Writer: Kan Furuyama
Art: Jiro Taniguchi
Translated by: Mayumi Kobayashi
BW, 192 pgs w/ ads
$15.95 US / Higher in Canada
Samurai Legend tells the story of Yagyu Jubei, a real person from Japanese history, a legendary samurai known as a master swordsman but also an accomplished writer. I must state clearly, however, that Samurai Legend for all of its historical references and accurate illustrations of period dress and weaponry is a work of historical fiction. What is fact and what is fiction is not for me to detail here in this review.
Samurai Legend has a lot of strengths. The first I will mention is how the story drove me to learn more about Jubei and that period of Japanese history. I’ve been fascinated by samurai and ancient Japan ever since my first viewing of Akira Kurosawa’s Shichinin no samurai, but until now, I’ve never been compelled to seek out information about a particular person from that history. After reading Samurai Legend, I turned to the Internet and sought information about the real Yagyu Jubei.
Samurai Legend would not work as a comic, however, if not for the talented Furuyama and Taniguchi. Furuyama is a scholar in Japanese history, and his knowledge of the times shows in this story. He is able to deliver a great deal of historical places, names and events without confusing the reader. He paints a vivid picture with his words, detailing the political intrigues and philosophical teachings of the time. Less familiar with history is artist Taniguchi. Samurai Legend marks his first foray into historical fiction. Not that his novice status shows. His work is equally vivid. His depiction of samurai’s at battle is particularly stunning. His work flows from stance to majestic stance. Never is the reader at a loss for an understanding of space.
The year is 1649 and the Yagyu Secret Chronicles are stolen from the Yagyu family. It’s up to Yagyu Jubei to find the thieves and retrieve the coveted book. Lord Gomino, the retired Emperor, hopes to use the secrets within the chronicles to incite a civil war to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. This plot line sounds deceptively simple. Samurai Legend is, in fact, a heavily layered read. The Yagyu family acts as spies for Tokugawa, so what we get in Samurai Legend is not wall-to-tall samurai action. We get intrigue, quiet maneuvering and political entanglements that will have a lasting effect throughout Japan’s history. There is swordplay too, and it’s of the highest quality. (Chad Boudreau)