Archive for the 'Lone Wolf & Cub' Category


Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Real Men

July 12th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Batman doesn’t care about sex.

I mean, sure, he’ll have sex sometimes. He’s had a series of short-lived relationships, the most popular of which involve an easy escape hatch. Benefit of dating criminals, right? It’s pretty clear to me that he doesn’t care about sex. He’s got a mission, he’s been trained, and guess what! Sex is entirely beside the point. He’ll do it when he has to, but you won’t see Bruce at a bar talking to Bonita Applebum.

Parker is the star of more than a few of Richard Stark’s novels. He’s a no-nonsense thief and strong-arm, very expert in planning and even better at putting a stop to any funny business. If you cross Parker, he’ll lean you before you even get a chance to think about what you just did. He enjoy sex, but only at specific times. If he’s on the job, or planning a job, he’s got no drive at all. After, though, he can spend several days horizontal. His drive slowly fades away after that, until he’s practically a monk in the run-up to the next job.

Ogami Itto? Don’t even. I’m six volumes in, and I don’t think he’s had sex for pleasure once. He’s done it to save someone’s life, and to grease some wheels, but never because he chatted someone up. It’s entirely possible that he’s just respecting his dead wife’s memory, but it’s much more likely that it’s because he’s walking the path of the assassin and has no time for physical pleasure.

All three of these guys are focused, motivated, driven, and paragons of self control. They all approach sex on their own terms, blatantly ignore it when they feel like it, but are still considered virile. It’s definitely fair to say that they are all generally portrayed as Real Men, even across cultural barriers. Ogami is a hop from Parker, who is in turn a skip from Batman, who is himself a jump from Ogami. They have very similar characterizations, despite having some fairly irreconcilable differences between them. Ogami murders for a living, Parker isn’t opposed to slapping a woman around if it’ll help a heist, and Batman is a manchild who sates his desire for justice by beating up criminals.

Together, I think that these three say something pretty interesting about what it means to be a man. They all fit the basic stereotype of a Real Man. They’re physically attractive, be it in a pretty boy sort of way or a more rugged manner. They’re physically capable, able to demolish most men with a single move, be it a punch, gunshot, or swing of a sword. They’re intelligent enough to create complicated plans that always come off perfectly, human error aside. They’re witty enough to be able to think on their feet when a situation goes south and to come out on top. They aren’t afraid to use violence when the time comes, either. That sounds like a Real Man, doesn’t it?

The sex thing is what makes it interesting. Virility is tied up in violence and physical strength, and all three of these guys have it in spades. Ogami kills dudes by the baker’s dozen, Parker is a machine, and Batman is a highly trained non-lethal ninja. When they do have sex, it’s never shown as “making love.” It’s something fast, primal, rough, and vaguely taboo. There’s a thrill to it, particularly when it comes to Batman and Parker. Parker is only interested after he re-establishes his manhood by making a lot of money and breaking a few heads. Batman’s biggest flame is Catwoman, the object of many a late-night chase and cowled makeout session. To borrow a line, they keep the masks on because it’s better that way. Ogami himself only indulges, or lowers, himself in sex when it fits into his quest. The first time he has sex in volume 1, it’s to show exactly how little he cares for the samurai customs of the day. In fact, he proves his manhood by rejecting the traditional notion of it.

I think it comes down to control. Men are supposed to be in control of themselves, their emotions, and the situation at all times. What better way to show this control than to refuse sex, one of the most primal needs of human beings? Ogami treats most women he encounters, and definitely the prostitutes, with something approaching contempt. They, like anyone else, are beneath his notice. It seems like every Parker novel has him refusing the advances of an appropriately attractive and willing woman until he decides he wants to bother with her. Batman’s celibacy is practically a superpower, considering that a couple of his villains are outright seductresses and the rest are openly sexy/sexual.

This occurred to me after finishing one of Stark’s Parker novels, one in which Stark has Parker question his sexual habits. It got me thinking, and I soon realized that Ogami Itto was similar in execution, if not in tone. It all really clicked into place once Batman came into the picture, and I realized that it was more of a trend than I’d expected.

