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CompleteMartialArts.com - Samurai Executioner Volume 4 (Portrait of Death)


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Manufacturer: Dark Horse
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 5.0/5Average rating of 5.0/5Average rating of 5.0/5Average rating of 5.0/5Average rating of 5.0/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 741.5
EAN: 9781593072100
ISBN: 1593072104
Label: Dark Horse
Manufacturer: Dark Horse
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 317
Publication Date: 2005-03-23
Publisher: Dark Horse
Studio: Dark Horse

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Editorial Reviews:

A frenetic mix of samurai honor, base violence, and the blood of beheading, Samurai Executioner is not for the faint of heart. For those who love blood and guts crime drama, historical fiction, and brutal action, this is right up your alley. The men who brought you Lone Wolf & Cub also created Kubikiri Asa, a young ronin samurai who helps keep the peace by putting the fear of beheading into Edo's criminals. But it doesn't always work, and so he has to. Full of squirting blood, fast paced samurai swordwork, and the drama that comes from human corruption, Samurai Executioner is like no other classic manga.


Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: An amazing turn in a fantastic series
Comment: The Samurai Executioner series takes a sharp turn in Volume 4, and Kazuo Koike brings us a diverse, truly fascinating and sometimes harrowing set of tales. None of these stories is in the simple "bringing a criminal to justice" theme like we saw in most of the earlier tales. In many ways, the stakes are bigger for our hero, Yamada Asaemon.

The first story, "An Offering of Cut Mochi", opens with Asaemon observing a group of samurai practicing their skills in what looks like a Edo-Period Japan version of touch football. As Asaemon joins these men for a meal, we see the first smile of his to ever appear on these pages. This is coupled with the narration "This was an encounter that would lead to the one and only tragic friendship that Yamada Asaemon would ever have," (p24), causing a sure sense of tension in the reader. Like some of the stories we have seen in the past, this story is less about our hero as it is about the people around him. In this case, it's a tragic tale of the samurai pals he makes. We see much insight into the samurai code, and the original and truly moving way Koike ends the tale foreshadows the title story, "Portrait of Death".

"Portrait of Death" is about a female artist, Kawai Jufu, who wants to witness one of Asaemon's beheadings to use in her artwork. Her brutally realistic depictions of "live sword testing" clue Asaemon into the truth behind this popular artist's motivations, and Asaemon keeps the artist, as well as the reader, guessing as he decides how to deal with her. We get some insight into Asaemon's pasts in this long and in-depth tale. This story has some of the most beautiful and brutal depictions we have seen so far. Since much of the story is in flashbacks, Kojima exercises his artistic freedom in his dreamlike drawings.

The third story, "The Season of New Straw", is uses it brevity to administer its surprising finale. The ending seems to come from out of nowhere. It's nice to see Koike not limited by the constraints of story length. If he wants to make a story 150 pages, that's his choice, and if he wants to make it 15 pages, that's his choice, too.

The final story, "The Set-up", is another story where the Samurai Executioner is not the main focus of the story. To reduce costs, government officials decide to reduce committing executions, and get the criminals to off each other as the jails get more crowded. A revolt ensues, and Asaemon can no longer stand by idly.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Capital punishment related to deterrence and art in feudal Japan
Comment: "Portrait of Death," Volume 4 in the "Samurai Executioner" series, is quite unusual in that we end up getting about three-fourths of the way through its pages become Yamada Asaemon performs the sole execution in these four stories. But then writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima are obviously more interested in re-creating the Edo period in Japan and weaving stories out of things as simple as the first new straw of the season than in providing graphic depiction of sex and death. The latter are why a Parental Advisory is slapped on the cover of these manga before they are wrapped in plastic, but it is the former that makes these episodic stories as interesting in their own way as the epic saga of "Lone Wolf & Cub." Each story seems to draw out even further the contrast between the brutal world of the shogunate and the nobility of the title character:

(12) "An Offering of Cut Mochi" begins with a group of samurai doing the horaku drill, in which their place plain unglazed swallow earthen pans on their foreheads and attack each other to determine who is best: break a horaku and the wearer is treated as if he were dead. Yamada Asaemon is invited to dine with the samurai and we are told that this encounter would lead to the one and only tragic friendship that the Executioner would ever make. This is something of a path-not-taken story for the title character, although what is more important are the politics of the time and the economic realities of employing samurai. Notice where Koike and Kojima choose to end this tale, which is a nice way of underscoring the point being made.

(13) "Portrait of Death" has Asaemon refusing to allow a woman to witness the executions he performs. She is an artist who has created realistic pictures of sword testing. When she makes a personal please, Asaemon discovers the secret of why it is that she knows so much about the intimate art of sword testing and why she is driven to make such pictures. However, neither the young woman nor the reader would suspect the counter-proposal that Asaemon has to make once he learns the truth. What I especially liked about this story is that the mystery that sets the chain of events into motion is not resolved, which is a strong indication that the point being made relates to something else. This is another story where Asaemon discusses the philosophical aspects of his job and the right way of doing it.

(14) "The Season of New Straw" is a very short story of only 16 pages. A young girl comes into town selling new straw, which she explains to Asaemon young women put into their hair because they believe it improves their circulation. Even though there are no women in his house, the Decapitator asks if he may have some new straw and there is a reason for his strange request. A simple story that offers a link between beauty and death.

(15) "The Set-up" begins with an interesting discussion of capital punishment in that time and place. Both the economics of beheadings and its efficacy as a deterrent are discussed. But when a moratorium is placed on executions and the prison becomes overcrowded, the prisoners take matters into their own hands, keeping the population level the same by "setting-up" new prisoners for death. This, in turn, leads to a prison riot, at which point is it time for Decapitator Asaemon to restore order. But he is a minor character in this story and really functions as a deus ex machina device to quickly end the story.


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