Wednesday, December 4, 2013

That Long & Winding Demon Road

Lone Wolf & Cub, vol. 2: The Gateless Barrier

Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by: Terry 

4 out of 5 stars


 The second volume of Dark Horse’s reprinting of the saga of Lone Wolf and Cub provides plenty more action along with some deeper examinations of the politics, philosophies, and spirituality of 17th century Japan as we follow Ogami Ittō and his son Daigorō on their path along the assassin’s road. The assassin and his son gain some more depth as their story continues and we see some elements of the foundation of their odd (though obviously close) relationship, but for me it remains the secondary characters that really shine and bring life and breath to Koike and Kojima’s epic. Politics and personal scores prove to be the dominating motives for those who hire Lone Wolf and Cub and, as always, Ogami continues relentlessly on his path, fulfilling his missions to the letter regardless of the fallout he leaves behind. It’s interesting to see that at the same time that this series seems to glorify the samurai way and certainly indulges almost joyfully in the gory bloodshed of combat, there are many tacit and outright critiques of the samurai lifestyle which is founded on the Bushido warrior philosophy. The stories in this volume are:

“Red Cat”: Ogami infiltrates a prison in order to find an arsonist who burned down another prison in which he had previously been incarcerated and subsequently escaped, the result of which was the seppuku of its former warden. But is there some deeper mystery to the events behind the warden’s death?

“The Coming of the Cold”: If we weren’t quite sure of it already we get to see just how far Ogami is prepared to go along the path of meifumado even if it means endangering, or even sacrificing, Daigorō. Lone Wolf and Cub are hired to go into the snowy reaches of the mountains to assassinate a Daimyo who is willing to put his own desires ahead of the safety of his clan. As with many of the stories both already seen and yet to come in these volumes the intertwined elements of the Bushido way and the internecine politics of the Shogunate are deeply woven into the background of this story.

“Tragic O-Sue”: An interesting ‘solo-adventure’ for Daigorō in which the loveable scamp (he really does come across as an adorable little guy notwithstanding his utter strangeness) confronts a bully and proves that he is truly his father’s son. The effects of Ogami’s words and actions, all of which Daigorō has witnessed, have proven to have had a lasting effect on the child. Perhaps his father is right and even a three-year-old boy can walk the path of meifumado. Luckily for us Daigorō still exhibits some more human traits as we see his reaction to both the pity and the plight of the lowest of the low in a samurai household.

“The Gateless Barrier”: When politics and faith collide in an impoverished Han, where only the word of a holy man keeps the peasants from revolt and his demands on the nobles would mean their financial ruin and loss of face, the leaders see only one option, but can even an assassin as renowned as Lone Wolf and Cub kill a Buddha? In order to succeed Ogami must find the gateless barrier, the path that leads to his own perfection and thus reach a state along the assassin’s road analogous to the spiritual purity of a monk who may have attained Buddha-hood. This was an intriguing story delving into the concepts of mu (nothingness, negativity, nonbeing), the perfection of one’s path, and the oneness (or is it nothingness?) of all things.

“Winter Flower”: A police investigation into two mysterious deaths: one the peculiar suicide of a prostitute who seems to have been more than she appeared, the other an assassination of a couple making love at which a winter flower was left as a token ultimately leads the investigator to Lone Wolf and Cub. What connects these two deaths to each other and what, if anything, can save a police investigator and his men from the unerring sword of Lone Wolf and Cub?


 Also posted at Goodreads

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