Samurai Executioner volume 10 (of 10)
“A Couple of Jitte”
Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Art: Goseki Kojima
BW, 304 pgs
$9.95 US / Higher in Canada
Unlike the dense and layered epic of Itto Ogami from Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner spends much of its pages telling stories about Edo-Period Japan and its citizens. These tales of crime and punishment are witnessed by Yamada Asaemon, the shogun’s sword tester and executioner. Yamada lives by his own code – he believes the executioner must understand the executed – so he goes through great lengths to familiarize himself with the condemned and the actions they’ve made. It is believed that the truth of their confessions will set their souls free, ending one life to begin another.
Samurai Executioner focuses on consequence and karma. Yamada-Sama might bookend most of the chapters in this ten volume collection, but only small fragments of his character are ever revealed at one time. We the reader are versed in his origin, and how he became the shogun’s decapitator after killing his father so he could succeed his position and title, but rarely does the reader get a glimpse into Yamada’s thoughts. Yamada, the headchopper, is far from hollow, but the distance between himself and the audience is immense. He speaks in riddles when his opinion and help is sought, instigating the need to reflect and do some soul-searching. There are no easy answers when Yamada’s wisdom is asked for, but with thought and reflection comes the solution.
Decapitator Asaemon has a curious nature when it comes to the people he executes. He strives to save their souls and rescue them from the permanence of hell. His only belief is posted in his home:
All things are impermanent
This is the law of life and extinction
When both life and extinction perish
Nirvana will be bliss
Only in death will one’s suffering end.
As Samurai Executioner develops, the creators Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima introduce some regular supporting cast members for different reasons; firstly, to allow a human light to shine on Yamada and his curious ways, and to also give the series an ongoing story element. Yamada’s episodes take a look at an important period in Japan’s history, but each story concludes when his subject is executed – which does not allow an ongoing element of the storyline. The beat cop, Sakane Kasajiro, nicknamed Catcher Kasajiro, is introduced to build a personal relationship with Yamada, as Kasajiro discusses his problems with his fighting techniques and his job protecting the streets of Edo. When Kasajiro runs into trouble, Yamada is always there to give him cryptic advice. Later, Kasajiro’s wife-to-be Shinko “The Kappa” is brought into the series to broaden the narration. Eventually, the relationship of Kasajiro and Shinko dominate Koike and Kojima’s stories.
Compared to Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner is quite slow and meditative. Yamada has no vengeance to carry out; his life is one of tradition, ceremony, and solitude. Any action in Samurai Executioner takes place with one-swing, when Yamada’s sword decapitates the criminal brought before him. By no means is this a fault to the book. Yamada is a vehicle that reveals the inner workings of a culture and its people. Samurai Executioner gains its strength in its research and internalized philosophical outlook. You will be hard pressed to find manga as serious as this. Koike and Kojima are masters at their craft, and this final volume illuminates that fact. (Dana Tillusz)