Lone Wolf and Cub - Great Manga... or Greatest Manga?

I originally encountered Lone Wolf and Cub in the late 80’s when I was working for comic book dealer. This was when First Comics was publishing it bit by bit. I thought it was mildly interesting but at a casual glance it appeared to just be a comic about a samurai who just went around beating guys up.

Later on when I heard more about the series that is considered a classic I thought it might be interesting but I wasn’t overwhelmingly interested. I bought the first two of the Dark Horse comics volumes and while I thought, “I’ll have to finish it sometime…” it still took me years to get around to it.

I finally decided to go for it and read the whole thing recently. It still took me months to collect and make my way through all 8000 pages of the manga.

It was spectacular.

The transformative moment for me was the fourth volume. The series had that easy early pattern of Itto being hired to kill someone, he comes up with a crazy plan, and then assassinates them. That’s decent but you can’t build a twenty-eight volume manga on it. Then he is hired to kill a monk who might be a buddha. I had recently read a bit about Zen Buddhism so I picked up on many of the subtle nuances in this story in which Itto must learn to completely suppress the self in order to kill Buddha in the road. It marked a transition to a more spiritual aspect to the journey in the manga and it showed me that there was something more to Lone Wolf and Cub than just cool sword fights.

The artwork struck me in two major ways: the use of facial expressions and the vast silent storytelling. It’s rare to find an artist who can convey the story just in facial expressions the way that Goseki Kojima does. That is what allows him to have twenty wordless pages that are still perfectly told.

So I have to come down on the side of Greatest Manga. Admittedly I haven’t read everything but it is so rare to find a manga artist who is good at linear art (as opposed to just panels that don’t really flow together) that reading something from such a master is a joy. And putting that together Kazuo Koike’s carefully plotted story and I’m surprised that mere paper is able to contain their combined efforts without spontaneously combusting.

So… anyone know if the television series (either of them) is worth watching?

Great or greatest . . . hard to say. It’s up there, no question. I have a soft spot for Osamu Tezuka so I think I would probably have to put some of his Phoenix books and his whole Buddha series slightly ahead, but that takes nothing away from Lone Wolf and Cub. And I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with me since Tezuka frequently employed comedy, which for some reason doesn’t fit a lot of people’s definition of “great”.

Then again, despite being at it for years, I’m only on about volume 18 of Lone Wolf and Cub. I might change my mind after I finish.

Does the reader have to know a lot about Japanese culture or history to enjoy this series? I’ve heard all kinds of good stuff about it, but I don’t know if I will ‘get’ it.

I don’t think so.

I read the first three volumes of the Dark Horse reprints and thought “This is cool, I really should get the others.” That was about 4 years ago. I think I will do some amazon shopping. Thanks for reminding me that this was out there, and that is gets better than what I have already read.

Devil Man, the original manga is–at least in Japan–an admitted classic.

I’ve read the first 4 or 5 collected Dark Horse volumes. Honestly, it just didn’t grip me at all. The stories felt (even if by author’s intent) cold and emotionless, and I just couldn’t “get into” the story and characters.

I’m a huge fan of the Baby Cart movies, though, which led me to read the manga. My expectations may just be different, but everything I loved about the movies I felt didn’t come across as well in the manga. I’ll also note that I generally prefer the print manga versions of most works, instead of the anime/OVA versions, so Lone Wolf is an interesting exception to my typical preferences.

If anyone can put up a fight for the title it’s Osamu Tezuka.

To enjoy the series? No. And the author explains some of the odd historical quirks that come up in the series.

On the other hand there’s a lot of the philosophy (the Zen Buddhism I mentioned and giant heaping piles about Bushido) that give the story a deeper meaning than a guy traveling with his kid and seeking revenge. You don’t need to know a lot to pick up on this stuff (I certainly don’t know a lot) but if you know about the basics of them you’ll appreciate the story more.

I’ve never read the Devil Man manga. I did watch Go Nagai’s television series years ago and wasn’t really impressed. Is there some particular aspect to the manga that makes it a classic?

Yes. Though I’ll admit that–if I recall correctly–there’s a decently long time-travel segment where the protagonist gets flung around to different places in time to participate in random adventures, which comes across as pretty stupid. But it’s worth reading through the whole thing.