365 Days of Manga, Day 4: The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls: Revenge of the Hori Clan


THE YAGYU NINJA SCROLLS: REVENGE OF THE HORI CLAN (Y Jû M~Yagyû Ninpôchô, “Y Ten M~The Yagyû Ninja Scrolls”) (Y?M~?????~) • Futaro Yamada (original story), Masaki Segawa (art) • Del Rey (2007-ongoing) • Kodansha (Weekly Young Magazine, 20005-2008) • Seinen Ninja Action-Adventure • 11 volumes • 18+ (language, graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations)
Adaptation of Futaro Yamada’s 1964 Yagyû Ninpôchô, one of his many ninja pulp novels. In Tokugawa Japan, the evil, sexually perverse feudal lord Akinari punishes the Hori clan for rebellion, sentencing the men to a cruel execution. But when the Aizu Seven Spears, Akinari’s personal guard of vicious killers, violate the convent where the Hori women had taken refuge, the surviving seven women vow to get revenge. They hire legendary swordsman Yagyû Jyûbei Mitsuyoshi (the “Y Jû M” of the Japanese title) to help train them so they can kill the Aizu Seven Spears themselves. (Although Yagyû also helps set up the killings and probably has more screen time than the women themselves.) Revenge of the Hori Clan is very similar to Segawa’s Basilisk, although the level of realism is marginally higher; the characters have superhuman strength and skill but aren’t literally mutants. The story is also more involved and twisty, with more strategy than Basilisk’s simple fighting-game face-off. Segawa’s eye-catching artwork is a good match for the material: CG backgrounds accentuate the foreground characters and action, while the characters themselves have an old-school, caricatural look, with bushy eyebrows, big smiles and angry snarls reminiscent of Go Nagai. A good pulp page-turner.
*** (three stars)
Visually, the Yagyu Ninja Scrolls (and Basilisk, the other Yamada adaptation by the same artist) reminds me of Gantz; it’s basically a trashy exploitation series (less trashy than Gantz), but it reads so smoothly, I can’t put it down. There’s nothing more frustrating to me in a manga (or comic) than awkward panel layouts and too much text which bogs down the page.
Gantz and Yagyu Ninja Scrolls are examples of ‘cinematic’ comic storytelling at its simplest and most effective. In a speech at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Canadian comic artist Seth scoffed at the idea that ‘cinematic’ effects should be the highest goal of comics: this “reduced comic artists to storyboard artists”, he said. He has a point; there are more unique effects that can only be achieved in the comics form, apart from the attempt to recreate motion and movie-like effects in a still medium. But good storyboarding is also an art, and clarity in comics is undervalued.
Today’s winner is Rachel E. of Maryland! Rachel will be receiving 5 manga from my collection. Tomorrow: our first yaoi manga review.