I was introduced to “Lone Wolf and Cub” by searching for Frank Miller books and comics. Samurai and really anything Japanese culture intrigues me.It must be the bushido aspect of the samurai, how honorable it is and how they have a code they live by through life until death. It is very similar to chivalry of the Middle Ages in Europe. I love stories set in feudal Japan or any time surrounding this time. One day I just happened along an old samurai manga, and it just happened to become a new favorite. “Lone Wolf and Cub” is by Eisner Award Winner Kazuo Keoike, The covers for each comic were drawn by none other than, my favorite comic artist/writer, Frank Miller. This volume includes the first 9 Stories from the comics.
“Lone Wolf and Cub” takes place in the Edo, or Tokugawa, period of Japan (1603-1867). The story is that of Ogami Ittō and his three year old son, Daigorō. Along the journey they embark on countless troubles and obstacles that they have to overcome as father and son. Itto is disgraced and has to take the road of an assassin for the shogun and must renounce his role as the, kogi kaishakunin( shoguns executioner ), in these times this role also was to behead the men attempting seppuku (an honorable form of suicide where you make three cuts in the stomach with a blade), by standing behind them and beheading them. He is left with his child after the death of his wife, murdered by a rival gang, and gives the boy a choice death or the path of a ronin (a samurai without a master) the boy, even as a infant, chooses a sword over the ball. One thing I like about the series is the symbiotic relationship of father and son. The son plays a huge role in the father’s life and helps him with his marks and kills; the father provides the son with killing and its bounties.
The first volume of the series, subtitled The Assassin’s Road, starts off with scattered stories of the father and son duo having random quests along the path to revenge for the murder of his wife and the child’s mother. The first adventure they encounter is a group of warriors who capture Itto and his son. They bind him and bring him to their han (a village of sorts) and test his skills. Another adventure they fall into is an all out war between clans of opposing sides. After one of the clan’s leaders is murdered, Lone Wolf and Cub must choose a side to help, and they stumble upon some men evading taxes from the shogun and they hire him to kill the new official. One story from the first volume has his son peeing off a cliff, and he pees on a high ranking official. This is disrespectful to him. They ask Ogammi Itto to apologize for the boy, but he refuses and the official asks for a duel. I do not want to spoil it but, Lone Wolf and Cub Assassin are both in another 28 volumes. The official’s men want vengeance and to restore honor to themselves. They challenge him to a duel on horseback, so his fighting style and sword choice have no advantages for the ronin. It ends badly for all except our heroes . Other stories include the Eight Gates of Decei, a story where Itto must go through eight different opponents. My favorite of the whole book is ,Wings to the Birds, Fangs to the Beast. The story has Itto going to a hot spring village to find it overrun by thugs keeping the whole town and travelers, including a prostitute, a monk, and a samurai hostage. They eventually leave and try to kill all the travelers to keep them from telling on them, and Itto again saves the day. The last story in the volume is the origin story. Itto sees children playing with a ball and recalls the night of his wife’s murder and the night that changed his and Daigoro’s life forever.
I absolutely loved this manga. It is strange because I do not read many Japanese comics, but I had to pick this up once I read about it. The comic is historically accurate and changes nothing from when it was written in the late seventies to early eighties. If you like any kind of samurai style novels or shows, you may love this. I look forward eagerly to finishing the next installment (I have already started reading it!)- Justin
look forward to the next review of Lone Wolf and Cub Volume II- The Gateless Barrier.
Click the picture for link to amazon.
P.S- I want to say thanks to the glossary in the back of the book for helping with the terms I did not know.