too many series end up doing early on to try and establish their readership.