“If you have any last words, I’ll listen.” And so, Yamada Asaemon does, the central character of Kazuo Koie and Goseki Kojima’s follow up series to their brilliant Lone Wolf and Cub. In Samurai Executioner, Asaemon is the executioner who swings his blade to cut off heads of the convicted, and that very simple premise brings us into the world of feudal Japan during the Edo period. Through Asaemon’s simple question, we explore many stories that lead to the soon-to-be-convicted’s death. Some violent, some funny, some heartbreaking – but always haunting. The most effecting images of decapitation I’ve ever seen, the images imprint themselves in your mind – these characters on the page have vitality beyond their constraints. It’s like looking at humanity through a microcosm of individuals. Like the Twilight Zone but with Samurai instead of people with pig faces.
There are sixteen tales of murder, revenge, love, lust, hope, and silliness, each given room to breathe in this 700-page omnibus.
Along for the ride are two new characters, who help split the stories with Asaemon. Sakane Kasajiro, one of Edo’s best policemen, and his wife Sakane Shinko, who is a reformed criminal. Koie and Kojima use the pair to step out of their own box of individual stories to focus on the growth of a couple. The ups and downs, how they each grow with each other. How they learn to love each other even more. It’s an incredible contrast showing this living, breathing life amidst the constant death that Asaemon is having to contemplate. Together, he learns a great deal and so do we.
If you want to be a storyteller in any genre, I recommend you read Koie and Kojima’s works, Executioner or Lone Wolf and Cub. Comic book creator, filmmaker, novelist, poet, artist – you’ll learn so much about what it means to tell an effective story through words and through images. There isn’t a moment wasted in the entirety of this book. Even in the silent moments. It’s beautiful. A work of art. And, it was the second time reading a comic in the last week in which I suddenly started crying. You’re simply drawn into the work, into this world, and even when you’re done, it won’t let you go.