Ogami Itto is the Kogi Kaishakunin, the Shogun’s executioner, and has been framed for the death of his wife. The entire Itto household was brutally murdered with only his newborn son Daigoro surviving. Rolling in grief, Ogami gives innocent Diagoro a choice: Select the ball, and Ogami shall send his son to join to Daigoro’s mother. Choose the sword and commit them both to the life of ronin, as assassins-for-hire. One-year-old Daigoro selects the sword, and thus our adventure truly begins.
The child of the wolf, my Lord, is still a wolf.
This, the first omnibus, was my introduction to the Lone Wolf and Cub graphic novels. A collection of stories from volumes 1-3 reached over 600 pages. I did some research, and this series is over 9,000 pages long and 28 volumes. Quite impressive! Initially released in Japan, this series was translated and published by First Comics in 1987. First Comics shut down in 1991 without completing publication of the entire series. In 2000, Dark Horse Comics began to release the full series, and now all 28 volumes are available translated carefully into English.
Ogami Itto leaves on a quest for vengeance against the Yagyu clan. The Yagyu’s conspired against Itto and his family, leaving Itto no choice but to commit seppuku (ritual suicide for a disgraced warrior) or become a ronin walking meifumado<, or “the road to hell” and cursed journey for vengeance. In this first omnibus we only get a high-level story of how this begins. I assume in future volumes we will hear more about how Itto thought this was the only choice left for him and his son. But once the choice was made, Itto wanders Japan with Daigaro in a baby cart (obviously tricked out with hidden weapons), a sword by his side, and a little sign which reads: “Sword for Hire, Son for Hire”.
On the surface, this is a collection of short stories about samurais, vengeance, and blood. However, there is more to Lone Wolf and Cub than that. Each vignette illuminates some aspect of Edo period Japanese culture. We learn about Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. We are taught about the definitions of disgrace (cowardice, dishonor, defeat). We learn about seppuku and ronin. We learn of the political structure involving the tenno, shogun, daimyo, kerai, bugyo, daikan, and shoya. We understand the political struggle between the Shogun’s men of power, including the Decapitator Ogami Itto once was, the official assassins of the Shogunate, and the official spy system. We better understand Buddhism and its importance to the culture. We learn so much about the Edo period. I look forward to the remaining 8,300+ pages illuminating the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Yes, the road to vengeance is long and bloody– but it’s also educational.
Thinking about future volumes, I hope we get to run into Basho and his haikus, Saikaku and his humor-novels, kabuki and bunraku theatre… this is the establishment of Tokyo, people! This a time where the entire structure of Japan is changing, much more quickly than anyone expected. And I hope that Lone Wolf and Cub provides us with glimpses into this monumental change.
My favorite part of this omnibus version is the glossary at the end. Many period-specific terms don’t have a direct translation in English. Instead of trying to re-phrase the scenes, these words are kept in transliteration as you read the frames of the manga. In the back of the omnibus you can look up the often multi-sentence long definitions of these terms. This allows the original intent from the Japanese language to come through without disrupting the story.
712 pages in and I look forward to more. The art is crisp and realistic, and yet still has fantastic elements traditional to the manga genre. I recommend this series to anyone interested in the Edo period, samurai movies, or action stories.