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Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Path of the Assassin

July 5th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

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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Lone Wolf and Cub 06: Lanterns for the Dead

June 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 6: Lanterns for the Dead
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1569715076
288 pages

(Pardon this being a little late again– I may move it to Sunday@6 instead of noon, depending on how this week goes. Blame the podcast, which took forever to edit!)

Volume 6 has five tales: “Lanterns for the Dead,” “Deer Chaser,” “Hunger Town,” “The Soldier Is In The Castle,” and “One Stone Bridge.” Once again, Daigoro provides the most interesting stories or scenes in the book, this time in “Hunger Town” and “One Stone Bridge,” with a brief appearance in “Deer Chaser.” I’ll get to those at the end, though, while I look at the other stories.

Notable, if delayed, realization this week: Ogami Itto is invincible, except when fighting nature or himself. The man has walked through a forest of blades at this point in the series, and escaped basically unscathed. The only time he ends up flat on his back is when he gets sick, or when he sets an entire field of grass on fire to trap a target, and then fights inside those flames.

I can see why Frank Miller enjoys these stories so much. Ogami is the manliest man ever, incredibly secure in his choice of livelihood, devoted to his task and family, and able to spout off important facets of his ideology at a moments notice. Every in the book spends their time being afraid of him, in awe, complimenting his skill, or all three. He spends a portion of “The Soldier Is In The Castle” explaining “kanjo,” which can mean either shield or warriors, depending on the situation (though the two are inextricably linked), to a gang of skilled and respected warriors. Though they brought it up first, he understands it better than they do. He employs a technique called “kanjo satsujin,” which I believe means “Warrior Killer” or “Shield Breaker” if you want to get lyrical, and destroys his enemy by way of a fire trap and skilled swordsmanship.

“Hunger Town” doesn’t focus directly on Daigoro, but he’s used to emphasize the crap nature of their lives. It opens with Ogami firing blunt arrows at a small puppy. He’s training the dog to dodge arrows and run to Daigoro. Of course, Daigoro is three years old and he gets attached to the dog. It’s clear that they have a real friendship growing, and Daigoro almost, but not quite, pitches a fit when the dog is taken away by samurai.

Ogami was setting a trap for a lord who is a fan of Inu-oi, dog hunting for sport. Most people use blunt arrows when doing this, but the lord is so corrupt that he uses real arrows for a thrill. His men demand Daigoro’s dog and deliver it to their lord. He gets set up in the area where he practices inu-oi, shouts the equivalent of “PULL!” and the dog dashes off. The lord tries and tries to hit the dog with his arrows, but the dog dodges all of them and sprints into the woods. The lord follows.

As soon as I realized what was going on, I became certain that the dog would die. In a completely unsurprising move, I was right. The dog catches an arrow through the neck just as he reaches Daigoro, licks Daigoro’s nose, and dies. Daigoro simply watches the lord as he approaches with something like pure hate in his eyes. It’s very clear that he’s his father’s son in this instance.

Another scene where that becomes clear is in “One Stone Bridge.” Daigoro is catching fish under a bridge. He’s amassed a pretty small collection, but he’s made the rod, stolen hair from a horse’s tail for fishing line, and dug up worms for bait himself. He’s trying to feed his father, who has been sick after the events of “The Soldier Is In The Castle” and unconscious for days. All the fish Daigoro has caught and grilled (!) sit beside his bed, untouched. However, he fishes every day.

When boys come to harass him, he takes their taunts and a beating to protect the fish. When they kick the fish back into the river and go back to beating him, he goes and grabs his father’s sword, which is taller than he is, and moves to kill the boy.

It’s awful, but I like seeing how strong the bond is between Daigoro and Ogami. Their lives are in terrible shape, and the only thing either of them have is each other. So, their bonds are amazingly strong. Daigoro is a very bright boy, smart enough to have been a scholar in another world, and capable of judging a situation correctly. He was willing to take a beating to protect his father, smart enough to realize that feeding his father was important, and a volume back, wise enough to build a fire break and save his own life.

