Path of the Assassin Vol.2: Sand And Flower (Dark Horse)

pota2headThis second volume of the tale of the man who would unite Japan finally kicks into high gear with a tale of bloody battles, political intrigue, and sexual tension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

312 pgs B&W; $9.95

(W: Kazuo Koike; A: Goseki Kojima)

[Click here to read the PLAYBACK:stl review of Path of the Assassin Vol. 1]

 

Some great comics simply explode out of the gate fully-formed, ready to wow you from the moment you crack the cover and gaze upon that glorious first page. Others are more methodical, slowly setting a groundwork at what seems a lethargic pace to lull readers until, before they know it, the hook has been set. Path of the Assassin, I'm pleased to report, is one of the latter.

 

 

The first volume of the series was an entertaining but flawed introduction to Motonobu–the man who would unite Japan as Tokugawa Ieyasu–and his trusted bodyguard Hanzo. Juxtaposing Motonobu's pampered existence and the hard-knock life of Hanzo highlighted interesting contrasts in the structure of Japanese society in the feudal era, but the beginnings of this beautiful friendship were interrupted by scenes of gratuitously shocking sexual violence. This second volume manages to outdo its predecessor on every level, not only by amping up the political intrigue but, surprisingly, by seamlessly mixing the sexual side in as well.

 

 

Sand and Flower opens with the final 3 sections of the 10-part introductory story arc "Chapter on Relinquishing Pain," where we finally get to see Motonobu's keen political intellect come to life. When Motonobu's wife gives birth to his first son, his father-in-law Imagawa encourages the young lord to visit his ancestors' graves to pay his respect. But there's a more deviant purpose behind the trip, as Imagawa uses the trip to goad Oda, a rival warlord and one of Motonobu's childhood friends, to lay siege to a nearby castle. It's a test to see where his true loyalty lies, but fortunately, Hanzo discovers Imagawa's plan. Just because he knows it's coming, however, doesn't mean Motonobu has an easy way out. And when Oda's henchman, the monkey-like "needle peddler," makes an offer he can't refuse, it's clear the political firestorm is just getting started.

 

 

"I have not put down any roots at all and I have no intention of doing so," Motonobu tells Imagawa before heading off on his fateful trip. "I would be grateful if I could be a twig. Then no matter how often I may be cut off, the tree shall suffer no harm." Kazuo Koike's literate script is filled with such asides, with flowery language indicative of the time period and the epic scale of the battle brewing that would ultimately decide the fate of the nation of Japan. Naomi Kokubo's adaptation holds this tone well, though navigating all the names, faces, and places in one reading can take a fair bit of advance knowledge of Japanese history and geography; if any book ever desperately needed a character guide and reference map, it's this one. Goseki Kojima's art is, as always, masterful, utilizing an Old World style that fans of modern manga won't recognize but which suits this story of the samurai era to a T.

 

 

So, you ask, where does the sex come in? Motonobu's star may be on the rise as a military leader, but even as he crafts military strategy all of his thoughts center on feelings of sexual inadequacy, trapped as he is in a marriage of political convenience with a woman who does not love him and whom he cannot please. As this second volume races towards its conclusion, he enters into battle not only with his vassals at his side for his first real taste of war, but also for the heart of the cold-hearted woman whose bed he shares. As love and war become inexorably linked, it is then that Motonobu's character finally comes alive

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