By Sharman Devono & Hiroshi Hirata (Eclipse Books)
Holding a strong claim to be the first ever collaboration between an American comicbook writer and a Japanese Manga artist this slim but impressive little gem is still readily available through many online retailers.
Eclipse was one of the first publishers to get into the trans-Pacific translation business with such seminal serials as Area 88, Legend of Kamui and Mai, the Psychic Girl. Finding an audience eager for a fresh graphic experience they soon branched out into new material. This terse black and white tale combines real events from a turbulent period in Japan’s troubled history and combines them with supernatural elements for a tense, foreboding drama with the accent on human interaction rather than simple swordplay.
The Kyushu Campaign occurred during a period when Toyotomi Hideyoshi was attempting to make himself Dictator of Japan. In June 1587 he sought to consolidate his power on the island of Kyūshū where the rebel Daimyō (Lords) of Satsuma resisted him. Into this hotbed of intrigue a Nō Actor and samurai named Okubo Nagayasu became an unstoppable secret agent for Tokugawa Ieyasu – Lord of the Five Provinces, second most powerful man in the Empire, and a wily campaigner who sought to maintain his own position through stealth, rather than by siding with either faction.
Nothing could prevent the war that occurred, especially as Jesuit missionaries were manipulating newly converted nobles for their own ends. As usual the real casualties in such affairs are the honest soldiery, but when the samurai Harada Sadayasu falls during the inevitable battle, he reluctantly returns from the dead as Shiko, a Son of Death. An unclean thing, he wants only the peace of the grave, but is ordered by his Daimyō to continue in his duty. Killing his Lord’s enemies…
The structure of this tale is a little odd and I suspect it was originally intended to be a longer work, but it’s an engrossing and exotic yarn for all that. Seminal artist Hirata is actually a gekiga exponent (which means he produces “dramatic pictures” rather than the more frivolous manga or “irresponsible pictures” – a sophism equivalent to our own western debate over “High” and “Low” art). He has had few of his works translated into English and the most well known is probably Satsuma Gishiden, a gritty historical saga in the manner of the legendary Lone Wolf and Cub. His other series include ‘Jaken Yaburetari’, ‘Tsunde ha Kazushi’, ‘Mosû Ogidachi’ and ‘Shikon’.
If you’re a fan of oriental fiction or would just like to try something a little different this is definitely a book worth hunting down
© 1987 Sharman Devono & Hiroshi Hirata. All Rights Reserved.