This entry in New Lone Wolf and Cub mostly serves to show how uneven this series is compared to the original. Hideki Mori is a tremendous talent. There are panels upon splashes upon more splashes that I can showcase from this volume alone that confirm that Mori can put together a sumptuous yet somehow austere black and white page that makes him worthy of being Kojima's successor on this title.
Unfortunately, I'm reminded on a pretty consistent basis that the art in this title is not Kojima's. That would be fine, if it wasn't often trying to be Kojima's and sharply alternating between succeeding and failing. Mori's "failings" in this respect are actually artistic triumphs; boldly and realistically rendered buildings, silky, intricate fabrics, and more personality on character's faces than Kojima often bothered with. But Kojima's art was magical in how the inks seemed to dance together to form an image that was already formed. I cannot stress enough that Mori's talent is undeniable, but that his sense of style is simply very different from Kojima's and the fact that this shows is disruptive of my reading experience. In other words, I find myself contrasting the two art styles not because of any personal bias, but because the work coerces me into doing so through Mori’s alternation between reliable imitation and taking his own direction.
The real problem with this volume was Koike's writing. Overall, New Lone Wolf and Cub is ironically ronin-esque as a story; with the monumental climax of Lone Wolf and Cub being a perfect place to end a story, Koike decided to allow Daigoro to continue wandering on. And yet the story wanders as well. Moreover, this volume devolves more-or-less into softcore porn for the middle portion. Nudity is expected in this series, as men in power are frequently shown taking advantage of women as one would expect them to do in that culture during that period.
But this volume features a character that I can't imagine has very much historical basis. That's a far cry from the very cornerstone of what makes this series so great: the unflinching historical accuracy. This volume shoehorns in a female Russian assassin who uses her sexuality and psuedo-hypnosis to kill her way towards her vengeful goal. It's a stretch. While it's refreshing to see a woman actually play a role that matters in this series-- well, at the risk of sounding ignorant, it doesn't work in this story.
I appreciate criticisms of historical fiction where people point out that there were people of color present and women had certain roles that often get glossed over in favor of reinforcing our comfortable, patriarchal perception of both history and the current status quo. I think such criticisms are spot-on and central to understanding a lot of current problems not just in art, but in society as a whole. The problem here isn't that "some woman" showed up; it's the fact that her abilities, her origin, the tasks she's performing, the manner in which she is present-- all of these things are problematic from a narrative standpoint, a stylistic standpoint, and even a feminist standpoint. Her depiction, her very existence in this story, errs more on the side of sexual object than it does on anything else. The fact that Koike is condescending to the reader and acting as if she's more is unfortunate.
And of course, to return to my main concern, imported female Russian assassins certainly sound like a zesty addition to a stale story, as New Lone Wolf and Cub has certainly become sort of stale by this point. But in a series that lives and dies by the fact that it delivers laser-focused historical accuracy, this character's addition to this volume felt confused.
The magic present in Lone Wolf and Cub wanes in this entry to its sequel. Stellar art doesn't maintain the same kind of stylistic oneness that made Kojima's contributions so iconic, and Koike has to put in too much effort to liven up a story that's just not that interesting.
New Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 7 Writer: Kazuo Koike Artist: Hideki Mori Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $13.99 Release Date: 12/2/15 Format: Trade Paperback; Print/Digital