Manga Review: Blade of the Immortal Omnibus 1

Manga Review: Blade of the Immortal Omnibus 1 by Hiroaki Samura

Manji used to be the samurai retainer of Lord Horii, and served faithfully until the day he discovered that the people he’d just killed on orders from Horii were in fact not criminals, but innocent peasants who were going to the government with evidence of the lord’s tax embezzlement.  In a fit of rage, Manji executed his master.  Now a fugitive, Manji wound up killing one hundred police officers in his efforts to remain free.

Blade of the Immortal Omnibus 1

The last one turned out to be his sister Machi’s husband, and witnessing this event drove her mad.  This sobered Manji somewhat, and he reconsidered his habit of resorting to lethal violence while trying to take care of his sister.  It was at this point that Manji met the Buddhist nun Yaobikuni, who infested him with the kessen-chu (holy bloodworms) that regenerate any wound, making Manji functionally immortal.

After a ronin (masterless samurai) gang murders Machi to force Manji into a duel, he no longer has a reason to be immortal.  It turns out that he can be released from the bloodworms if he can complete a worthy goal.  Manji decides to make up for murdering one hundred cops by killing one thousand criminals.  But he believes he must have proof of evil before he kills someone, otherwise he’ll just be adding more stains to his soul….

This 1990s seinen manga series (originally titled Mugen no Juunin “Inhabitant of Infinity”) is set in the Edo period of Japanese history, but uses deliberate anachronisms to indicate that historical accuracy is not to be found here.  The creator states in an interview contained in this volume that he was trying for a “punk” sensibility.

After the introductory chapter, the story begins to focus on the other protagonist, a young woman named Rin.  She is seeking revenge on a man named Anotsu who murdered her father (in revenge for his grandfather’s offense against Anotsu’s grandfather) and had her mother raped before carrying the woman off.  The problem is that Anotsu is the leader of the powerful Itto-Ryu gang, renegade warriors who are out to destroy all other schools of weapon use.  Rin may be plucky, and can handle weapons, but she hasn’t had nearly enough training to handle expert fighters.

Yaobikuni suggests that Rin hire Manji to help her.  He’s dubious at first–he’s been lied to before, after all, and how does he know which if any side of a revenge cycle are the evil ones?  But because she reminds him of his sister, he’ll at least come along and see for himself.

As it happens, one of the Itto-Ryu members is locatable as Kuroi Sabato has been sending Rin love poems since participating in the murder of her father.  As you might guess from this inappropriate behavior, Kuroi is very wrong in the head(s), and Manji agrees to help Rin out with her revenge.

The remainder of the series is trying to track down Anotsu and getting him to stay in one place long enough for Rin to get revenge, while battling members of the Itto-Ryu and other enemies made along the way.

This omnibus edition covers the first three Japanese volumes.  The art is nifty with distinctive character designs (though the young women do tend towards same face.)  There’s plenty of exciting blood-drenched fight scenes, and musing on the cycle of vengeance and where it gets you.  The dialogue is generally good, but heavy on the snark from most of the characters, which can get tiresome.

Manji wears his namesake symbol, the counter-clockwise swastika, on his back.  This is in context a Buddhist reference and has nothing to do with Nazis.

More problematic is that there’s a lot of rape in this series.  While none takes place onstage in this volume, there’s discussion of it in the backstory , and male characters often threaten or express a desire to rape women.  (Later on in the series, one of the recurring villains is a serial rapist.)  Also, when we see Anotsu’s backstory, we learn that his grandfather was physically and emotionally abusive to both him and his cousin.

That cousin, Makie, has a story that’s centered around the ill effects of sexism.  Because she has a natural talent for weapons use that is far greater than any other person in the series, Makie can’t fit into the standard social roles for women.  (She tries being a prostitute for a while, and then a geisha; neither work out.)  But she can also never get the respect or rank that her skills would earn if she were a man.  To be Makie is suffering.

I’d recommend this series to fans of samurai revenge drama who enjoy some anachronism and can overlook the problematic elements.

There’s an upcoming live action movie, but in the meantime, here’s a trailer for the anime version.

Book Review: Rad Women Worldwide

Book Review: Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz

Right up front, I have to say that the title is the most annoying thing about this book.   Did anyone ever use “rad” as an adjective unironically?  That said, “radical” is not an unfair term to apply to many of the women whose short biographies are written in this volume.  There are forty stories set around 30 “countries”, starting with Enheduanna of Mesopotamia, the first named author that we have records of, and wrapping around the globe to Emma Goldman, born in Russia, anarchist and advocate for worker’s rights.

Rad Women Worldwide

This is a sequel to Rad American Women A-Z by the same creators; the greater scope allows them to have more variety.  There are scientists, athletes and entertainers, politicians and even a princess!  The book is written for middle-grade girls, but some of the subject matter may be difficult for more sensitive readers.  (A couple of these biographies moved me to tears.)  Many of the women covered I had heard of before, but a few were new to me.

The papercut illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl give the book a distinctive, rough-hewn look; it also ties the appearance of the volume together better than a mix of photographs and paintings might have, as there are both historical and contemporary women covered.

