Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lone Wolf and Cub month: Sound and fury in Volume 19: The Moon in Our Hearts

In the final, titular episode of Lone Wolf and Cub volume 19, "The Moon in Our Hearts," Itto Ogami and son prepare to face off against the shogun's largest warship, aimed in their direction at the order of Retsudo Yagyu:

Ogami's really just referring to the immediate battle he and Daigoro must face, but in another sense his words are the prelude to the prolonged final act of Lone Wolf and Cub: at the end of this episode, he steps onto dry land, alive and still victorious so far, drawing ever nearer to Edo and his final confrontation with the Yagyu clan. Who have begun to assemble in force in anticipation of Ogami's arrival:

These last volumes promise to be full of high tension and rampant violence, but as always they will be leavened with moments of repose—or perhaps merely of calm before a storm. Or, as artist Goseki Kojima might put it visually, in a striking double-page spread from "The Marksman" (the middle episode in this volume, and the ninety-fifth overall):

I think these are two of the finest pages yet, visually. They come as quite a surprise: the preceding page ends with two characters in conversation in Edo, far removed from this turbulent strand. And I'm bowled over at the exact contrast between the utterly placid scene on one half of this diptych and the fierce tumult on the other half. Here, take a look at the pages one at a time:

That first page is almost a color study, albeit in black, white, and gray—abstract shapes that fill out the page and only really read as a beach in contrast with the surf opposite them. These two pages encapsulate much of the emotional and tonal range that Kojima can achieve visually, often in concert with writer Kazuo Koike's varied plots and themes.

I don't have much of a unifying thread for today's volume. In a couple of episodes, Ogami helps teach people lessons about life almost inadvertently; in a couple of others, Ogami survives two likely assassinations because his would-be killers are more honorable than the Yagyu who have dispatched them to take out Ogami. As ever, Ogami may be beyond honor and bushido, the way of the warrior, but he is the occasion for honor and bushido in others, and he always respects their integrity. But that's pretty much it: plotwise, the story doesn't really break any new ground in this volume; it just helps Ogami cover a little more ground (and sea) as he draws nearer to his enemies.

I did rather like this other two-page spread, however, which is all noise where the seascape, above, is mostly quiet:

Yep, these are the faces of horrified villagers, watching as Ogami makes mincemeat out of yet another unfortunate band of local cops who try to stop him on the way to Edo. At no point in this episode do we even see Ogami with a sword in his hand. I think the Alan Moore of early Swamp Thing, the one who still liked sound effects, would have appreciated these pages.

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