Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lone Wolf and Cub month: Parenting tips in Volume 25: Perhaps in Death

After the very continuous storytelling of the previous five volumes of Lone Wolf and Cub, volume 25: Perhaps in Death presents something of a return to the episodic style of still earlier volumes. Partly this is owing to the separation of the antagonists: some of the volume concentrates on Retsudo Yagyu, under house arrest while his jailer Abe-no-Kaii tries and fails to poison him, and some of it focuses on Itto Ogami and Daigoro as they prepare for the final rendezvous with Retsudo, not knowing (at first) that he has been forcibly delayed. But the central three episodes of the volume involve none of the four principals directly. Instead, they offer three "Tales of the Grass": stories that show how three families of the undercover grass ninja respond to signal flares summoning them and their brethren to Retsudo's aid in Edo.

In looking at these three families and at Ogami and Daigoro's preparations, the volume spends a fair amount of time considering the high personal cost paid by families who are committed to the claims of a demanding code, be it that of ninja, for the grass, or of bushi (samurai warriors), for Lone Wolf and Cub. And one of the lessons that these comparative stories convey is the importance of teaching your children well in order to inculcate shared values and to prepare them—along with their parents—for terrible heartbreak.

This older couple, for instance, clearly has had open, honest conversations about their duties as ninja parents. Neither they nor their adult son seem too torn up about the fact that soon they'll never see each other again:

The son is alive at the end of the episode, having abandoned his civilian life to send out another signal flare to grass in other regions before heading to Edo himself. But his parents, compromised now by their son's "activation" as grass, set themselves afire, to perish in penance for their disloyalty to their han (feudal domain) in serving the Yagyu as ninja spies.

If you're going to disappoint a child, it's best to explain the reasons why, as Ogami does here when he discourages Daigoro from sucking on some sweet cane:

But it's even better if you can make up for the child's disappointment in one area—eating a sweet, for instance—by making up for it in another, say by fashioning a clever waterwheel out of that very cast-off bit of cane:

I find Daigoro's apparent delight in so simple a toy a little heartbreaking, given what lies ahead for him.

But at least his father would never do to him what this other member of the grass does to his son. It's one thing to disappoint your child and then play with him to make it up; it's another to play with him first...

...only to lull him into an unsuspecting position where you can drown him:

That's no expression of glee on that poor boy's face. And his father looks no happier—looks rather anguished, in fact—when he emerges from the water to continue his duties as a lonely grass ninja. The big problem in his family, you see, is that he hadn't prepared his child for his destiny as the next generation of grass. Communication. Parents and children need it.

Still, the messages can be pretty tough to take, even from a father who clearly loves his child. Itto Ogami loves Daigoro very much. And here toward the end of volume 25 he lays a heavy charge on him:

Daigoro's a good boy, and a good samurai boy, at that. He'll do what Papa tells him, even if he'd be happier sucking sugarcane and playing with toys. But even if his papa might not intervene to save him from the threat of drowning, he knows that at least his papa would never drown him himself.

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