Friday, February 6, 2009

Lone Wolf and Cub month: Must-reading about meifumado in Volume 6: Lanterns for the Dead

Let's crack open volume 6 of Lone Wolf and Cub and see what we see....whoa!

What the heck is THAT? Maybe this leader of a troupe of con-artists can fill us in:

So what are those "six paths," anyway?

Hmm. Well, that bit about "the bodhisattva manifestations" probably has more to do in the immediate context with those statues standing before Ogami and Daigoro, a group of six jizo figures (or "jeezoh" if you're Kevin Huizenga). But those are the six paths, all right, and there's no question but that Ogami and Daigoro dwell in meifumado, which the glossary at the back of the book defines as "[t]he Buddhist Hell. The way of demons and damnation."

Volume 6 devotes episodes to several of those six ways. Heaven, maybe not so much. Slaughter, all over the place. Man, in the crafty denouement to the story from which the preceding panel derives (which finds an equivocal place for "man" in a song that presents an escalating series of battles that determine who is "the real jizo"—kind of like a Japanese "Farmer in the Dell," "This is the house that Jack built," or—especially—"Chad gadya," the Passover song).

As for the ways of the Beast and of Starvation, they both find a role in "Hunger Town," the central story in this volume (and the thirty-first episode of the series as a whole). Unfortunately I'm finding it hard to talk about this episode in a way that won't spoil some of its narrative surprise and emotional punch. Here's a teaser, however: Daigoro only utters a single word, on the forty-eighth page out of fifty-eight, and that word is a name. It is not Papa, and it is not Mama. And when he says it, the effect is devastating.

I'll say this, too: "Hunger Town" demonstrates the pain and difficulty of walking in meifumado by showing how Ogami must deny his son happiness soon after showing it to him for a brief, touching period. This story also shows that Ogami, for all his demonic qualities, retains a father's tender love for his son, for, having had to hurt Daigoro, Ogami immediately turns to soothe him afterwards. (Note: the hurt here is emotional, not physical. When Ogami touches his son, it is to stroke his head and embrace him, never to strike him.)

As for that last path, the way of Hell: it's what father and son have walked together ever since an infant Daigoro chose to move toward a sword and not a ball when Ogami placed both objects before him. The way of hell prevents Daigoro from relaxing into the kind of normal life that flutters momentarily into view when he wins the affection of a childless couple, who consider adopting him should his then-feverish father die:

This scene occurs near the end of the final story in Volume 6, "One Stone Bridge," and it's also kind of heartbreaking—especially in the page-turn to the final page, which gently destroys a glimpse of peace and happiness on Daigoro's face. Nobody physically dies on that page, but a kind of hope dies for Daigoro.

All that, and I haven't even mentioned the sudden payoff on page 216 of the plot point set up on the last page of the preceding volume (as described in yesterday's post)! A plot point, moreover, that is connected with another dire development in the long-term plot: the moment when Ogami makes enemies of the Kurokuwa ninja clan, formerly somewhat neutral observers of the feud between Ogami and the Yagyu, but now motivated by their own hatred of the Lone Wolf assassin.

All in all, volume 6 makes for a rich and satisfying volume. Its first ninety pages are good, solid entertainment. But the last hundred and eighty pages are classic.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

You are seriously making me want to read this stuff along with you.