The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1

The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1Creator: Sanpei Shirato
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781569313183
Released: August 1998
Original release: 1990

Sanpei Shirato’s The Legend of Kamui had its beginnings in 1964 as one of the first series to be published in the influential alternative manga magazine Garo. In the 1980s, Sanpei would continue the manga with a second series, Kamui Gaiden. It was Kamui Gaiden that became one of the earliest manga series to be translated into English and widely published in North America. Between 1987 and 1988, Viz and Eclipse Comics released thirty-seven issues of Kamui Gaiden under the title of The Legend of Kamui, serializing edited versions of two stories: “The Island of Sugaru” and “The Sword Wind.” “The Island of Sugaru,” which was later compiled by Viz into two volumes in 1998, is probably one of the most well-known Kamui stories, and not just because of the Kamui Gaiden live-action film adaptation from 2009. The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1 collects the first half of “The Island of Sugaru,” material from a volume of Kamui Gaiden that was originally published in Japan in 1990.

Kamui is an apostate ninja during Japan’s Edo period, on the run from the members of his clan who consider him to be a traitor when he tries to leave. While traveling through Yumigahama he encounters a woman who, like him, once belonged to a clan of ninja. Sugaru has been able to avoid capture and death long enough to establish a new life with a husband and three children who love her, but she is still being hunted and must be constantly vigilant. Sugaru has managed to survive because she doesn’t trust anyone, and that includes Kamui. Although he helped to save her life when she was attacked by Iga ninja, Sugaru can’t take a chance that Kamui might be trying to kill her as well. After an intense battle in which they are both injured, they part ways. But in a strange twist of fate, Kamui is later shipwrecked on the very island where Sugaru and her family reside. Kamui lives peacefully for a time in the small, remote fishing village and Sugaru’s family becomes very fond of him, but Sugaru would rather see him dead.

The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1, page 255From reading The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1 alone, not much is known about either Sugaru or Kamui’s past lives beyond the fact that they are trying to escape them. The hunted versus the hunter, whether the prey chooses to flee or to fight, is a theme that recurs throughout the manga, mirrored in both nature and human society. Kamui and Sugaru do have the advantage of being exceptionally adept fighters. Although Sugaru does strain under the burden of keeping both herself and her family safe, she is actually one of the strongest characters in The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1, exhibiting both great determination and martial prowess. Her skills rival and in some cases surpass those held by Kamui. Tragically, and understandably, due to her circumstances Sugaru has lost her ability to trust others; it’s simply no longer an option for her. Kamui, on the other hand, has so far managed to retain that part of his humanity, even though it has put his life in danger on multiple occasions.

I really wish more of The Legend of Kamui had been released in English because the series is excellent. The characters are complex, as are their personal struggles and their searches for freedom in an era that could be unforgiving, harsh, and violent. The action sequences are exciting and dynamic. Although a few ninja tricks are employed during the life-or-death battles—secret techniques, impressive acrobatics, illusions and transformations—there is a sense of realism that pervades The Legend of Kamui. In between the dramatic conflicts are the quieter moments of everyday life in a fishing village. Initially it appears as though Kamui, like Sugaru, will be able to outrun his fate and have a chance at a peaceful, happy existence. He learns to fish and becomes friendly with the villagers who are more than happy to welcome a strong young man into their midst. The Legend of Kamui, Volume 1 offers hope that such changes are possible, but ultimately taking charge of one’s own destiny is a difficult path to follow.

My Week in Manga: March 18-March 24, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews. The first was for Jeff Backhaus’ debut novel Hikikomori and the Rental Sister. It’s sort-of-kind-of like an American version of Welcome to the N.H.K., but without the humor. Overall, I found it to be an absorbing read. The second review I posted last week was for Fantagraphics’ release of The Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio. It’s a historically influential manga, but even today it’s still a fantastic read. I loved it and am thrilled that it’s available in English.

On the topic of important and classic manga, the latest Reverse Thieves’ Speakeasy podcast features Old Fashioned, Classic Manga in English—what’s been previously published, and what they’d love to see released. If you give it a listen, do be prepared for some very fast talking. They also hope to have more manga-centric episodes in the future.

Elsewhere online: Jason Thompson posted A Quick and Dirty History of Manga in the US as part of his House of 1000 Manga column. Michael Gombos, the director of Asian licensing at Dark Horse takes a look at Blade of the Immortal at the Dark Horse blog. And over at Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, Zack Davisson talks a bit about Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan which he is translating for Drawn & Quarterly.

Speaking of historical manga, this week is the History Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Khursten at Otaku Champloo! Khursten has a post to get things started. As part of my contribution to the Feast, all of the quick takes below feature historical manga of some sort or another. Later this week I’ll also be posting a review of the third omnibus of Vagabond, by Takehiko Inoue. This month’s manga giveaway will most likely feature historical manga as well.

Quick Takes

The Legend of Kamui, Issues 14-37 by Sanpei Shirato. In 1987 and 1988, Viz and Eclipse published thirty-seven issues of an edited version of Shirato’s Kamui Gaiden. The first thirteen issues were subsequently released in two trade volumes. The remaining issues, making up the “The Sword Wind” story arc, were never collected. I’m very glad that I was able to track them down. Shirato’s artwork in The Legend of Kamui is marvelous with dynamic fight sequences and beautiful landscapes. Because of how the series was edited, occasionally the story can be a bit disorienting as it jumps around. Kamui almost becomes a side character in his own series during “The Sword Wind” as much of the story follows Utsuse, one of his pursuers.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths was the first manga by Mizuki to be released in English, earning an Eisner award in the process. The story, about a Japanese infantry unit during World War II, is semi-autobiographical in nature. The manga actually starts out rather lighthearted and humorous, but things get very real, very fast. In the end there really isn’t anything funny about the devastating consequences of war. The artwork reflects this as well. Mizuki often uses cartoonish illustrations, but when he really wants to drive a point home he can easily slip into a more realistic style. The shifts in tone and style are extremely effective in conveying Mizuki’s anti-war message.