There’s a word for this, I’m sure, but I don’t know it. It’s really nice to see a book that’s as much about the relationship between father and son as it is about the father killing several dozen people at a time.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Black Wind

June 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

When I started this, I didn’t expect to read about Ogami Itto mowing down several people with a shotgun. However, he did, I did, and now I get to tell you about it.

Volume 5, Black Wind, has five stories this time: “Trail Markers,” “Executioner’s Hill,” “Black Wind,” “Decapitator Asaemon,” and “The Guns of Sakai.” I found “Trail Markers” to be pretty snooze-worthy. It’s a short tale, just thirty pages, and it’s almost like a recap/infodump of sorts. We find out how Ogami finds his clients, which seems to be based entirely around luck and being in the right place at the right time. The Yagyu clan reveals that it has been around two years since their last encounter, and that the shogunate has heard rumors of Ogami’s current status and how he came to be there. They’re beginning an investigation, which means that it may be the end of the road for the Yagyu clan.

And you know, this story was pretty boring. I realize that it sets up “Decapitator Asaemon,” but it could’ve just been left out with no issue at all. We see Retsudo, and he’s menacing, and they send people out to kill Ogami. He effortlessly dispatches him and reiterates the fact that he doesn’t care about the life of a samurai any more. His way is death, he knows only meifumado, blah blah blah.

“Executioner’s Hill” fares somewhat better, but still ends up being predictable. We meet the Zodiac Gang, they see Ogami, they realize that he’s the guy who decapitated their lord back when he was kogi kaishakunin, and decide that they want revenge. They lure Daigoro away with the sound of the drum that candy salesmen use, which was a fascinating reveal, and then attack Ogami. He dispatches them easily.

“Executioner’s Hill” had one moment that stood out to me. When Ogami realizes that Daigoro is being kidnapped, he rushes after him. Once he catches up to the gang, and they threaten Daigoro, Ogami simply tells them to kill his son. All that will remain are corpses in the sand. The Zodiac Gang call him out on this, since meifumado is supposed to be emotionless and hard. Why did he show concern for his son?

lw-c-05-01Ogami explains that he was simply following natural law. It is the nature of man to avoid danger and death. However, once you are in the midst of it, the only sensible thing to do is embrace it and approach the situation with a clear mind. I thought this was the best part of the story, as it explained something that genuinely needed an explanation.

“Black Wind” was my favorite of the book, for the exact same reason I liked volume 4 so much. It dealt with Daigoro more than Ogami, and in doing so, revealed something about the life the father and son are leading. It opens with Ogami working in a rice paddy with the women of a village. Daigoro is not confused, exactly, but he looks at Ogami as a “new father,” as he’d never seen this side of Ogami before. He enjoys it very much, and for the first time, he wants to do what his father does. He never gave a thought to being an assassin, but this looks good. It makes him warm.


We’re treated to more of Daigoro throughout the story. He finally gets to pick with the women and his father, and he enjoys it. He eats dinner with some members of the village, and they’re all impressed at his poise and manners. He’s an exceptional child, and it shows. He smiles. And then, when men come to the village and threaten his father, the boy’s face turns empty again and shishogan sets in.

The revelation of why his father is doing the planting, which is considered beneath the status of even a ronin, is fascinating, as well. A young girl was killed by accident during the course of his quest, and her dying words were thoughts of her family and hometown. While doing the planting, Ogami buried strands of her hair with the rice. It was a surprisingly tender turn, and shows that Ogami still has some sense of decency.

“Decapitator Asaemon” is straightforward. The shogunate sends Asaemon, the third best swordsman in the land, to investigate and find out if Ogami has genuinely become an assassin. Retsudo interferes with their battle, and Asaemon dies. Nothing particularly special here, though it does set up Samurai Executioner, another Koike/Kojima production.

“The Guns of Sakai” is… something else. There’s a lot of talk about what it means to be a man, to innovate, and to be honorable in it. I really enjoyed it. It features an expert gunsmith, one of the subordinates of the five gunsmiths of Sakai, the official gunsmiths of the shogunate. He’s under inspection because he is creating new weapons without the permission of the shogunate.

