Satsuma Gishiden volume 2
Dark Horse Comics
by Hiroshi Hirata
BW, 280 pgs, $14.95 US / Higher in Canada
In my review of volume 1, I neglected to mention Hiroshi Hirata’s artwork. It is detailed and always ferocious, with strong inks, haggard characters, harsh landscapes, lived in locales and brutal bouts of violence.
It does indeed remind me of the artwork from other samurai epics of the era, specifically Samurai Executioner and Lone Wolf and Cub and thus I have to wonder if the style is a product of the 1970s, and if so, which artists were influencing whom. Where Satsuma Gishiden differs, however, is in Hirata’s use of calligraphy to highlight and isolate key moments of dialogue. This is used to dramatic effect, and thankfully Dark Horse has left the calligraphy untouched, opting instead to provide a translation in a smaller word balloon below.
Satsuma Gishiden volume 2 has a large cast of characters and though Hirata favors a particular body shape for his samurai, the focal characters are distinct, and not only through the design of their facial features and clothing. He further differentiates his characters by the way they hold their bodies, and by their facial expressions. Shiba Sakon, the convict from the fist story in volume 1, now a free man, holds himself straight, a proud, noble figure with purpose. The lord of the clan and his equals too are straight-backed, with stern, thoughtful faces as they debate whether or not to accept the shogunate’s orders, while the lower samurai are a mixed lot of hunched shoulders and worn faces where emotions change as situations change.
The politics of the times makes up a good portion of volume 2, and as dry as the material could have been it isn’t thanks to Hirata’s knowledge of good storytelling. As the volume starts to wrap up, the clan is on its way to partake in the shogunate’s flood control project, and the reader can see how the trek itself and the promise of hard, unrewarding work is already wearing on the samurai. I can’t help but think these warriors would be far happier if they were marching into battle. (Chad Boudreau)