Spirit of the Samurai
A symbol of Japan and all things Japanese, samurai are abundant in the world of manga. Their strong sense of honor and adherence to the code of Bushido always caught my eye, as well as their jaw-dropping prowess with their weapons. Drawn well, I'd have to say sword-fights win hands-down against almost any other action scene. And since I've always had an interest in Japan (as I subtly hint through my blog posts), samurai stories always intrigued me.
I tried to pick my three favorite samurai series as well as three different portrayals of samurai. I also chose ones whose stories revolved around samurai life rather than choosing, say, Real Bout High School, for its kendo-trained Samurai Girl. Hopefully I succeeded, and if not, there's always next time!
A shojo samurai series, Kaze Hikaru follows the journey of Kamiya Seizaburo as he joins the elite Shinsengumi to avenge the death of his father and brother. Seizaburo trains under the famed Okita Soji and soon comes to learn what the Shinsengumi stand for.
What I loved about this series was the simple artwork and how the author still easily distinguished all the Shinsengumi members from each other without relying on things such as highly exaggerated stature/elaborate hairstyles/or shoulders out to here (such as in Peacemaker Kurogane). The author also succeeds in trumping my usual love of Okita Soji and transfers it to Hijikata.... All the characters are individual and entertaining, and Seizaburo's journey from novice to a fully fledged member is great to follow. The humor and fight scenes weren't bad, either!
In Rurouni Kenshin, Himura Kenshin is a wandering, masterless samurai (rurouni/ronin) who seeks to redeem his dark past through helping others with his reverse-blade katana (sakabatou). He meets Kamiya Kaoru who seeks to keep her father's struggling dojo afloat despite horrible rumors that Hitokiri ("Man-slaying") Battousai is using her father's kendo technique to kill.
My favorite, favorite, favorite series of all time! I love the evolution of the drawing style, the characters, the plot, the humor, almost everything about it. It does not have the filler episodes that irritated me in the anime, and the action scenes are so fluidly and emotionally drawn that they animate themselves before my eyes. It also shows a time period in Japan where the past struggles with the future (the increasing use of guns and the weakening of samurai) as well as a character who struggles to uphold his moral code when faced with insurmountable odds.
For those who already are Kenshin fans, there is a live action movie coming out in Japan!"
Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue
Based on the book Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Vagabond retells the tale of the vaunted Sword Saint Miyamoto Musashi. Beginning as a lowly footsoldier during the legendary battle at Sekigahara, he slowly comes into his own as a peerless warrior, but not before a number of stumbles along the way....
Can he do it? Yes, he can! (Can draw basketball slam dunks and epic samurai fights with equal enthusiasm and beauty, that is!)
Vagabond's drawing style is reminiscent of ink brush paintings and that makes for amazingly fluid fight scenes and gorgeous backgrounds that sweep off into the distance. I love this series and Musashi's evolution, but it is rather more graphic and adult in its tone, especially in the beginning where he's a bit rough around the edges. If you want to read the book by the real Miyamoto Musashi, it's called The Book of Five Rings!
I confess! I haven't read all of the series mentioned below. But, by "all," I mean the series in their entirety. I've read a couple volumes of each one and quite enjoyed them. Not as much as my top three, but if I had time, I'd read them all!
- Blade of the Immortal
- Gintama: Aliens and samurai and naturally permed hair... (A parody)
- House of Five Leaves: Minimialist artwork and a samurai of sheepish and meek disposition.
- Kurogane: Can you say robot child samurai?
- Lone Wolf and Cub and Lone Wolf 2100
- Red Hot Chili Samurai: Justice and chilli peppers, one cannot exist without the other!
- Samurai Champloo: Hybrid, parody, samurai journeys...
- Samurai Deeper Kyo: Legendary killer or meek herbalist?
- Samurai Seven: A timeless tale set in the future!
- Usagi Yojimbo: Usagi = Rabbit, Yojimbo = Bodyguard. Need I say more?
As a last note, Peacemaker Kurogane is another Shinsengumi tale but on the shonen spectrum of things. We have the full animated series on DVD! It's darker than the shojo Kaze Hikaru and depicts people losing their humanity for the sake of revenge.
Jenna V. has an acrylic katana and a shinai in the corner and is rather afraid to use them.