Samurai Executioner (aka: Kubikiri Asa) Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Thursday, November 04, 2004
Release Date: Thursday, July 01, 2004
Writer/Artist:Koike Kazuo/Kojima Goseki
Translated by:Dana Lewis
What They Say
From the creators of Lone Wolf and Cub comes Samurai Executioner. Few know of this precursor to the legendary ronin saga, but before Koike and Kojima created Itto Ogami, they created Kubikiri Asa, better known to Lone Wolf readers as Decapitator Asaemon. If you remember the equal to Itto, bearer of the sword Onibocho, the man charged with the duty of testing the swords for the shogun, Samurai Executioner is based on the decapitator himself, in life before his fatal duel with Lone Wolf. Expect the same legendary drama, frantic action, and stoic samurai stature, combined with the exemplary art and storytelling that made Lone Wolf and Cub one of the most popular and influential comic books in the world!
Printed to reflect the format of the sequel, Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner is printed in a bunko sized book in left-to-right format. With this title having been flipped, there are a few errors like mirrored kanji and swords in the wrong hands that pop up now and then (actually Dark Horse corrects the kanji problems after the first chapter). It sure is frustrating to see new manga still flipped; however, Dark Horse representatives have stated that this should be their last new title formatted this way. I hope it is. On the cover, there is a panel image of the main character, Yamada Yoshitsugu. The black and white image is framed between the logo and the artist info. The opposite cover has another small image of Yamada beneath a long volume description. Inside the printing looks clean. A few pages at the start of the GN are a little when compared to the rest of the book, though. Dark Horse provides some good cultural/term notes at the end of the GN, followed by profiles on Koike and Kojima.
Kojima's art style is based in realism. He draws in very detailed facial features and expressions to make these violent characters appear more human. Even a killing machine like Yamada is occasional caught up in emotion and those subtle changes are drawn in with strong lines without the help of screen tone. Backgrounds are always present. They are always drawn in with detail and because of the nature of this series, backgrounds are vital to the storylines. The layout is presented like a cinematic storyboard. Panels do not come in fancy sizes or shapes, but the variety of perspectives and point of views come with high frequency. Close-ups, two-page spreads, first- second- and third-person views can occasionally be seen on a single page. Wow!
Dana Lewis' translation is great. He maintains the original feel of the writing through a variety of techniques. First, he keeps names in their original order. He also keeps honorifics and job titles in tact. So to best distinguish social status and relationships "-sama", "-san", "-dono" are all left in. They also have terms like "bugyo" (administrator) and "sensei" (masters of specific skills) that will aide in showing the authority and respect some characters command. These two concepts can give the reader a better sense of the subtleties of Japanese language and culture. Language is heavily related to status and the way these characters address each other and how their speech changes with every person they meet can help the reader associate with the era better. Lewis also keeps many Japanese terms in the dialogue. Most of them are immediately translated within the conversation, but some are further fleshed out in a glossary of terms at the end of the GN. Being a dialogue heavy title with a good amount of action and detailed art, there are very few SFX to be found. For the amount of action I was shocked at how little there was. Fortunately, Dark Horse is very good at retouch work. The SFX are all overlaid with translations that are done in a similar shape to the original. They never seem to compromise art, as well (but that is because Kojima decided not to with his).
Life is about generations. With the end of every era, a new one follows. Often, it is the wish of the previous generation to have the new one equal or surpass the level of excellence they set.
In Samurai Executioner, the second Yamada Asaemon the current O-tameshiyaku (official sword tester for the shogun) is retiring. Age has not weakened his swing or dulled his senses. He believes there currently is someone equal to his skill level, and he is giving way to the future. Before an audience of the Koshimono-bugyo, Yamada makes his case for his successor: his son Yoshitsugu. Moreover, a day after his meeting Yoshitsugu will have to prove his talents before local civil and prison commissioners, but before that, he will have to be tested by his father. To have the name Yamada Asaemon means being a killer and one that kills cleanly while respecting the sword what will be completing the cut. His father's test will prove his respect for both by testing his heart.
From the point when Yoshitsugu passed his exams, his heart would have to become like stone. He would be than man whose name will mean death in most circles. The sight of his umbrella brings fear and tales of death coming. He would be the one whose skill would be requested when the honor of the shogun is in danger. Yoshitsugu will become Kubikiri Asa… a killing machine. A man who must forget his past, live in the moment of the cut, for as he says, “The sword protects the gods; the sword banishes evil!” All that matters to him is that fatal cut... Delivered by the shogun's personal grim reaper.
Imagine a manga of a quality control inspector or a lethal injector. Sounds pretty horrible, huh. The jobs are rather limited… Well, I guess the injector could be doctor in his spare time and as Black Jack showed us that could be exciting. In addition, a QC inspector could end up doing forensics, which is all the rage on American TV, now. Maybe, it is not too bad. All the facets of Asaemon’s unique job are what make this normally cold and rigid profession interesting. Testing swords may typically mean cutting bamboo, straw mats, and dead bodies. It can also mean decapitating heads and using the sword in unimaginable ways. He would do anything to perfect that cut; to respect the sword and its maker. And as Koike has shown so far, the ways to use that sword seem endless, with each unique way challenging what the reader thinks about the power of the sword (and the power of the swordsman).
While Samurai Executioner lacks the epic plot that Lone Wolf had, the resemblance is uncanny. Koike's writing style, full of symbolism and violence consistently presents life's harshest realities: death, murder, crime and madness. These truths in almost every society are often best for headlines in papers and local news programming. They give thought to places like prisons and asylums (and Koike does not mind going to these places to prove a point). However, these truths also bring feelings of excitement and curiosity, and Koike and Kojima set these situations up perfectly. They present the brutality and leave the reader wondering about the man whose job is to kill. This stuff is not for kids; it is not for the weak of heart; instead it is for those who can accept entertainment at its cruelest but most honest. If this title were not flipped, it would get one of the highest recommendations.
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: C
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: All
Released By: Dark Horse
Orientation: Left to Right