Samurai Executioner

Lone Wolf & Cub is one of my all-time favourite comic series, and I’d recommend it very highly, especially to anyone who likes Kurosawa’s samurai movies, as it seems a very close equivalent to them, except with a more substantial story – that’s the one drawback: it lasts for about 8,500 pages.

Anyway, before that Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima produced another series about a top swordsman (who did reappear in LW&C), and in the wake of the other series’s success, Dark Horse are publishing it. It’s about the shogun’s sword tester; and if that sounds less than action-packed, I should mention that they tested swords on commoners to be executed. The five self-contained stories here, totalling 322 pages, cover his appointment and four cases, one where his role is almost a cameo. Koike was admired for his research and historical accuracy, and this provides fascinating and surprising insights into a very different world, but the main appeal is his compelling and strongly delineated characters, our hero or the single-appearance characters all driving the stories along. Kojima is one of comics’ great artists, with an extraordinary dynamism and power and raw beauty, and the stories are paced in a way utterly alien to Western readers: I guess the average American comic reader spends about 30 seconds per page; in Japan the average is 1.5 seconds. The standard episode was over 60 pages, and this would take less than two minutes to read. Artists are perfectly happy to have long silent sections, and might take many pages over one sword-stroke, and Kojima controls this pacing brilliantly.

I don’t know if this will reach the heights of their next work, but it starts with great force, and I’ll be a keen buyer of all ten volumes.