Review: 365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice

The samurai genre is probably one of the most under-appreciated, most misunderstood story genres in comics and movies. Thankfully writer/artist J.P. Kalonji understands the genre and its power completely. The story is about a samurai named Ningen who is on a journey to kill 365 samurai, then and only then will he have completed his travels and be able to attain his vengeance for the murder of his master and school. Along the way Ningen’s legend grows and so do his feats. Each season he finds love and companionship, but throws it away to continue his quest of vengeance. 365 Samurai is actually not about anything that I just described. I have lied to you and told you what happens in the story and not what the story is actually about. The simple fact is that I can’t tell you what the story is about just that it is a spiritual journey for Ningen and that every battle and every drop of blood has a higher meaning.

16386What I love about the book is that it literally takes a half an hour to read. It’s not due to lack of content, it’s just the format and the way that the story is told that makes for a fast read. Each page is one panel, meaning that this 379 page beast is actually just 379 panels of a comic. Traditional comics are laid out in a 3 by 3 grid which means there are 9 panels on a page, but a lot of times those panels lack detail and quality. With 365, each page has meaning and value within the story. Each page is a work of art all on its own and Kalonji manages to make the story flow seamlessly from page to page. Literally I was reading the book fast enough that at times it was like holding an animation in my hands. With action in comics a lot of it can be lost in the still frames of the page, but 365 finds that balance so that the action is as intense as it would be if you were watching a movie.

The other strong point of the book is that Kalonji nails the samurai journey. He really understands that samurai stories don’t need a lot of dialog with the exception of a few scenes here and there. For the most part the swords and the facial expressions do the talking and can really tell the story without a single word. A particularly great scene has Ningen facing off against an army of bandits on a snow covered mountain and as they’re descending upon him you can see the serious attitude on his face. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that army because you knew from his attitude and the few words he said that he was going to do everything in his power to kill them all.

My biggest regret with this book is that I didn’t read it sooner and you’ll bet your ass that I won’t miss the next book from Kalonji and Dark Horse. If you’re a fan of samurai and let’s be honest practically everyone that reads comics has a soft spot in their heart for them; do yourself a favor and get this book. It’s a fast read, but in the way that makes you want to read the book again upon completion and the only other reading experience I can equate it to is Scott Pilgrim. That’s the only other book I’ve read as fast and enjoyed as much, but this one has swords and awesome Samurai battles from beginning to end which puts it on a different level altogether.

Score: 5/5