Manga Review: Samurai Executioner Volume One

Samurai Executioner Volume One is set in Edo-Period Japan.

Samurai Executioner Volume One
Written by: Kazuo Koike
Publisher: Kodansha
English Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: August 31, 2004

The main character of Samurai Executioner is Yamada Asaemon, a young ronin who becomes a sword-tester for the shogun. As part of his duties, Yamada is frequently called upon to perform executions. Early on in his role as a sword-tester, Yamada finds himself faced with ethical dilemmas that are about people that he has known in his life. These issues help to establish Yamada as a character and help the reader understand the way he acts later on. In addition, they also help to set the stage for the story that is to come. But after Yamada goes through these ethical dilemmas, his career as a sword-tester begins to prosper.

After the first two chapters in the volume, the focus of the story isn’t as much on Yamada as it is on the criminals that he is called on to execute. These stories are generally told as their last words before receiving the fatal stroke from Yamada. Many of these encounters give Yamada a pause for thought and reflection before going on to his next assignment. Many of the criminals’ stories also make the reader stop and reflect for a moment before moving on to the next chapter.

Yamada’s character is based on a real-life line of sword-testers who served the Tokugawa Shogunate up to the early 19th century. The stories are also written with historical accuracy, although the characters in the series are fictional. As you read this volume, it’s very clear just how much research went into the creation of Samurai Executioner when you see the diagrams of locations and explanations for various concepts and weapons that appear throughout it. As someone who isn’t overly familiar with this period of Japan’s history, I found that these diagrams and explanations helped me to better understand what was going on in the story.

The storytelling of Samurai Executioner Volume One can be violent, intense, and at times, rather dark. However, it’s this gritty storytelling that makes the story realistic, especially for the time period that it’s set in. But there is some content included that could potentially make readers uncomfortable when they read it.

When it comes to the art, artist Goseki Kojima made sure to draw intricate and detailed art for the characters to make them look more realistic. But his realism doesn’t just end with the characters. He also made sure to depict the beheadings and some of the crimes as realistically as he possibly could, which can make this a harder read for someone who doesn’t like reading manga with potentially graphic depictions. It should also be noted that there is some female nudity included in the art of Samurai Executioner Volume One.

Between the storytelling and the art, Samurai Executioner Volume One can be a rather intense read, especially for a volume that’s about 300 pages in length. If you enjoy stories set in the Edo Period and don’t mind depictions of decapitation and violence, then you’ll probably enjoy reading Samurai Executioner. However, if you’re likely to become uneasy or feel queasy when reading manga with realistic depictions of violence, then you should probably stay away from this series.

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