Written by: Kazuo Koike
Art by: Goseki Kojima
Take a breath, because you’re about to lose it. This widely influential graphic novel of the expertly researched Edo-period is a collection of more than 10 chapters. It tells the epic tale of a man who is wrongly accused of killing a Shogun, now a disgraced fugitive assassin, he must find his son. This volume focuses on Ogami (the fugitive) on the hunt for his boy whom he gets separated with during a battle with the Yagyu assassins (clan who laid the false accusations), and the trials and tribulations they encounter along the way. This collection does a great job of balancing deep meaningful dialogue with slaughtering of assassins during this epic revenge tale.
The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” must have been talking about the art in this book. The story is well scripted and pieces begin to shuffle into place many pages before the main battles and events occur. The amount of dialogue isn’t much compared to how big this collection is, but when Kazuo Koike chooses to have the characters interact, it is a display of the culture. Honor, tradition and duty are all essential values being portrayed page by page. This careful use of dialogue lets the Tokugawa-era (1603-1868, also known as Edo) stand out within the art of Goseki Kojima. The art is so wonderful; it could be displayed in a gallery full of other Japanese woodblock paintings. The panels and pages that really strike inspiration are the landscapes full of trees, and the pouring rain drenching the tense situations.
At this point in reading this omnibus, I had gotten curious into just how deep this epic story goes. There are over 8,700 pages worth of this highly detailed bushido ethos, with historically accurate settings, events and clans. It was a weekly manga that ran for 6 years during the 70s. Once I knew that, I paid even closer attention to the conversations and mannerisms that were unfolding within the many pages. It shocked me at how thorough the writer was at hammering home the fact that someone’s word held a lot of value. The flow of the comic was very enjoyable as well. It would focus on Ogami and his emotional state as he fought and searched for his boy. Then it would shift to the toddler Daigoro as it would show his whereabouts and how he himself is a strong willed person who influences those around him. The chapters that follow the eventual joining of the Lone Wolf and Cub, show the gritty life and grotesque nature of how grimy people can be to each other, and how the novels main characters make strides to better the people around them.
The one down side to this graphic novel was the size of the collection. At a staggering 700+ pages, it will make you want to take a breather. However you can also look at that as a positive, there is 700+ pages of great swordplay and beautiful imagery. This intensely illustrated collection is almost in a battle with itself to deem who the star of the graphic novel is. The art, as incredible and beautiful as it is, is matched if not passed by the amazing story of a father trying to find his son (Daigoro), who is not as helpless as many other toddlers would be (He is the son of a renowned executioner after all). After finally finishing this omnibus, I both felt relieved and sad. As I had completed a staggering amount of pages only to crave for more of this complex art form that is basically a story about a father wanting the one thing that means the most to him, his son. There are a lot of themes and emotions you experiences within this saga, but the one reoccurring notion was “Life…Precious life. Precious above all things…Precious beyond words. At last I understand. From the bottom of my heart”.