The fourth volume of Lone Wolf and Cub really started to catch my attention. Like the previous volumes, this contains 4 stories continuing the tale of ronin Ogami Itto and his son Diagoro as they wander Edo-period Japan along the road of meidumando.
As mentioned in my previous reviews, I am not a huge fan of the violence and bloodshed. I am fascinated with the society, culture, and politics of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In this volume, we start to hear more about these aspects of Japan while still allowing Ogami and his son to pull the story forward. Not only that, but these stories begin to break away a bit from the mold of the previous volumes.
The Bell Warden is our first story. Here we learn that the Bell Warden of the watch towers is the richest and most powerful position in Edo. Particularly, we learn about how time was established in the city of Edo. Originally a war bell, it was housed in a tower and accidentally became the official timepiece for the city. As the city grew, more towers with bells went up, until all areas of the city could hear the bell chimes on the hours. The Bell Warden, or Tsuji Genshichi, controlled time. They were above the law and received tithes from all citizens. They were wealthy and powerful.
...After that, the story became a bit predictable, for me. But I loved listening to the history. Plus, the bell ringers who challenged Itto all have different weapons they used. Interestingly enough, at the end of this volume is a section on ronin weapons of the era. This coupled with the story made it an incredibly fascinating historical study.
Unfaithful Retainers was the least memorable story to me, however, it sets the tone for the remaining stories of this volume where Itto and his exploits are not the main focus. In this tale, we learn of the Orisuke, a class of warriors who rose up to serve samurai families but who do not hold samurai values. This class of warriors was established due to rising debt and changing lifestyles. This story centers around two children of a samurai lord murdered by some orisuke. These children seek the assistance of Itto to help them enact their vengeance against the murderer.
My favorite story: Parting Frost. This story is completely from the perspective of Daigoro. Itto does not come back to fetch Daigoro after one of his jobs as Diagoro expects. Therefore, he takes it upon himself to wander into the world and locate his father. Along the way, another ronin meets Daigoro and is fascinated to see shishogan, the eyes of a swordsman alive in the moment between life and death, in this young child. He follows Diagoro and we learn much about the fortitude of our young Cub. Diagoro says little throughout this tale, but we see him grow and learn much about his character through the incredible art.
Performer is the most memorable story. Itto and Diagoro are searching for a female assassin who has tattooed her body in a hypnotizing, vulgar, and eye-catching way. These tattoos are intended to put her opponents off balance. While she is the target of Itto in this story, we also begin to understand a bit better the situation women were put in during this era. Coupling this with the story The Virgin and the Whore from Volume 3 and we are starting to better understand how women fit into this society, and this story. We also are exposed to another perspective of someone following a blood-feud, like Lone Wolf and Cub. This provides more context and understanding for those of us who are not familiar (or perhaps comfortable) with a society based on honor where this is an acceptable dedication of your life.
All in all, the addition of history and Itto being put aside a bit really helped me enjoy this volume quite a bit. I look forward to reading more.