In Lanterns for the Dead, there is a definite shift in writing. Up to this point, we have seen mostly stand alone stories around how Ogami Itto became the Lone Wolf and is surviving on the road of meifumado. Only recently have we started to see the relationship that he and Diagoro has. In Lanterns for the Dead we now get to learn more about Diagoro. Not just learn, really, but it’s obvious the focus of the story is moving towards Diagoro and his future.
The first story is our title story, Lanterns for the Dead. Unfortunately, I found this story fairly disappointing as both the title story and the first story we read. This tale explores more of how the Tokugawa-era Yakuza function and how there is honor among thieves. I love learning about the history of Japan through these stories. Yet, this story featured almost exclusively Yakuza politics, society, and expectations. Ogami and Daigoro are more like ancillary characters, leaving me wanting more for the first story. Due to this, I was slow to get into this volume.
Thankfully, we got both history and more of our protagonists Lone Wolf and Cub in Deer Chasers. The title “deer chasers” are given to con artists who work together to con innocents into rigged gambling. Named for the idea of herding deer into a specific spot for hunting slaughter, I was fascinating by their con. Unfortunately for this gang of thieves, they run into the sign of meifumado and map markings for Ogami to locate his next target. Our silly thieves decide to imitate Lone Wolf and Cub and steal the money. When they go looking for a child to be their cub and come back with Diagoro… well, you know that this won’t end well.
Hunger Town was the most heartbreaking story for me. Ogami and Diagoro train an adorable dog to be agile and quick. During their travels, they encounter a town where the people are next to starvation since their (probably psychopathic) Lord has bled the Han dry feeding his obsessions with luxury and dog sport. The people demand the dog to eat– but Diagoro holds the dog tightly. They have bonded, and Ogami steps in to stop it. As they near the castle, we come to realize that Ogami has trained the dog as a trick for this insane noble.
The last two stories, The Soldier in the Castle and One Stone Bridge almost form one continual story. In the first story, Lone Wolf and Cub assist nobles who fear the Shogunate has put together a complicated plot to bring down their Han and take it for himself. Seeing in these nobles what happened to him, Ogami goes to extremes to help resolve this plot. In the end, Ogami makes new enemies in the Kurokuwa Ninja (I’m sure we’ll see them again) and suffers extreme burns.
One Stone Bridge picks up where the last story left off. Ogami is severely burned and possibly dying. Diagoro is discovered by a young couple. They recently lost their own son and thinking he is an orphan, go to help him. Upon finding Diagoro is really just trying to take care of his father, they resolve to help instead of stealing him away to be their own child. In the middle of his recovery, the Kurokuwa find Ogami (I knew they’d be back!) who must defend himself alone.
The bond between father and son is continually explored in these last three stories. Each story seeming to focus less and less on Ogami Itto and more on Diagoro. I look forward to seeing how we progress– will eventually we be reading Cub and Lone Wolf?