I did not think I would actually ever get around to reading this series. I remember seeing the tiny English volumes back at either someone’s yard sale or my local comic book stores ‘summer sale’ (aka purge all the stuff that hasn’t sold in 3 years or more) and wanting to read it. Obviously, I didn’t pick up the volumes then but I did put it on my plan-to-read list for years. And more years until I had too much time on my hands and decided to start reading it. I regret absolutely nothing about reading this.
The premise is a bit more engaging then your standard samurai story; Ogami Ittou is a single father with his young son Daigoro, formerly the Shogunate’s executioner, and on the run from both the Shogunate and the Shogunate’s right-hand clan Yagyu clan after being framed for treason. Ittou takes up being an assassin for hire, as he traverses Japan seeking answers, growing in infamy as ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’.
Of course, there’s a shit ton of other things going on. There’s the expected political jocky-ing, the supposed moonlighting of various characters (except Ittou), twists and turns, and death. There’s a shit ton of people dying since well, Ogami is an ex-executioner which by the way is one of the most important positions back in the day. He has to kill people not only as an assassin but as a man protecting his only song on the run. If blood and death isn’t your thing I’d skip this.
The ending was a damper to this story. I was expecting a good chunk of what was going to happen but that ending… it was suppose to be symbolic I suppose, but nah. The ending was trash. Everything that was leading up to it was excellent but the actual ending itself was disappointing.
Character-wise, there’s really only three main character Ogami Ittou, his son Daigoro, and Yagyu Retsudo.
Ogami Ittou is kinda the man’s man of the feudal era. He has a stone-cold conviction of what is right, wrong and how to go about his revenge. He doesn’t take advantage of his opponents or send others to do his dirty work. He pays for his food and services, instead of bullying his way like other ronin of the era would. Even at the most critical moments when the tides could turn in his favor if he slipped just a little astray; he never does. He’s incredibly admirable in that regard even if he drags his son into it.
Daigoro is Ogami Ittou’s son, and the only member after Ittou of the clan still alive. I believe he starts the series around age 3 and ends being about age 4 or 5. He’s seen it all. People dying, people stealing, sex, bribes, corruption and more. He’s not your average kid, and that’s something that’s brought up multiple times. You want to hate Ittou for doing this to his only son, but often you can’t (aside from the cruel practices of raising young samurai at the time, those were garbage). Daigoro might be the only character you feel anything for but it’s not by much.
Retsudo. The perfect villain, an original villain archetype template if you will. While I was reading I was struck by how many more similar villains in many Japanese medias seemed to have shadowed him and his traits. There’s not much to him other then he was ‘doing the best for his clan’ which ultimately bit him in the ass, which you can guess who was in charge of doing so. Where Ogami is everything seemingly just, Retsudo is his opposite, still with convictions but not in the same degree as Ogami.
That’s not to say that the background character’s remain nameless or anything. There just simply happens to be too many of them, and most are one-off characters that they don’t exactly build the story or are relevant. They’re a great cast of characters with individual motivations that either support or get cut down by the Yagyu or Ogami in the end.
When it comes to art, I’m a big fan of older art styles. That was on of the big draws for this series for me, aside from the plot. It’s not gore-y just lots of blood and battles scenes. The harsh lines are a style that very few modern series follow (ink is expensive after all), but something I’ve always enjoyed over the years.
I was impressed by how much of the scenery was included, some areas such as castles being highly detailed but then seeing some of the plains/wooded areas being simplified seemingly. It’s all cohesive art-wise and very impressive given when it was originally serialized.
When it comes down to it, I’ve hashed out my opinions about the ending. I understood the why/when.where and how it had to end like that but…. it was still disappointing. This is the style of story where the lead up is more satisfying then any ended would be. If you need a break from all the current battle shounen with a captivating story set in the past, you’ll love ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’.