Rurouni Kenshin, Omnibus 9 (equivalent to volumes 25-28) by Nobuhiro Watsuki. After a brief detour following Sanosuke, the ninth and final omnibus volume in Rurouni Kenshin provides a very satisfying conclusion and epilogue to the series. The omnibus begins when the characters are at their lowest, making their final rally even more compelling. Kenshin and his allies come together one last time like never before. Every fighter (except, unfortunately, for the women), gets the opportunity to show off his stuff during his own final boss battle. Watsuki mentions at one point that Enishi is the complete opposite of Shishio, the previous arc’s antagonist. Personally, I much preferred Enishi and this final arc. 

Wild Rock by Kazusa Takashima. Wild Rock was actually one of the first boys’ love manga that I ever read and I’m still rather fond of it. The story, while surprisingly sweet, is a fairly simplistic variation on the theme of star-crossed lovers from feuding families; what really sets Wild Rock apart is its prehistoric setting. Granted, it’s a very clean, pretty, and pleasant version of prehistory. But, hey, attractive guys in loincloths! The first story focuses on Yuuen and Emba. Their respective tribes are fighting over hunting ground, but the two young men end up falling in love after Emba saves Yuuen’s life. The second story is actually a flashback featuring their fathers as young men. Wild Rock may not be a particularly believable or deep manga, but it has nice art and I do enjoy it.

My Week in Manga: August 13-August 19, 2012

My News and Reviews

Experiments in Manga celebrated its second year anniversary over the past weekend. Thank you to everyone who took a moment to congratulate me here, on Twitter, and elsewhere. And thank you to everyone who reads Experiments in Manga! Last week I posted two new reviews. First was for Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 12: Autumn Frost. The volume features a showdown between Magatsu and Shira which I think is one of the best fights in the series. I also reviewed Isuna Hasekura’s light novel Spice & Wolf, Volume 6. Even though the sixth volume isn’t my favorite book in the series, I have been pleasantly surprised by Spice & Wolf and look forward to the next installment.

As a reminder, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Manga Moveable Feast will begin this Saturday and will end on Friday, August 31. In order to coordinate with the Feast, I’ll be pushing this week’s Friday post back one day. I’ll be reviewing the first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Next week I’ll be posting some random musings for the Feast, too.

Quick Takes

12 Days by June Kim. Loosely based on a true account, Kim’s debut graphic novel 12 Days tells the story of Jackie Yuen who is trying to come to terms with the death of her ex-girlfriend Noah. Over the course of twelve days she plans to drink Noah’s ashes in a ritual effort to move on and forget. Noah’s younger half-brother Nick becomes Jackie’s co-conspirator of sorts. Despite the constant progression of days, the narrative isn’t told linearly. Flashbacks, dreams, and memories interrupt and invade Jackie and Nick’s lives as they deal with their grief over the loss of Noah together. Noah’s death is a tragedy, but so were the circumstances surrounding her and Jackie’s initial parting. 12 Days is a meditation on love and loss.

Gen, Issues 7-13 by Various. I’ve been enjoying Gen, but I’m still getting used to reading a monthly anthology. Some of the stories are well suited for the format, while others seem to lose a bit of their oomph in short installments. One of the things I like best about Gen is the variety of stories that are included; stories that would probably never have found their way into English otherwise. Of the more recent issues, I’m particularly fond of Isora Azumi’s “Stones of Power” and hope to see it continue for a while longer. Nagumo’s “Let’s Eat Ramen” was another personal favorite. The stories in Gen have been introducing all sorts of elements to the anthology that I enjoy: boys’ love, yokai, androids, slice-of-life, comedy, suspense, and more. I look forward to future installments.

The Legend of Kamui, Volumes 1-2 by Sanpei Shirato. The original Legend of Kamui was a highly influential manga from the 1960s that was one of the first stories to be serialized in the underground manga anthology Garo. The Legend of Kamui available in English is actually a side story to Shirato’s original manga, focusing on the eponymous Kamui’s exploits on the island of Sugaru. Viz only published two of the twelve Japanese volumes, although more of the series was also released as monthly comics. Kamui is a renegade ninja who has left his clan. Hunted as a traitor, a peaceful life will be impossible for him. The second volume gets a little shark-happy, but overall it’s an exciting and well-executed story.

The Monkey King, Volumes 1-2 by Katsuya Terada. To fully appreciate and understand what Terada is doing with The Monkey King requires a familiarity with the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Having previously read it in its entirety, I didn’t have a problem. If you haven’t, I would highly recommend starting the series by reading the beginning of the editor’s afterword in the first volume. The Monkey King is like a collection of “best hits” from Journey to the West with Terada’s own twists on the tale. The scenes are certainly memorable, but don’t necessarily flow very well. However, the narrative in the second volume is more coherent than in the first. If nothing else, The Monkey King is worth checking out for Terada’s phenomenal painted, full-color artwork.

This Boy Can Fight Aliens directed by Soubi Yamamoto. This Boy Can Fight Aliens is a rather unusual anime, about thirty minutes long, with art film sensibilities. Yamamoto had complete control over the project’s creation, writing, direction, and animation. Her style of digital animation is visually interesting but at times crude; it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. The story itself is rather surreal but takes advantage of common tropes. I particularly enjoyed the more comedic aspects of the anime. Sentai’s release also includes three of Yamamoto’s early short works which share similar themes (personal relationships, aliens, the destruction of the world, etc.) and visual elements with the longer feature.