Sunday, August 22, 2010

Garo Jan, '67

Garo Jan, '67, Special. Cover by Sampei Shirato. 198 pages.
CAUTION!!! Violence ahead! If you don't like violence, your country or religion prohibits your looking at it, or you are disturbed by acts of cruelty against animals, stop reading now!!!


A special Garo issue came out in January, 1967, reprinting the first two chapters of Kamui-den. This takes up the entire issue. If you have been following Garo primarily through my reviews/summaries here on TSOJ, then you probably haven't seen the full run of Kamui. And, because the Viz release in the U.S. was only partial, and has long been out of print, you may not have seen much from even that. Well, Mandarake does have 18 volumes of Kamui bundled together for 3500 yen ($40 USD) plus shipping, and you can order it through their website. It's a good deal, and I highly recommend it, even if you can't understand Japanese.

Anyway, if you haven't followed Kamui from the very beginning, then starting up in the middle and going back to the beginning later like I have is kind of an eye-opener. All of the key points are already put in place in the first two chapters. The artwork is a little less developed, and Shirato isn't really comfortable drawing his characters in full-page close-ups yet, but most of the characters are recognizable even though they age considerably through the course of the story arc. And, most of the key characters get introduced right in chapter 1.

Shirato puts a huge amount of effort into drawing parallels between the human social structure of Edo-era Japan, and the animal kingdom. It's all dog-eat-dog, with the fittest and the strongest dominating everyone else. Even so, a certain amount of luck is involved, and even the top dog will eventually grow old and sicken and die, or be the victim of bad luck. In both cases, though, while the weaker ones may be victimized cruelly, it's all according to the natural order of things. And, it's also natural for the victim to fight for their life up until the end and try to protect what's theirs.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #1

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 98 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
It is the year that our story is set in, and nature is in full bloom. In the mountains and along the streams, weasels eat mice, hawks eat weasels, birds knock seeds from the trees that are eaten by deer, and the deer get eaten by bears. One rabbit gets hit and killed by a stick thrown by Mountain Man (a big, hairy, dirty sasquatch-like guy with little vocal ability). Mountain Man holds up the dead rabbit and says "kamui" before shuffling off. In Hanamaki Village near the base of the hills, work proceeds on harvesting rice, when the village headman comes up looking for Danzuri, one of the villagers who's carrying in rice stalks for processing. The headman asks a small boy - Shousuke - where his father, Danzuri is. Danzuri is found and requested to represent the village for something coming up.

At the main castle, the feudal lord and a number of ranking samurai are riding horses in the courtyard, shooting arrows at dogs for archery practice. They kill the last of the dogs, and the lord orders a vassal, Yokome, to find more. He and the dog handler go into the seedier part of the village where the vagrants live, and the handler is forced to take his family's pet Akita back to the castle for the practice. Yokome notices an ugly-looking creature in a cage, and ignores the handler's protests. They bring the two animals with them. In the courtyard, the Akita just sits there obediently as the archers turn it into a pincushion. The handler cries silently, while the retainers complain that that was really boring. The lord demands that a brute with real fight in him be brought out. Yokome drags out the second animal, which turns out to be a grizzled, wounded wolf. When the first arrow flies at him, the wolf springs, killing several retainers before escaping back to the mountains. The feudal lord is shaken, not having wanted something with quite that much fight in them.

Danzuri is next seen running into the village, establishing Hanamki as the town with the fastest runner for another year in a row. To celebrate, the headsman invites all his friends and lower-level samurai to a banquet. Danzuri, being a mere villager is relegated to the stables, where a servant gives him and a couple other villagers a stack of rice cakes and a jug of sake. Shousuke protests this treatment, but this is just one more example of the kind of class-level behavior that he'll have to learn to live with. One topic of conversation that comes up between the villagers is that Danzuri had seen Kichibee hiding out in the woods, and the other two go silent. Shousuke asks what a Kichibee is, and his father tells him that there had been an insurrection against the samurai 3 years earlier, and Kichibee was its main leader - there's a death sentence on his head, and the villagers hope that he'll remain free.

In one of the samurai houses, Ikkaku is the head of a kendo dojo, where he teaches his sponsor's son, Ryounoshin, the art of sword fighting. At the end of one bout, Ikkaku tells the boy's father that Ryounoshin shows some promise. After the two leave, Ikkaku starts nursing the huge bruise on his ribs that the boy just gave him. Nearby, Shibutare goes to one samurai retainer and tells him that Kichibee has been spotted in the woods. Shibutare is a professional snitch, and this tale nets him a few coins. When he, and the retainer's messenger, leave the household gates, Yokome, who is spying nearby, figures that something is up. The feudal lord is told that Kichibee is still alive, and the order is issued to have him captured. The villagers are told to do the grunt work, but they don't try very hard. Yokome then suggests that the vagrants be enlisted to sweep of the woods. Kichibee is quickly hunted down and imprisoned. The villagers accuse the vagrants of being murderers.

