Monday, February 16, 2009

Lone Wolf and Cub month: Mind the gaps in Volume 16: Gateway into Winter

Gateway into Winter, the sixteenth volume of Lone Wolf and Cub, offers some interesting variations on the notion of spaces between other spaces, gaps where meanings can be found. Sometimes these gaps are fairly literal, as with the bridge that Itto Ogami and Daigoro cross to enter a mountain pass:

Sometimes gaps and liminal spaces offer more of a formal challenge to storytelling, as in the opening tale, "Umbrella," all of which unfolds within the confines of a single alleyway. About a fifth of the story consists of silent panels that simply show the alleyway from different angles and in different lights, as the movement of shadows across the pavement tells the passing of time over three days or so. Here's the opening spread of the story, which lays out the scene:

While the scene stays put between these buildings, the plot turns on the transit through the alley of a small party of merchant women attended by a hapless klutz of an umbrella carrier. It's another tale where the Lone Wolf is mostly off-panel, no deaths occur, and Daigoro's attachment to a passerby provides the engine of interest. That it should actually be interesting depends in part on the subtle, unshowy way the story is defined by its setting.

The second tale, "Sayaka," uses the space between combatants to exploit a deadly dagger technique as practiced by the title character, Retsudo Yagyu's sole surviving child, a daughter. Observe, in this two-page spread, how a dagger traces an arc upward in the leftmost panel; can be seen spinning above the heads of Sayaka and her attacker; then begins its descent in the rightmost panel:

And where does the dagger land? Smack through the top of her assailant's skull. It's a technique that depends on sufficient distance between the duellists and enough height to set the dagger spinning.

I should maybe mention that Retsudo dispatches Sayaka to use this technique on Ogami, who chooses to face her with Daigoro perched on his shoulders, his little head smack where the dagger would fall. Does Daigoro survive?!?! Take a wild guess. Does Sayaka? Well...

Let me put it this way. By the end of this volume, Retsudo has no reason not to issue public alerts throughout Japan that put a hefty price on Ogami's head, with a tidy sum offered just for information about his whereabouts. Retsudo vows a full frontal assault following the failure of the subtler methods of ninja and assassins: now cops, bounty hunters, and reg'lar folks will be gunning for Ogami.

But Retsudo's reasons aren't only personal vengeance for the losses suffered by his bloodline. The whole authority of the Yagyu is endangered by Ogami's final cracking of the code in the stolen Yagyu letter, and—wouldn't you know it?—here, too, the story turns on gaps, spaces between letters that turn into letters themselves. Here's a picture of the process in action:

Quite how that process works is a secret that you'll have to discover in "Clouds of Silk," the eightieth episode of the series, landing midway in this sixteenth volume. And as for what those characters mean? Well, that secret waits in a still later volume, but that gap won't be bridged until tomorrow at the soonest.


Isaac said...

I really like the way you're managing to give each volume its own thematic unity.

I think if I haven't read Lone Wolf & Cub by next February, I'm going to read it then, and re-read these posts along with it. By then, I'll probably have forgotten most of the spoilers.

Mike said...

Perhaps your narrative memory is not as sieve-like as my own, but I can attest that it is indeed possible to forget some of the cool details from this series, which has made the rereading of it a pleasure indeed. So I suspect that side-long spoilers, like those in these posts, shouldn't get in the way of reading pleasure.

Meanwhile, I appreciate your attention to these posts even though you haven't read the volumes in question!

DerikB said...

I really need to find some cheap copies of this series. Really loving this series of post, Mike. Thanks for taking the time with it.

Mike said...

My pleasure, Derik!--though I'm also glad to know that there is interest in these posts outside the small circle (or is it just a line?) of Isaac and myself.

DerikB said...

I'm sure there's interest, it's just a matter of word getting out. I put up a link today, maybe someone bigger (that is, more popular) will pick it up (like Dirk at Journalista).