Saturday, November 23, 2013

Review: Juu, vol. 1

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Juu (Cross), written by Fuutarou Yamada, art by Masaki Segawa. Grade: A
Segawa and Yamada have teamed up a number of times in the past, most notably on titles like Basilisk and Y+M. Juu is one of their latest collaborations, started in 2012. I love Segawa's artwork, and I picked up this book just to find out what he's up to.

(Back cover.)

Juu (subtitled: Ninpou Makai Tensei (Ninja Arts - Hell Reincarnation))
In the first volume, things jump around a bit. The story starts in 1638, at the end of the Shimabara Rebellion, where 30,000+ rebels, largely peasants that had converted to Christianity, led by 16-year-old Shiro Amakusa lost to the larger Tokugawa army. The majority of them were beheaded, and Shiro's head was brought to Edo as proof of his defeat. In this setting, a local samurai, Shousetsu Yuiminbunosuke (possibly based on the ronin Shousetsu Yui) is accompanying two other fighters along a beach littered with corpses. He tells the two men that he's seeking out the famed Miyamoto Musashi. A few minutes later, the group reaches a bend in the beach where Musashi is standing over some bodies. A little farther down, a strange old man can be seen with 2 young women. The old man cleaves one of the women with a sword, and her skin peels away to reveal the reincarnation of Shiro Amakusa, who now has demon eyes and a slightly forked tongue. The two retainers see their hated enemy and get ready to attack, but the old man easily dispatches them with chained daggers. Yuiminbunosuke takes one look at Musashi, then runs forward, drops to his knees in font of the demon, and announces that he's come seeking Amakusa.

(Yui finds Musashi.)

A few years go by, and it's now 1645. Yuiminbunosuke accompanies two people to the home of Nyounsai, founder of the Yagyuu Shinkage-ryuu sword style. One of the two people with Yui is Botaro Tamiya, who had petitioned to be one of Nyounsai's students some years ago. Right now, Botaro is dying, and Yui wants to ask Nyounsai to let him and his sister stay at the dojo for one month to allow Botaro to be reincarnated. Nyounsai is skeptical, but Yui offers his own life in exchange if the spell fails. Part of the process is that the target has to have sex with a close loved one, which is what happens that night. Botaro's soul enters his sister's body and after 1 month, Yui cuts the woman's skin off to reveal a very healthy, very demonic Botaro in her place. Yui offers the same option to Nyounsai, who wants to know more about the details of how this works. Yui tells him to seek out the death place of his old friend, Miyamoto Musashi.

(Shiro Amakusa, reborn.)

Nyounsai used to know Musashi when they were both in Kumamoto, Kyushu, and he goes back there a few months later. In Kyushu, he encounters the old chain-knife using ninja, who is accompanied by Amakusa, and the daughter of the woman that Musashi had been in love with. Musashi isn't dead yet, but he had been sitting on a hilltop in full armor just waiting for his moment to come. As he and the woman occupy themselves, the ninja tells Nyounsai that the reincarnation technique involves placing one of his fingers into the woman before she has sex. As he talks, the old man holds up his left hand to show that he's missing 4 fingers. After Musashi's lifeless body drops to the ground, the woman gets dressed, and follows the old man and Amakusa on their journey, leaving Nyounsai standing in the woods to consider the possibility of being reincarnated himself.

(Nyounsai thinks that Yui is just yanking his chain with his talk of reincarnation magic.)

In 1646, the priest/spear master Inshun Houzouin is escorting his ward, a young woman named Sana, who is very pretty, but mentally handicapped. Along the way, they encounter Amakusa and an unnamed woman. Amakusa tries to enrage Inshun into fighting him by simulating sex with the woman, but as a priest, Inshun can't be baited that way. Disgusted, Amasuka throws a wooden spear at the priest, and that insults him enough to get his attention. A third member of Amakusa's party stands up and introduces himself as the demon reincarnation of Mataemon Araki. Araki was the founder of the Yaguu Shingan-ryuu sword style, but he'd supposedly died in 1637. Araki insults Inshun enough to get a reaction - the priest destroys a boulder with his spear as he goes into a rage.

The last 8 pages of the book describe the historical basis for both Amakusa and Botaro.

(Demon Amakusa prepares to fight Nyounsai.)

So far, there's no real story yet, and no explanation for how the old ninja learned the reincarnation technique or what he wants to use the demons for. We're just being introduced to several of the martial arts legends (real and fictional) that lived at roughly the same time (Botaro seems to be a character from a kabuki play). Segawa reinterprets everyone using his own unique character designs, but that's why I like his work - his designs are original and very distinctive. There is some graphic violence and some non-graphic sex, so if you're underaged in your country, or easily offended, this is not the book for you. If you liked "Y+M", you'll like "Juu".

(The old ninja asks Amakusa to stand down from the fight.)

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