Samurai Executioner (aka: Kubikiri Asa) Vol. #10 - A Couple of Jitte (Mania.com)

By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Friday, February 23, 2007
Release Date: Monday, October 30, 2006



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Koike Kazuo / Kojima Goseki
Translated by:Marc Miyake
Adapted by:Marc Miyake

What They Say
It's the final volume of Samurai Executioner, and like the previous nine volumes, the last is a combination of life's varying tides of good fortune and ill circumstance.

The woman who once stole the weapons of samurai cops is becoming a cop herself. It's a story of gender struggles in a time long past. All the while, criminals keep losing their heads to Asa the decapitator. But one criminal might leave something behind that could hurt our favorite protagonist.

Drafted by the creators of Lone Wolf and Cub, Dark Horse Comics has been proud to present this beautiful and individual series of samurai-era, crime-and-punishment drama.

The Review
Packaging:
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 Asaemon, finally at the end of cut. I say finally because through out this series, I have seen Yamada preparing his sword, at the start of his stance and now completing his final cut. The timing is excellent. I don't think I need to discuss the symbolism, right. The opposite cover features Yamada and a young lady preparing herself for her last moments.

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.

Artwork:
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!

SFX/Text:
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. Miyake also keeps many Japanese terms in the dialogue. Most of them are immediately translated within the conversation, but some are looked at in detail 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)
There is time for just one more head chopping for the Samurai Executioner. But before Koike sends that last head flying, the author digs into the character files to revisit some old characters that changed the character of the this property. We know Kubikiri Asa as the man who ends people's lives. A few volumes back he gave a couple new life and now Koike tries to have them repay the Executioner.

The Tale of Two Jitte is seinen romance at its purest. This is a couple brought together through adversity. Their lives are filled with passion, excitement and plenty of doubt. The wife of a cop often fears whether her husband will not come home. The Kappa does not have to worry about her Catcher though. She has been given the opportunity to join him in the force. Working the beat during the day side by side and at night the couple handles undercover duty like no other.

In the end though, when the two are assigned to separate cases, it is Asaemon's wisdom and their love that brings them together stronger. Asaemon told them to imagine the cut that happens before the cut. The consequences, the risks and what is needed to accomplish anything are vital when trying to achieve success. The Two Jitte realized they have succeeded when they realized they had all they needed to go right or wrong. Everything was there before their eyes. And in accomplishing that Asaemon has seen the results of his not cutting off ties with these two. They gave him knowledge and respect in turn closing the loop. And as such even the Executioner's life, which is on a different path entirely, was justified and complete.

Comments
Kazuo Koike might have hundreds of volumes of manga to his name. His titles cover everything from sports to romance to samurai and yakuza. But what this manga master is really known for is creating characters. With Samurai Executioner, Koike has created a few of the most memorable names in his huge cast of characters. Obviously you know Yamada Asaemon. You know him as Kubikiri Asa; the man this series is named after. But with this series Koike did a wonderful job going full circle brining back a pair of faces that really brought life to this title and brought renewed vigor to Yamada Asaemon.

This was like the ultimate slice of life manga. Filled with equal numbers of somber reflective moments and bushi action, Samurai Executioner is ultimately the tale of Asaemon. Throughout this series his actions and words inspire those who respect him and send chills into the hearts of those who fear him. And readers are left in awe by his sense of justice and tolerance. A day in the life of Asaemon has some power elements of life - sin, reflection and death. And somehow Koike and Kojima makes going through each stage feel natural. There is no apprehension and even if some scenes are sensationalized there is a sense of calm at all times. It is rare to find such casual storytelling within a property with so much shock value.

This final volume is a culmination of a few years of story-telling no doubt. Yet, to me it is evident that Koike wanted to celebrate the wonderful characters he had given life to throughout this title. Asameon's life - his philosophy, his wisdom and his sword - touched so many characters through the course of this series. Most of the stories were self-contained episodes about the life of a sword-tester; often concluding with a decapitation. There were a few arcs that not only weaved together something resembling a continuous narrative, but they create characters that redefine the title altogether. To see Koike bring back those memories and then close out the title with humor and humility showed so much poise. Furthermore, that showed an appreciation for his work and his readers. A wonderful way to close out an under-appreciated series.



Mania Grade: A+
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Released By: Dark Horse
MSRP: 9.95
Pages: 302
ISBN: 1-59307279-1
Size: Bunko
Orientation: Left to Right