Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 8 (2/11) -- Path of the Assassin, Vol. 15 by Koike and Kojima

This is the final volume of the historical samurai epic from the creators of the very popular (and exceptionally powerful) Lone Wolf and Cub, Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. The subtitle this time is "One Who Rules the Dark," and this volume brings Ieyasu right up to the death of his rival/mentor/lord, Nobunaga.

(And I'm reviewing this particular book today, even though it was a ways down my "to be reviewed" pile, because it was the smallest book and thus the greatest threat to the stability of that pile.)

This whole series is deeply historical, and I suspect it also incorporates popular legends and beliefs -- the "Washington chopping down a cherry tree" stories of Japan -- which are likely to be opaque or simply not noticed by an outside reader. (Such as myself, for example.) It's also chock-full of characters, who plot against each other feverishly, and whose battles and alliances and schemes might be more easily plotted on a map...though, sadly, there hasn't been a single map in the entire series.

The series followed Ieyasu -- who has had several different names along the way, as he did in real life (and this is one of the easiest elements to follow, since he's one of our two heroes, and on-page a lot) -- and his super-ninja retainer Hanzo, from their youth to the vigorous mid-thirties of this book, through all of the trails and travails of a country roiling with a slow-motion war of dozens of warlords against each other (as they find openings and opportunities). As always, Koike is excellent at making complicated politics as clear as possible -- even if some readers, such as myself, don't find that quite as clear as they might like -- and at making dark, conflicted, dangerously violent and nasty men to be fascinating, gripping figures. And Kojima was the original master of the samurai story, and invented the ways of showing men fighting with swords and ninja weaponry, making them violently beautiful in their smeared and slashed black lines.

The volumes are all violent and sexual, often both at the same time, like a nasty thriller, and I wouldn't recommend Path of the Assassin except to reader who have already worked their way through Lone Wolf & Cub (which is frankly not just a more accessible work, but a better one). But, for those who want to dive into the deep end of historical samurai manga, this is a cold blast of nasty real history from two of the masters of world comics.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: The Idle Hands - Queen of Air and Darkness
via FoxyTunes

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