I like the artwork on Acony, so I wanted to try out some of Kei's earlier works, starting with Kurogane (AKA: Black Steel). Regrettably, the files on Manga Fox are from the Del Rey officially licensed books (which aren't available here in Kagoshima). I would like to hope that if you're interested in this title that you'd at least buy them used, if not new.
(Images from Manga Fox. All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Kurogane, by Kei Toume, Grade: B
The basic story is fairly straight-forward, although a bit twisted. Jintetsu is a young teenage boy living in the Edo era (roughly 1700's) as an assassin-for-hire. Right at the beginning he dies and is found by an inventor that resurrects him in a semi-mechanical body. A second corpse, Haganemaru, a samurai, is repackaged as Jintestu's sword. Since Jintetsu's throat (ripped out by trained dogs) was never repaired, Haganemau acts as his voice. The story then consists of Jintetsu's adventures as he wanders between towns, either taking commissions or meeting new friends or adversaries. Of course, there's the occasional "misunderstanding" as the boy is mistaken for someone else and arrested or attacked. Although he is a killer for hire, Jintetsu does have a weakspot for people trying their hardest, and he will help them out even if they're sworn enemies.
The artwork is kind of erratic, and not at the same level as Acony, but there are similarities between the two that pop up consistently. The backgrounds are highly detailed, and the fight sequences are more than simple poses (not in the same class as Vagabond, though). Kei is good at showing Jintetstu's emotions even within her self-imposed limits (the boy's face is a steel mask, with just one eye showing). Most of the stories revolve around honor (or the lack thereof), greed and the basic human desire to survive against insurmountable odds. Probably, the main message is that once you choose your own path, remain consistent to it.
What I liked was in seeing Gennai Hiraga's static electricity generator in the bottom right panel of the scene set in the inventor's house. This is the same generator that you can build from Gakken. I'm betting that the inventor, Genkichi, was based on Gennai.
Summary: An Edo-era assassin is killed and brought back in a puppet-like body. Along with his talking sword, the boy wanders Japan and has various (mostly-) humorous adventures. Kind of a cross between Mushishi and Blade of the Immortal. Recommended for anyone that likes Kei Toume's other works.