Like many who grew up in the west, I’ve often been enamored of samurai - the noble warriors who were wiped out as Japan moved away from its brutal, feudal epoch. There’s a certain romanticism to the class as a whole, even though their status allowed them to maim or kill any peasant who offended them. The discipline of bushido didn’t necessarily exempt them from working for awful lords who made them do even worse simply on principle. There’s a similar effect that the cowboy has had here, the ideal of independence and grit where a cowardly shot in the back becomes the most famous showdown in history and put a little town called Tombstone forever into the annals of the ideas of “freedom.” Regardless of the truth behind the archetypes, both ideals have made for great storytelling for a long time, and sometimes mixing them makes for a whole new kind of tale. (Kirosawa noted this in much of his work.) This is the feeling that I get from Glenn Jeffers’ Children of Saigo. There’s just a touch of John Wayne influencing a samurai tale of honor and family that makes for some tense and often explosive action.
The conceit of the work is that there was one secret survivor of the last bout of samurai who fled to America in hiding to continue the teaching of bushido and continue the tradition of the samurai. When a child of the Yakuza finds the hidden lineage, the weight of her power is brought to bear against a family whose tradition and harmony is put to the ultimate test. At first blush, this seems like the standard slice-and-dice book, but as the story goes on ,we get scenes from the past filling the reader in on the history of each of the children, as well as the basis for their family dynamic. It’s nuanced and thoughtful, with a humanity present that does much to raise the level of what could have been blood and guts, cover to cover. Personally, I was left with a feeling of wanting, with a mix of wanting more of what’s here and a bit of wanting what is there to be a bit more, but compared to a lot of what makes it onto shelves, that’s a high mark to hit. It’s always nice to see more depth given to the emotional arcs of the people kicking butt.
Jethro Morales gives life to the story and has given wonderful designs to the characters. Though the composition work in the panels is great, things begin to move oddly in the faster-paced action sequences. When not feeling rushed, the book builds great tension with very rewarding “hell yeah” moments when things finally go “right.” The style isn’t my cup of tea but remains consistent and evolves well throughout the work.
There’s more to this tale than you’d first expect, and it’s surprise gems like this that make this hobby so much fun. If you’re looking for a more accessible and in-depth examination of the samurai, you’re in luck.
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