This book also wears its politics on its sleeve, obvious in the selection of women to write about.  Politically conservative parents might find it uncomfortable that Kasha Jacqueline Nagabasera (fights for gay rights in Uganda) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (anti-war activist) get full entries while such right-wing icons as Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa don’t even make the 250 honorable mentions in the back.  The poem about “the stateless”, refugees, exiles and others torn from their homelands includes the line “No human being is illegal.”

As is common in collections of short biographies, only the highlights of any given woman’s life are included, and edited according to the author’s intent.  Many of these women were controversial during their lifetimes, and some of them are still controversial now.  A reader who takes a particular interest in one of the subjects would be well advised to seek out more complete biographies.  I’ve previously reviewed biographies of King Hatshepsut http://www.skjam.com/2016/01/20/book-review-the-woman-who-would-be-king-hatshepsuts-rise-to-power-in-ancient-egypt/ and Queen Lili’uokalani http://www.skjam.com/2014/02/21/book-review-lost-kingdom-hawaiis-last-queen-the-sugar-kings-and-americas-first-imperial-adventure/ , for example.

I expect that this book will end up in  a lot of elementary school libraries.  I’d also recommend this volume to parents of middle-grade kids (yes, boys too, to go with their many books about famous men) with the caveat (or bonus!) that you might want to sit down with them to discuss some of the topics that will come up.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

Manga Review: Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus 1

Manga Review: Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus 1 written by Kazuo Koike, art by Goseki Kojima

Ogami Itto was once a samurai warrior of high rank, the official executioner for the shogunate.  He had a lovely wife and new son; life was good.  But another clan was ambitious, and framed Ogami for treason.  Under sentence of execution and with his wife murdered, Ogami asked his infant son to make a choice between merciful death and life on the run. now Ogami is a ronin, and an assassin for hire.  If you need someone dead, and you can find them, you can hire the Lone Wolf assassin who travels with his cub.

Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus 1

This classic manga series was popular enough to spawn a series of live-action movies, a television series and several spin-off manga.  It was also influential outside of Japan, notably influencing the art and storytelling style of Frank Miller (who provided the cover for this omnibus edition.)  As such, it was one of the first manga series to be translated for the emerging American market, using the expensive and painstaking “double-flipping” method to make it read left to right.

This volume contains the first three volumes of the Japanese version, and these stories are very episodic, focusing on an difficult assassination, a particular facet of feudal Japanese life, or a philosophical point.  It is not until several stories in that anyone recognizes Ogami for who he is, and even longer before even a partial explanation of his past.

Ogami is a stoic character who works hard not to give away his emotions; his tenderness towards Daigoro is almost entirely seen in his actions, not his face.  This does not prevent him from placing his son in danger if it will help with an assassination plan.  Daigoro himself is one of the most ambiguous characters I’ve ever read.  He seems most of the time to act like the small child he is, but in other instances is far too mature for his age, even allowing for the massive trauma Daigoro has undergone in his short life.  It makes him kind of creepy to be honest.

The art is dynamic and varied, able to handle both exciting battles and calm scenes of nature.  There’s a fair amount of reused faces, which with the episodic stories make the manga feel like a television series with a limited pool of guest star actors.

As expected from a samurai revenge story, there is plenty of violence and death; not all of Ogami’s assassination targets are evil people deserving of death.  In particular in this volume, one target is a Buddhist priest who must die for political reasons–he teaches Ogami how to attain mu (“emptiness”) which allows the assassin to strike without projecting sakki  (“killing intent”).  This becomes an important part of Ogami’s personal sword style going forward.

There is also quite a bit of female nudity, and at least one rape/murder scene.  Ogami himself is decent to the women he meets, but feudal Japanese society is not a good place for them.

Because of its influence on the subgenre of samurai manga, this series is well worth reading and rereading.  Recommended for fans of this sort of thing.

Magazine Review: Infernal Ink Magazine January 2014

Magazine Review: Infernal Ink Magazine January 2014 edited by Hydra M. Star

Disclaimer:  This magazine came to me through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Infernal Ink Magazine 1/2014

Infernal Ink is a horror fiction and poetry magazine aimed at ages 18+.  As such, it contains sex, violence, sexualized violence (Trigger Warning for rape) and crude language.  As of the 01/2014 issue, it is accepting advertisements for suitable businesses.

The cover (which might make this a poor choice to read in public) is by Dave Lipscomb, who also contributes “Demonic Visions”, a selection of his black and white pieces; and “The DaveL’s Music” which reviews albums, in this case, Motorhead’s latest.

There are several gruesome poems; all are modern poetry, so I cannot speak to their quality.

“Amazon Goddess of Doom” is an interview with Saranna DeWylde, who writes both horror and erotica, and helpfully gives us a look at the difference.  Her nickname turns out to come from her day job as a prison guard.

All the fiction is very short.