Ogami catches up with him, and grants him one last request. He speaks to his apprentices of honor, of innovation, and of what the soul of a gun is. He curses the shogunate and the fact that guns went from being killing machines to expensive ornamental pieces of stagnated junk. Later, he reveals that he knows that they sold him out and kills them. Before Ogami kills him, he declares that Ogami should use this new weapon and keep the plans for a repeating gun.

That, of course, leads to this, when the five gunsmiths catch up to him:


And well, there it is. Volume 6 next week. I won’t be sick, so it should be up on time.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: The Bell Warden

June 14th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

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.


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Lone Wolf & Cub: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger

June 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1569715041
319 pages

All told, it took me about an hour to read Lone Wolf & Cub volume 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger. I was surprised when I realized it, but there are a lot of wordless pages in this volume. Koike backs off the scripting some and lets Kojima really work his storytelling and show off some solid swordfighting. It works out for the better, as this volume moves along much faster than the previous one, due in part to the variety of stories inside.

The Flute of the Fallen Tiger keeps up the 60 page story. This time, we get five stories, chapters fifteen through nineteen. In order, we’ve got “The Flute of the Fallen Tiger,” “Half Mat, One Mat, a Fistful of Rice,” “The White Path Between the Rivers,” “The Virgin and the Whore,” and “Close Quarters.” “Half Mat” is definitely my favorite of the five, though “Flute” is a great story, as well.

“Flute” is a story I recognize, since it is essentially the ending of Shogun AssassinShogun Assassin. I was surprised at how faithful the movie was to the book, since my understanding was that it was a hatchet job. I’ve uploaded the relevant portion of the film and the ending of the chapter for comparison’s sake. The sequence from the film is one of my favorite martial arts flick quotes, so it was definitely cool to see it in action.


The jewel of the book, for my money, is “Half Mat, One Mat, a Fistful of Rice.” The title is a reference to a philosophy that a character espouses during the story. He says that when you sit, you take up half a tatami mat. When you sleep, you take up a full mat. Finally, your stomach holds a mere fistful of rice. That, in essence, is what life means. Everything else is artifice, simply words that actually mean nothing.
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Lone Wolf & Cub: The Gateless Barrier

May 31st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

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.
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Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Haruku: The Manga

May 24th, 2009 Posted by david brothers


I hadn’t intended to write about Kazuo Koike and Yoshihiro Morifuji’s Hulk this early, but fortune favors the bold, I suppose. A few minutes after my second Lone Wolf and Cub post went live, I noticed a comment caught in my spam trap. I’m glad I stopped to read it, because it’s a gem. It originally ran in Weekly Bokura Magazine beginning in 1970, and I’m reasonably sure that this is the first time Americans have really gotten a chance to see it.

Garret sent over the link to a full scan of Hulk and thanked me for visiting his site. And, wow! It’s really interesting to see. I bothered a few Japanese-speaking friends until they agreed to help me figure out a few of details. The katakana for the title reads “Haruku.” Later in the volume, the logo treatment changes so that it reads “Haruku: Monsutaa Komiku.” “Hulk: Monster Comic.”

From what I and my lovely assistants managed to figure out of the story, it stars Dr. Araki, survivor of Hiroshima. Both of his parents died in the blast, and he’s come to Nevada to work on the gamma bomb. General Ross, Major Talbot, and Igor retain their names, but Rick Jones has been turned into Ricky Tenda. He’s got a Japanese mom and an American dad. Betty Ross is now Mitsuko, though Dr. Araki calls her Mitchan.
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Lone Wolf and Cub: The Assassin’s Road

May 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 1: The Assassin’s Road
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1569715025
296 pages

Before I get into talking about the book, I want to take a moment and compliment the translation team for Lone Wolf & Cub. Dana Lewis is credited with “translation,” and a brief google search reveals that Lewis is/was a part of Studio Proteus, one of the main forces that helped bring manga into the mainstream here in the States.

