Samurai Executioner (aka: Kubikiri Asa) Vol. #07 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Art Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 18 & Up
  • Released By: Dark Horse
  • MSRP: 9.95
  • Pages: 304
  • ISBN: 1-59307-276-7
  • Size: Bunko
  • Orientation: Left to Right

Samurai Executioner (aka: Kubikiri Asa) Vol. #07

By Eduardo M. Chavez     April 12, 2006
Release Date: December 01, 2005

Samurai Executioner (aka: Kubikiri Asa) Vol.#07
© Dark Horse

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

What They Say
As Samurai Executioner continues moving into its own world of crime and punishment, honor and bushido, we are beginning to learn more about the characters and situations involved in Edo-era justice. We're learning about Kubikiri Asa, the Shogun's decapitator, and his stoic life. This man's joyless existence is backed by stories of his past as a child, and how they reflect on his present life.

But we also learn more about the peace officers of the era. In particular, there's the character "Catcher Kasajiro," the charming young man who uses a hooked rope and chained cudgel with such great skill. With these two characters, one with the guilt of many generations, and one bearing the naivete of a young buck, comes an odd sort of tenderness to a world of pain and death.

The Review
Crime is certainly nothing new to Yamada Asaemon. As the shogun's decapitator, punishing those accused of the most heinous crimes is just his job, which is why he's always lived with the nickname "head-chopper."

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 occasionally caught up in emotion and those subtle changes are drawn in with strong lines without the help of screen tone. All the texture and shading is also done in ink, so the depth comes out well helping create a great sense of realism.

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)
Even though Yamada Asaemon is nothing but a commoner who makes his living decapitating commoners for the local government, the world he lives in considers him superhuman. They definitely do not see him as someone with a higher social class. They can see that he lives among them and can only work among them, so he is no better than the next person. The occasional audience with members of government means little to most as well. Where the difference lies is his connection to the after-life. He is the connection from this plane and the next one. He is the living grim-reaper; a god-of-death among the ronin and common folk. But what most people are not aware of is that Yamada Asaemon was raised a monster and continues to be one because of society.

Yamada has never been to a festival before. He has been kept behind walls removed from the music, food and excitement of the festival. Even as a child, his experiences were limited by his training. He was bound to the sword and caught in a web of death everyday as he prepared to someday become a decapitator. He chopped bamboo and slept with corpses, his life in his youth was like nothing the other children experienced in that regard. His connection to the outside world mainly came from the sounds and smells of his neighborhood.

As an adult, he lives a simple life. He walks around town constantly training and maintaining his strength. He lives modestly in a simple home alone. He spends his years without company or real friendship. He does not have even have many acquaintances in his life, but that is the life he has chosen. He lives to kill and he has decided he will be the last in his clan, so he has no need for an extravagant life.

But his humanity should never be questioned.

When I read Samurai Executioner I feel I am reading a manga that really works for a wide spectrum of readers. Basically, Koike is telling the story of a man, Yamada Asaemon, a monster created by societies constructs. He does the bidding of his employers, but is also bound to the traditions that raised him as a professional decapitator. The only life he knows is the one where he brings death. Therefore, when Koike decides to show the side of Kubikiri Asa that is not standing before a sentenced criminal or next to the corpses he tests his blades with, we see a man whose entire life has been tragic and yet somehow far from empty. In my eyes this is an excellent example of a character driven story. Where the day to day life of Yamada might want to create a new image of this man; we see the sometimes compassionate and at times spirited behavior rarely seen from a killing machine. Ultimately his life, essentially his killing, will always be the lasting memory we get from our time with him. Koike and Kojima make sure we remember that as flying heads close out the majority of the chapters in this long title.

I wonder how Koike would describe Yamada's life? In Yamada, Koike has created a character who commands respect as he is given a great responsibility by his profession. He goes about his job with machine-like skill; always accurate and always completing his job without complaint. His title as a sword-tester does not properly describe his life, the fear his job conjures up certainly does. Nevertheless, even a monster has his humanity. There are guidelines even a decapitator follows and his blade will not cut if those rules are not followed. So after Koike attempts to make Yamada as killer and tool of the criminal justice system, Koike repeatedly sheds light on the sadness and loneliness the decapitator is shadowed by. Yamada's culture comes from the people he meets before the warden. He has to give these criminals a peaceful death and a meaningful death. He is a man of few words and few relations, even though he would end up becoming the person a good number of people will meet on their last days. He is ultimately a man of great resolve, who respects his position with all the emotions and responsibilities it comes with.

On the surface, his loneliness comes from the world that fears him and has left him isolated from society's norms. A great example is how the neighborhood festival cannot go on with the Grim Reaper in the neighborhood. Yamada does not resent the negative attitudes towards him; though he will not have anyone else in his clan ever suffer through the same. However, Koike also points out that society has not singled out Yamada. There are many monsters out there, destroying peoples lives or protecting them. What judges them in the end is society. An interrogator might be serving the publics needs, but without his humanity he could be considered a psychological torturer. A person stealing for her family could be a heroine to some and a criminal to others.

The moral challenges are clear, but that is why a character like Yamada is so fascinating. He stirs up all these emotions and forces readers to choose between his person and his livelihood. I think the best titles out there do that, making this a title most should pick up even this late in the series. You can learn about Yamada here as easily as you could in volume 2 or 3. So, hurry up before your time runs out.


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