The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls Vol. 4-5 (Del Rey)

yagyu5-header.gifSeven women seek revenge for the death of their clan with the help of the legendary one-eyed swordsman Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi.

 

 

224 pgs. ea.  B&W; $13.95 ea.

(W / A: Masaki Segawa, from a story by Futuro Yamada)

Volumes 4 and 5 of The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls carry on with the story of the seven surviving Hori women and their revenge on the Seven Spears of Aizu who are responsible for the slaughter of the rest of the Hori clan. The story takes place in 17th century Japan, where swords are the most modern weapons available and the art of the ninja is a living reality. The Hori women have enlisted the legendary one-eyed swordsman Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi, formerly an instructor to the Shogun Iemitsu, to train them in weapons use and military strategy.

The cover to The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls Vol. 4. Click for a larger image.Needless to say, the Seven Spears have most of the apparent advantages. They’re professional warriors, each with a particular skill or attribute: Shiba Ichiganbo wields a whip, Gusoku Jyonoshin commands three giant dogs, Koro Ginshiro uses a net, and so on. The Spears are also unencumbered by any sort of moral code: far from embracing the "noble warrior" ideal promoted by the Bushido code, they are brutal, profligate, and entirely scornful  of anyone they perceive to be weaker than themselves. By definition that includes all women, so there’s a particularly delightful sort of justice played out over the course of this series, as the Hori women learn to use strategy and cunning to neutralize the advantages of their foes and exact revenge on them. They’re quick studies, too:  by the end of volume 3, two of the Seven Spears have already been sent to their amply deserved fate.

Volume 4 begins with a plague of mysterious kidnappings in Edo. A newlywed couple is abducted on their wedding night: several days later the man is dumped at the gates of Edo Castle in a most pitiful condition while the woman is never seen again. So Jubei and Okei (one of the Hori women) pose as bride and groom to get inside the kidnapping ring, which leads them right to the surviving Seven Spears. This story arc continues into volume 5, and by the end of it all another Spear has met his doom. As in Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, each samurai is represented by a circle for easy bookkeeping: when the third is knocked off, the survivors receive a note with four circles and the inscription "These are four snake eyes."

The cover to The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls Vol. 5. Click for a larger image.The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls series tells a lively story which incorporates lots of historical information and moral/philosophical issues (the consequences of the abuse of power and the importance of maintaining balance in life, to name just two). But I particularly enjoy Masaki Segawa’s art: he excels at portraying both  action and stillness, which are equally important in the story (there’s that balance thing again!), and the realistic drawings of everyday life in 17th-century Japan will please readers interested in history.  As is common in Japanese comics, Segawa draws many frames which look around at different parts of a scene (using what Scott McCloud calls "aspect-to-aspect" transitions between frames), rather than constantly moving from action to action. The result is that the reader has a sense of being within the story rather than observing it from the outside.

Extras for each volume include translation notes, between-panel notes, and a preview of the next volume.  The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls series is rated M (Mature Content) for ages 18+ and includes graphic violence and sexual situations.  The frequency and explicitness of the latter has accelerated over the course of the series: there’s a lot of nudity and explicitly portrayed sexual activities (including a tentacle rape scene in volume 4) in these volumes, which explains why they are shrink-wrapped at the store.   Further information about The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls series is available from the Del Rey web site at http://www.randomhouse.com/delrey/manga/catalog/results.pperl?authorid=62165. | Sarah Boslaugh

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