  • “The Devil’s in the Details” by Robert Lowell Russell:  A woman can have a new lease on life if she convinces someone else to go to Hell for her.  Quick and twisty, with no innocence to be found.
  • “Going Viral (Pop Culture Apocalypse)” by Bosley Gravel:  After the zombie plague, late-night television looks a little different, though just as cut-throat.  Funny if you like your jokes gross.
  • “A Kiss to Die For” by Giovanni Valentino:  Two guys in a bar compete over an attractive woman.  Fairly predictable, but a nice last line.
  • “The Pope’s Dildo” by Peter Gilbert:  The title object is stolen, and it’s up to the Vatican’s top agent to retrieve it.  Very juvenile.
  • “The Ripsaw Floor” by Shaun Avery:  A one-hit wonder meets the woman who inspired that song at his school reunion.   I liked the female lead in this one.
  • “Flow the Junction” by Roger Leatherwood.  A gross-out tale about a woman with constant menstrual flow and her objectification.  Very unpleasant.
  • “Xenophobia” by Michael C. Shutz-Ryan:  New neighbors next door present new opportunities for a lonely man who talks to his Buddha statue.  Another fairly predictable story.
  • “Fey” by Robin Wyatt Dunn:  A relationship with an otherworldly creature.    Dreamlike and hard to follow.
  • “Add Me” by Rob Bliss:  A small twon stalker may have bitten off more than he can chew–or maybe this is what he wanted all along.  A bit longer of a story, so it has an actual build-up to the reveals.

All of these could use some polishing, but I most liked the Gravel and Avery stories.  There are some spellchecker typos, and a couple cases of what might be that or odd vocabulary choices.  Hydra M. Star might need to take a firmer hand as editor.

Mildly recommended to fans of the horror/erotica conjunction; everyone else can safely skip.

 

TV Review: Decoy | The Shadow

TV Review: Decoy | The Shadow

Decoy is a 1957-58 series about Casey Jones (Beverly Garland), a female police officer in New York City.  She often goes undercover, thus the series title.  This show is noteworthy as the first TV cop series to star a woman in the lead role.  Like Dragnet, the series fictionalized real cases.

Decoy

As an undercover cop, Officer Jones often deals with the very human side of the suspects–many of them come off as sympathetic, or at least their friends and relatives do.   Jones narrates the episodes, and frequently addresses the audience directly at the close of a case.

Many of the episodes are in the public domain, and I watched six on DVD.

  • “To Trap a Thief”  After a robbery suspect is caught and the money recovered, it’s discovered that over half the money in the satchel isn’t there.  The arresting officer is one of several suspects, and Officer Jones goes undercover as a blackmailer to see which one has a guilty conscience.  The ending is happier than expected.
  • “High Swing”  A mysterious series of muggings takes a lethal twist when one of the criminals dies of a drug overdose.  Officer Jones attempts to take her place in the small gang.  Notable for its portrayal of a marriage that is both loving and extremely bitter.
  • “The Sound of Tears”  The only episode where we learn something about Casey’s personal life.  A man is shot six times by an unidentified woman,  and Officer Jones must work through the reminder of her own slain beloved.  It’s suggested that the remaining pain from this is why she never shows interest in any of the men who hit on her during the series.
  • “Night Light”  A ruby necklace is stolen, and Officer Jones poses as a representative of the insurance company trying to buy it back.  But the real story is that one of the criminals has a young son who he is putting on the path to crime, whether he means to or not.
  • “Fiesta at Midnight”  A recent arrival from Puerto Rico is mistakenly identified as a robber and murderer.   His only alibi is a young woman he talked to at midnight, who said she was getting married on Sunday.  Too bad she seems to have disappeared!  The solution to the mystery was fairly obvious to me, but it takes Officer Jones longer to catch on, in large part because one of the witnesses is outright lying to protect the real killer.
  • “The Come Back”  Counterfeit winning tickets are being passed at the racetrack, so Officer Jones poses as a crooked cop muscling in on the racket.  The criminal operation turns out to be bigger than suspected.  This episode is most notable for its guest star, Peter Falk, as a crooked racetrack cashier.

This is an interesting little series, and I especially recommend “The Sound of Tears” and “The Come Back.”

 

The long-running Shadow radio show and pulp magazine inspired an attempt at a television show as well, but only a pilot for The Shadow was made, “The Case of the Cotton Kimono.”

The Shadow

Lamont Cranston (Tom Helmore) is a criminal psychologist who is an on-call adjunct to the police.  He’s kept very busy, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Margot Lane (Paula Raymond.)  In this instance, Commission Weston is calling Cranston in on the murder of a woman who was dressed in a cotton kimono at the time.

The police have gotten nowhere, even having an officer from the woman’s home town come in to assist them.  Cranston is able to locate two likely suspects, the boyfriend and the woman’s music teacher, but not enough to positively link either of them to the crime.  So he calls on “our old friend” the Shadow.  Interestingly, the story never actually establishes that Lamont Cranston and the Shadow are the same person (though they have similar voices and never “appear” at the same time.)

The Shadow’s arrival is indicated by a flashing light, and those whose minds he clouds not only don’t see him, but become distracted and lose focus.  it’s a nice touch.

The leads are good, but the story is kind of plodding.  With the state of special effects on television being what they were in 1954, it might have been just as well this never made it into a full series.

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