After reading the first Omnibus, Volume 3 picks up two stories before the first omnibus ends. Unfortunately, my library didn’t have the second omnibus, so we’re resorting to individual volumes now.
Picking up where Lone Wolf and Cub left off, Koike continues the theme of 60 pages to tell a story. These vignettes still follow ronin Itto Ogami and his son Daigoro. Like before, each story displays a snapshot in their lives. We keep returning to concepts we have seen in the past in these stories, but each time we slowly build additional details. For example, in the title story Flute of the Fallen Tiger, we find that Itto’s infamy as Lone Wolf and Cub are now starting to be spread throughout Japan. People are finally recognizing him, which will feed additional stories in the future.
Two stories in this collection really stood above the rest to me:
In Half Mat, One Mat, A Fistful of Rice Ogami Itto meets another ronin, Shino Sakon. However, instead of following the assassin’s road, Sakon chose to follow the beggar’s road. This story waxes philosophic on what it means to be a ronin and a father. Sakon says that when you sit, you take up half a tatami mat. When you sleep, you take a full mat. When you eat, your stomach holds merely a handful of rice. This is what life means; everything else is artifice. These words urge Itto to leave the assassin’s road and provide a simple, yet wholesome, life to Diagoro. Unable to convince Itto, Sakon takes up his sword not to defend his power or money– but because he thinks that an unchecked Lone Wolf and Cub will lead to far too much suffering and death.
The sword duel which follows is exactly what you hear about in Japanese stories. We have 12 pages of wordless imaginary fights. Itto imagines what it is like to fight Sokon in his mind, and every time both ronin die. It is only Itto’s lack of loyalty to the full samurai code which allows him to prevail in the end.
This criticism of bushido was unexpected to me. As was Itto battling such a likable character. Thus far, all the characters have might not liked what Itto was doing, but they respected it. I appreciated the story which was being told to highlight the violence in Japanese society during this period. But it was heartbreaking. I do appreciate that is starting to show the breakdown of samurai culture. I hope to see this evolution grow as we follow Itto and Diagoro in the future.
The White Path Between Two Rivers stuck with me since it’s Itto’s origin story. In the first omnibus, we saw Diagoro help Itto select meifumado. However, in this story, we witness the entire plot against the Itto household and learn about the source of Ogami Itto’s passionate rage. Our first glance into the real enemy: the Yagyu clan. Beware, Yagyu clan. Beware. You created this monster, and he is coming for you.
In Volume 3: The Flute of the Fallen Tiger we are starting to delve more into the politics, culture, and philosophy of Japan in the Edo period. The details in history and culture are what intrigue me the most about this series. I hope to find more as we move forward in the series. I found that it was a bit lacking for my tastes in this volume; we had fewer references to Japanese words than the omnibus. This could be due to the much smaller size of this volume; I shall remain optimistic.
Also, I admit that while I appreciate the art, I am in this for the story and the history. I respect Kojima’s cinematic style and his use of different panel shapes across different pages to make the story more intense. I found that I had to read Half Mat, One Mat, Fistful of Rice twice since I got bored with the 12 pages of imaginary fighting. I am not in this for the swordsmanship, and it’s obvious with how my attention wanders in those scenes.
As before, I recommend this series to anyone interested in the Edo period, samurai movies, or action stories.