Is blood thicker than honor?
I had picked up the first issue of this series without knowing that I’d be writing a review of the second. I’m always a sucker for a good Samurai tale, and I find it hard not to grab something that looks that full of potential off the shelf. The story felt familiar to me, reminding me very much of Samurai Champloo without the B-Boy antics and outrageous giggles (though some laughs are still there). Two swordsmen end up in a fight where neither has a stake in it beyond their honor: one hired by the wealthy criminals who keep the populace of an island under their oppressive thumb, the other drawn into defending the honor of those islanders who have let honor slip by in their need. There was never really a doubt that these two would come to meet in the ring, regardless of Takeo’s protestations and the many turns of the plot that would seem to let their paths never cross; it’s the inevitability of combat that is always the hook for me. A good Samurai story isn’t as much about the action for me as the tension leading to it. There’s always a sense of futility to escaping the path that seems most obvious, and the team behind this book seems to have that feeling locked down.
Jean-Francois Di Giorgio has sculpted a very traditional story that feels new and inventive. This is a writer that knows how to fill the “stock” characters with much more than stereotypical shadow puppetry, and with a deft hand lays out the many ties that bind all of the characters together, breathing life into the island that he’s populated. This issue follows the path of the dominoes set into motion from one simple interaction in the first, though they do not intersect with Takeo until their weight is too much to bear and he is pushed along in the cascade. The fun that I look for in these stories is set up here in the wonderful structure of going down a tree; all the various branches connecting until the trunk of the story is where we end up. For the most part, it’s done subtly, but by the end of the issue, we end up where we’ve known we’d been heading all along.
Frederic Genet brings the work to life and, boy, can he make some beautiful vistas. His composition work is very reminiscent of Kirosawa’s work, each panel framing the action in a way that allows the remaining space to fill with the emotional tone wrought by the story. The ability to capture the spirit of this kind of story is lovely to witness, with moments of action and suddenness of movement perfectly balanced by those of clarity and peace. The final few pages of the issue fall into this serenity, and the free-fall sensation of the plot begins to feel comfortable with the characters’ acceptance of their fate.
If you’re moved by the non-Cruise bits of The Last Samurai or just love a good Samurai story, this is a series you should strongly consider. Filled with action, wit, and emotional as well as practical motivations, Samurai will transport you to a time of much less distraction, where keeping yourself out of trouble is a full-time occupation. Family, honor, and duty collide in a tense, yet beautiful, place, and where we’ll be when the sword falls is anyone’s guess.
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