Samurai Executioner (aka: Kubikiri Asa) Vol. #02 (Mania.com)
By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Friday, January 14, 2005
Release Date: Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Writer/Artist:Koike Kazuo / Kojima Goseki
Translated by:Dana Lewis & Mark Miyake
What They Say
In a prison world, there are few good stories, and this is the world of Kubikiri Asa, the beheader and master samurai under the Shogun. It's a world full of vengeance, greed, and violence. It's a world of depravity and sin, and one man who can set things straight if he can keep his wits. This is a story of extreme proportions, of sword study think in tradition and with grim purpose, of blood rivers, agonizing screams, bondage, torture, and the evil prevalent in human failure. Drafted by Lone Wolf & Cub creators Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Samurai Executioner is a shocking combination of darkness and fire, fine lines, and a fine man in the face of human decline.
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. 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 portrait of the main character, Yamada Yoshitsugu, as he readies for his cut. This interesting image that wonderfully presents Yamada's stoic nature, 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!
Typical of Dark Horse translations, this one is great. It maintains the original feel of the writing through a variety of techniques. First, names are kept in their original order. DH 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 and Miyake also keep 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).
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In this world man is not born evil. They become evil through their nurturing. Yamada Asaemon said "It is how someone is raised that will bring vice or virtue." How someone is raised will make him or her a firefighter or arson. It can be the difference between a mercenary killer and a sword tester. Life can create an officer of the law or a criminal. In the end everyone will come across this problem, but do we judge the man or the crime?
In the eyes of an executioner like Yamada Asaemon, there is only one truth - those before him are guilty. He is not to judge for he is the executioner, the last man on the list of justice. All those involved before him should get their jobs done, respectful of their roles in the justice system. In all truth everyone plays a role in justice: witnesses, victims, bounty hunters, constable, policemen, interrogators, judges and even government. Will this ever prevent wrongful sentencing? Probably not. However, if society comes to understand what justice is and how law benefits society maybe an executioner can do his job without guilt.
In Koike's writing there is typically a single basic theme going on - there is fine line between good and bad. This goes to even his golf manga, but in Kubikiri Asa some accept their wrongdoings, some try to push that line and Yamada Asaemon has to straddle that line as a professional governmental executioner. This volume shows all sides of the law by showing it at its best, its worst and where individuals themselves must bring down the law. Concepts of law and justice are usually dramatic but they can be rather dry; Koike's Yamada Asaemon is able to create moments where there is only tension that makes this story a heart racing read from start to end.
This is why I read manga - passion, angst and manipulative drama that frames ideals through horror, shock and anger. It is writing that builds up to a panic that always ends in a beheading, but getting to that final cut is always an adventure in sociology. I find it funny that as a pacifist I can enjoy Kubikiri Asa because of Yamada's sense of justice. Seeing the cruelty of humanity can be disgusting at times especially with a main character that lives to cut to kill. In the end, I cannot hate the man, even if I hate his job. That is why I cannot hate the manga, even if I hate the violence. Can I hate the manga if it’s flipped, though? That, my friends, is up to another mangaka to answer. Right now go get this GN.
Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Released By: Dark Horse
Orientation: Left to Right