Thursday, September 25, 2008

Manga Review: Eye of the Dog, Jyuzo

Eye of the Dog, Jyuzo (by Masaki Segawa), Grade: A

Ok, here's a title that I really like, that probably won't be brought to the U.S. any time soon. It is available as a fan download, if you can handle .rar files. And, if you've read Basilisk or the Yagyu Ninja Scrolls manga, then you kind of know what to expect. But, while the above two titles are based on someone else's novels, it looks like Jyuzo is a completely original work.

"Onikiri Juzyo (i.e. Demon-cutter Jyuzo)" is subtitled as "Eye of the Dog, Jyuzo" in English on the cover. The artwork is clean, highly detailed, and combines a mix of traditional pen and ink work along with computer graphics. The CG art clashes with the pen art, but does add a sense that the CG monsters are a thing alien to the rest of the world. Segawa is a master at drawing fast-paced sword battles, but the need for occasional long, drawn-out explanations does make the action drag at times. The character designs do get recycled from Basilisk and Yagyu Ninja Scrolls (Jyuzo looks a lot like Jubei Yagyu), but there are a lot of original characters as well. (And, when talking about Segawa's works, "original" takes on all new meanings). This is an adult story, so the sex and violence may offend some readers.

The story is very convoluted, and trying to unravel it over the course of its 2000-year span would take all of the fun out of it. This is a thick 4-volume series published 3-5 years ago, so it's still pretty new.

Starting in the middle, about 1800 years ago in a mythical Japan, a magician, Seibei Abeno, sets about to create a conflict that will pick up 800 years later. In order to do this, he turns a fellow magician, Douman, evil; while simultanously ensuring that Douman will meet defeat at the hands of his lover, the shape-changing kitsune (fox spirit) Osaki. He also creates a handful of humanoid dogs, and some super-powered humanoid ravens, and raises a human girl, Kotori, as his own daughter. Seibei tricks Douman into getting into a position where he is trapped along with Osaki inside a dagger protected with a magic seal.

The series starts with the events that unfold 800 years later. Seibei is long dead. Most of the magical creatures are still alive and mostly physically unchanged. Two children, the descendants of Kotori, are currently living in their father's house. The dagger has been handed down from Kotori to the youngest of the two children, Kanako. Kanako is betrothed to her step brother, Jyuzo. Jyuzo has just returned from a training sabbatical, where he has consumed the soul of one of the magical creatures, the dog god Gouza. The sabbatical was designed to make him strong enough to protect Kanako. About this time, Kanako's older full brother, Genzou, sneaks into the house to steal the dagger, which he intends to pawn for some quick gambling money. Their father interrupts him, and Genzou pulls the dagger out of the sheath, thus releasing Douman and Osaki from their 800-year imprisonment. Douman immediately steals Genzou's body and tranfers Genzou's soul into Kaneko's body. From here, things start getting difficult to follow, but the point is to figure out what Seibei wanted to have happen 800 years into his own future, between Douman, Jyuzo, Kanako, Genzo and Osaki.

Summary: Onikiri Jyuzo is a great action manga set 1000 years in the past in a mythical Japan, and has lots of sword fighting, magic, weird creatures and bizarre plot twists. Many people will be put off by Segawa's style, but if you're not one of them, that is if you like Yagyu Ninja Scrolls, then you'll really like Jyuzo.

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