The translation is an adaptation, rather than a word-for-word find/replace job. It takes into account that certain things simply can’t be translated into English or American culture, and adjusts accordingly. Specific terms are often left in their original Japanese, and a combination of context and a solid glossary at the back help to explain what’s going on. There are also a few moments of re-contextualization in the text. One chapter ends with a woman looking on at Ogami and Daigoro as they cross a river. She says, “A baby carriage… on the river Sanzu.” The Sanzu River means nothing to most American readers, but the title of the chapter, “Baby Cart on the River Styx” provides a context clue. While the river Styx isn’t 100% the same as the river Sanzu, the basic idea is the same. The father and son are both caught on the path of the doomed and the dead. It’s an idea that’s repeated fairly often throughout the book, both from Ogami’s mouth and those of the people he encounters.

I knew many of the broad strokes going in due to a passing interest in Japanese history. Iga and Koga ninja, the Yagyu clan, Tokugawa shogunate, and a fistful of other terms will be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time partaking in anything that involves samurai or ninjas, from history books to manga to anime.

Japanese history tends to pop up everywhere in their pop culture. Amakusa Shiro is a popular villain in anime and video games, most notably Samurai Shodown. Yagyu Jubei has been presented more than once as the samurai equivalent of Marvel’s Nick Fury, from the eyepatch down to the war hero status and career as a spy. I don’t know that American culture can really compare. I’ve seen very little popular fiction starring George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, and I don’t think any of it has resulted in the same penetration that Japanese historical figures have. It’s fascinating.

Lone Wolf and Cub: The Assassin’s Road contains nine stories. “Son for Hire, Sword for Hire,” “A Father Knows His Child’s Heart, as Only a Child Can Know His Father’s,” From North to South, From West to East,” “Baby Cart on the River Styx,” “Suio School Zanbato,” “Waiting for the Rains,” “Eight Gates of Deceit,” “Wings to the Birds, Fangs to the Beast,” and “The Assassin’s Road” make up just a hair under 300 pages of samurai action.
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Lone Wolf & Cub: A Bad Time For the Empire

May 10th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

When I was little… my father was famous. He was the greatest samurai in the empire, and he was the Shogun’s decapitator. He cut off the heads of a hundred and thirty-one lords.

It was a bad time for the empire.

The Shogun just stayed inside his castle and he never came out. People said his brain was infected by devils. My father would come home and he would forget about the killings. He wasn’t scared of the Shogun, but the Shogun was scared of him. Maybe that was the problem.

Then, one night, the Shogun sent his ninja spies to our house. They were supposed to kill my father… but they didn’t.

That was the night everything changed.

-GZA, “Liquid Swords” from the album “Liquid Swords

I didn’t come to Lone Wolf & Cub through the First Comics run, which had covers by Frank Miller. I never read the original manga, saw the subtitled films, or even saw Shogun Assassin. No, my introduction to Lone Wolf & Cub came via a series of skits on GZA’s classic rap album Liquid Swords.

The first track on the album began with the text quoted above, and it was one of the most amazing things I ever heard as a kid. My cousin Franchesca and I would play the tape over and over, but particularly that part. We even had the whole quote memorized, from the “sam-rai” to the “devils” to the screams of the mother between the last two lines. The tape may have popped at some point, I’m not sure. But we played it a lot.

There are a few other skits from the film scattered throughout the album. The most notable among them is the “Come boy… choose life or death” from the beginning of 4th Chamber, a Wu-Tang classic among classics. I don’t know if this is true for my cousin or not, but Liquid Swords was elevated above even the usual fantasizing that rap brings along with it. Yeah, being from a place called Shaolin would be awesome, and so would the kung fu aesthetic that the first few Wu albums were filtered through. The Lone Wolf & Cub, or Shogun Assassin, quotes took it to the next level. I knew nothing about LW&C but what this album said, which wasn’t a lot. It was just enough to catch my interest and force my imagination to fill in the blanks.

Years later, when I actually found out about Lone Wolf & Cub and watch Shogun Assassin, I was pleased to see that it wasn’t too different from what I’d imagined it was as a pre-teen. Sure, Ogami Itto looks pretty homeless and unkempt to be a formerly famous samurai, and Daigoro is barely a toddler rather than the young kid of about my age I’d imagined him to be, but the concept is strong and has legs.
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