Samurai’s Blood Vol. 1 (Image/Benaroya Publishing)

A stereotypical samurai epic with one somewhat surprising new addition: a female character worth rooting for.

 

 

172 pgs., color; $14.99
(W: Owen Wiseman; A: Nam Kim)
 
There’s a certain comforting sameness about most samurai tales—as with old-style Westerns, you don’t have to spend a lot of time guessing which characters are good and which are bad, the plots are usually variants of other plots you’ve heard before, and you can count on a lot of action, scenery, and history along with your story. In the case of samurai tales, you can also count on a good dosage of distilled wisdom as well, which works just fine whether it’s genuine or invented for the occasion.
 
Samurai’s Blood has all these elements, and one somewhat surprising addition—a female character who is more than just an object in the eyes of the male characters. It’s not an incredibly original comic, but it hits all the right notes, so if you’re a fan of the genre this is one to pick up. The plot is pretty standard: the Sanjo family has been slaughtered and their property usurped, and it’s up to three young adults to restore their family’s honor and reclaim their castle—Sanjo Junichi, the last remaining male in the family; Sanjo Mayuke, his sister; and Katashi, Mayuke’s lover. They’ve been training as samurai, but now it’s time to put off childish things and face the real world.
 
The story is presented vividly and the amount of time spent on Mayuke’s story is a real plus for me. She’s kidnapped and sold into a brothel, where she has to endure tortures unimaginable by those who think that being a samurai is all about clean fighting in battles. You don’t get a great sense of her personality, but then you don’t get a great sense of any of the characters’ personalities either—they’re all types who fulfill roles and exemplify attitudes. This is so consistent throughout the comic that I have to assume it’s a stylistic choice, rather than a fault on the part of the creators—they seem to be going for something mythic and eternal, rather than personal and situated.
 
I haven’t done a frame count, but it feels like more frames include a statement of philosophy than include dialogue among the characters, so if you like your philosophy up front and obvious, this is definitely the comic for you. This approach is particularly effective in relating Mayuke’s experiences in the brothel, where we don’t really want to know the details of what’s happening to her, but do want to know how she reacts to it. She calls upon her samurai training, of course: "A Samurai waits, and gathers suffering as fuel for the fires of her heart. She gathers all the indignity and shame the world can offer, and forges her soul into a finely honed edge. A Samurai accepts suffering with the fluidity of a river, and the stillness of the mountain. She bides her time until she arrives at the moment of her fate. And when that moment arrives…when the world offers her a sword…a Samurai does not hesitate."
 
Nam Kim’s art is clean and efficient, with some splash panels that are really impressive. The cartoony nature of some of the villains is a little annoying, but that’s par for the territory, and the central characters are all well drawn. You also get a real sense of time and place from Kim’s work, and Matthew Dalton’s coloring is particularly effective. The only extra in this volume is a 3-page story by Owen Wiseman, "The Fish-Killer." You can read the first issue of Samurai’s Blood online at http://www.benaroyapublishing.com/category/samurai-news. | Sarah Boslaugh

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