At Ikkaku's dojo, there's a disturbance. A swordsman, Ukon Mizunazuki, is issuing a challenge to see if the dojos, which teach using wooden swords, can really compete against seasoned samurai with battle experience. Ikkaku accepts the challenge and gets thoroughly defeated. When Ukon goes outside, he's challenged by Yokome, who uses a chain and sickle attack. Ukon gets faked out by the chain, and the sickle bites deep into his right ankle. As Yokome drags him in on the chain for the finishing blow, Ukon cuts off his own foot and escapes, screaming in pain.

Finally, out in the mountains, life goes on, with the various animals preying on each other. With one exception. An old wolf lies in a cave, waiting for his arrow wounds to heal. Days pass, and when he can move again, he starts taking out deer with one bite to the neck, and eats only the best parts, leaving the rest of the carcass to the scavengers. He climbs up a hill and calls out to his old pack, which soon gathers up. Winter comes, then turns to Spring. The day of Kichibee's execution arrives and the villagers press up against the barricades to watch in protest. The vagrants are ordered to raise up the wooden cross that Kichibee is tied to, and they're the ones that have to run spears through the man's body to kill him. During this, Kichibee remains silent. Afterward, one of the vagrants that had been handling the spears, Yasuke, sits in the storeroom, thinking that Kichibee had been a great man. Yokome finds him and orders him out. As Yasuke returns home, he's pelted by rocks by villagers that call him a killer. Back at the vagrant village, Yasuke is told to hurry, his wife has just given birth to a son. The man stands there with the infant in his hands, wondering what this world needs with one more vagrant. While, up in the mountains, a female wolf has given birth to a new litter, including one rare white pup.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #2

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 98 pages.
The story now follows the trials and tribulations of the white pup. The old one-eyed wolf goes off on his own, leaving the female to tend to the cubs. As they get older, the pack leaves their old territory to find a new place with more food for them. While the wolves prefer to eat deer, there's a problem - a pack needs 5 members to surround the prey to prevent it from escaping, and the white cub can't blend into the foliage, so the deer keep running around the pack. The white cub gets ostracized for both being different and being smaller. The only way it can get enough to eat is to learn to hunt alone, and to find food that it can handle, such as mice and rabbits. It also has to learn which food is safe to eat - a river salamander turns out to be almost deadly. On the other hand, as the cub lies on the ground, weakened, various scavenger birds land on it, waiting for it to pass on, which brings them in close enough for the cub to capture easily. At one point, the cub goes up against a large fox, and the rest of the pack sits to one side to watch the one-sided battle. But, the pack is disappointed when the white cub gets in a lucky bite to the throat and kills the fox, rather than the other way around.

At another point, the white cub encounters two strange wolves, and howls a warning signal. His mother pads up, but instead of siding with the white cub, welcomes the other two into the pack - she'd given birth to them the previous year and they're family. Which just increases the number of wolves picking on the white one. Later, toward the end of winter, the pack chases a mountain goat up a ravine, the goat makes a stand, killing two of the wolves. The fight triggers a small avalanche, which kills the mother. The remaining wolves are still too young to successfully fend for themselves, so things gets a bit tight. The white cub tries going after a deer on his own, but falls into a strong stream and gets washed down to Yasuke's village. A pack of dogs (a new pack raised over the winter) sets on the cub, but get very badly injured.

In the field, a wimpy, whiny villager named Koroku, is commanding his work horse to pull against some ropes to yank out a tree stump. There's an accident, and the horse is crushed under some rocks, which pretty much means that Koroku has lost his main source of income. The body of the horse is carried away, and later some vagrants come in and steal the corpse for the meat. The villagers throw more rocks at them and keep calling the murderers.

In the vagrant village, the white wolf cub has been rescued by Yasuke and tied up to be domesticated. The cub refuses to eat anything that it hasn't killed itself, and just lies on the ground, unmoving. But, it is befriended by Yasuke's infant son, who shares his food with it. One day, Mountain Man comes down from the hills to the vagrant village, where he discovers Yasuke's infant son sitting in the middle of the road, eating a rice ball. The baby offers the rice ball to the monster, and he happily plays with the baby for a bit, repeating the word "Kamui" before taking the rice ball and leaving. The ruckus caused by Mountain Man had resulted in some barrels and things getting knocked over, and breaking the post the white cub was tied to. The cub escapes the village and makes its way back up into the hills, where it encounters its father, the savage one-eyed wolf, at the top of a windy peak.


That brings us to the end of chapter two. All of the pieces are now in place. All that's remaining is for the feudal lord to order the end of noble Ryounoshin's family; for Koroku to go from a small, weak farmer to a big, raging lunatic; and for the appearance of Gon, Shousuke's friend. Oh yeah, and for the introduction of the entire ninja system that permeates the full storyline from this point on.

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