Ogami Ittō, the Shogunate’s best executioner, is framed by a rival clan. His wife is murdered. Left to fend for his infant son and driven to get his revenge on the Yagyū clan –he becomes a ronin (a masterless samurai) and chooses the assassins path. This is the stage on which Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima tell a passionate tale of revenge that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Vengeance is the name of the game! Ogami and his cub journey through feudal Japan, sword for hire, getting involved in intrigues and politics. Often in the right places at the wrong time. Ever moving one step closer to hell. “Assassin, Lone Wolf and Cub! I come for YOU!”
The Story of An Assassin and his Baby… Killing People
Lone Wolf and Cub Vol.1 by Koike and Kojima is an extraordinary manga masterpiece. It portrays life, society and violence in feudal Japan during the Tokugawa area (1600-1867) in a clear, brutal fashion. When Lone Wolf and Cub was released in Japan in 1970, it became a breakout hit and has sold over 8 million copies with numerous film adaptions. And it’s easy to see why.
Collecting the first 16 chapters of the saga, Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 1 is made up of independent stories that all tell us a little bit about Ogami. His motivations, history and character. While building the legend of a man and his son, on a quest for revenge.
Be warned. Ogami is no hero. He is a man of deep and solid character… but he has made his choices. There is no morality in who he kills. Vengeance is all that matters. Be it official, lord or god! Nothing will stand in his way. He does have a code, however. It might not be the famed bushido. But it is there. Lone Wolf definitely dances to his own tune.
Epic Japanese Graphic Fiction -Sword for Hire. Son for Hire
The first story introduces us to Ogami and his toddler, Daigoro. Gently pushing a wooden pram along the road. Flying a banner that reads “Sword for Hire. Son for Hire”. Hired to assassinate the elder of a clan ruling a fiefdom, we get to see how Ogami operates. He has as simple policy, you tell him everything about the target and why you want him (or her) dead. If you don’t he walks. If you lie, you die. Simple.
Then there is Daigoro’s role in the assassinations. This is one of the aspects that is so disturbing and compelling about Lone Wolf and Cub. Ogami uses his son as cover and distraction where needed. This often means putting the child in danger. But Ogami does not do so gratuitously. Daigoro is often a key tactical, or strategic, component in ensuring that the assassinations go down smoothly.
In fact, as the story progresses throughout the novel, we get to see that in many ways Daigoro seems to be a willing (and in many ways equal) partner in the family trade. Half way through the book, we see that Daigoro made his own choice regarding his fate. Join your mother and be at peace, or join me and live the life of an assassin. Different lands, different times …different morals.
Yet even in this we see a touching and very sensitive side to Ogami. When confronted with unknown danger, Ogami always makes sure that Daigoro is alright or out of serious harm’s way. His adversaries often find out that the wolf cub isn’t a handicap. No! Papa Wolf is more dangerous because of him. And maybe a little bit more human.
Koike and Goseki paint a very clear picture of life in the strict Confucian cast system applied by the Tokugawa rulers. Peasant and Merchants at the bottom. Lords above all. Samurai ruling the land as officials, police and executioners.
Quest for Revenge on the Road to Hell
And honor and the code of Bushido rule the Samurai. This is what makes Lone Wolf different from other ronin. He doesn’t care and think about honor in the abstract and often twisted way of the samurai. When faced with humiliation of being forced by a gang of ronin turned robber to publicly sleep with a prostitute, he does so. Not out of weakness. Not because he can’t kill them all. But because he knows they will hurt this woman before he can do anything. A samurai would rather die than have his honor sullied in such a manner.
Lone Wolf puts the ordinary person and, in some strange way, justice above any morals and traditions. As long as they do not interfere in his assignments.
As interesting as all this is. Lone Wolf and Cub is primarily one kick-ass action blockbuster! From stealth missions into the heart of secret fortresses to hack and slash take downs during actual battles. This graphic novel has it all. You feel like you are watching and living one of the most hardcore samurai action flicks ever!
The Art and Writing of Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 1
Dark Horse Manga did something brilliant with this edition of Lone Wolf and Cub.
First of all they republished it in a format much closer to the Japanese original. So you get to enjoy the story on a larger print format in a massive 700 plus page omnibus. Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 1 has a gorgeous original cover by legendary graphic fiction artist Frank Miller –of The Dark Knight Returns fame.
Secondly they did not try to translate words and concepts for which there is no true English equivalent. They simply use the word as is and provide a helpful explanation in the glossary at the end of the volume. I actually found myself learning a lot about feudal Japan in the process. Somewhat unexpected as I am a big manga and anime fan.
Kazuo Koike has crafted a story that brings Lone Wolf and Cub’s quest for revenge alive. He has clearly done much research into Tokugawa area culture, society and history. This wasn’t a nice time to be an ordinary person. Even the Samurai, while very privileged, where servants of the ruling class. And a servant, as we learn in the book, no matter how precious can be thrown away and disregarded when his master pleases or feels the need to.
The story is very action oriented, moving forward at a relentless pace. Any quiet or peaceful interludes serve one purpose only. To set us up for some serious sword fights! Ogami faces a host of enemies. Some with very unique and creative ways of fighting.
But what really shines is the dialogue. You actually get a real feel for the characters personality and character through it. Koike only uses words where he has to. Much is shown, rather than said. Making what is said so much more powerful.
Goseki Kojima’s art has been described as cinematic and dynamic. That’s an understatement. Don’t expect to see the exaggerated and somewhat silly style that we have come to associate with manga and anime in the West.
Kojima is a serious, realistic graphic novel artist. He characters are not pretty boys and girls, they are real life people. He renders the architecture and landscapes of medieval Japan to perfection.
His action sequences are mind blowing! You actually feel like the fights are occurring before your own eyes. The dynamic energetic expressions and posture of his characters put many modern artists to shame. Once again I am in awe of how Japanese artists use light and dark with ‘simple’ lines to create beautiful and resonating works of art.
Like all good manga, Lone Wolf and Cub Vol.1 is illustrated in black and white. And it is so much better for it! An absolute visual feast!
This is one of the cornerstones of the entire Japanese graphic novel tradition. Lone Wolf and Cub is a definite must for any action lover or fan of Japanese culture. Even if you are neither, the simple quality and depth of this graphic novel make it worth a try. A definite must in any good graphic fiction collection!
PS: If you like action, assassins and epic quests for revenge you will love Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 1. Click here to order it now!