Friday, December 13, 2013

Oudou no Inu, vol. 1

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Oudou no Inu, vol. 1, by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Grade: B
When I look at the cover of this book, I immediately feel that this is "prototypical" manga. The character design screams "1980's manga". But, initially, it's kind of hard to say why. The strongest sense is that this is very similar to the Gundam designs. There's a reason for that - Yoshikazu Yasuhiko was the character designer on the first Gundam series. He's also drawn Venus Wars and illustrated the original Dirty Pair light novels, among a number of other works. He's got a good, solid style, he understands pacing and layout, and draws highly detailed backgrounds.

(Back cover.)

Oudou no Inu (which has been translated as "Revolutionary Dog" and "Royal Road Dog") is historical fiction set around the time of the Meiji Restoration. For those of you not familiar with Japanese history, the Shogun and his advisers had wrested power from the Emperor and his advisers back during the Edo era. The Tokugawa family cemented their position as the hereditary line for selecting Shoguns (Imperial warlords) in the 1600's, and maintained their hold over the country for a little over 200 years, while the Emperor remained in purely a symbolic role. When the American, Commodore Matthew Perry, arrived with his "black ships" in 1853, he unwittingly caused a shift in power within Japan, and precipitated the civil war known as the Meiji revolution, where a group of young samurai worked to topple the Shogun's corrupt advisers and return military and governmental power back to the Emperor. At the time, that Emperor was Matsuhito, later named Meiji when he died in 1912. So, the period called "Meiji Restoration" refers to the events in which Emperor Meiji took the reins of power back from the Shogun. During that time, a number of people were arrested as political prisoners and jailed in Abashiri, in Hokkaido.

(Jail break.)

Our story begins in 1889, when Ichitarou Fuma and Shuusuke Kanoh break out of prison and go cross-country through what is still pretty much pristine wilderness, killing a few guards along the way. The lead guard is told by the warden that Fuma is a known killer, and Kanoh had been involved in the Osaka Incident of 1886, so they're both dangerous. The two escapees evade capture and meet Nishite, an Ainu mountain man. When government officials show up, Nishite helps disguise them as Ainu (the Ainu are the indigenous people that lived in Japan before the modern Japanese showed up, and have been treated the same way that Native Americans are treated by whites). One day, the three go into town, Nishite gets roughed up by the townspeople, and Fuma and Kanoh are overwhelmed by sheer numbers when they try to save him. Suddenly, Sokaku Takeda, founder of a jujitsu school, decides to side with the underdogs.

(Fuma and Kanoh confront a bear in the hill country.)

Things go relatively well, until Nishite's girlfriend is sold off for labor to the U.S. Nishite goes on a rampage to rescue her, but is subdued, arrested and sent to prison. Kanoh is so disgusted with himself, since he's a sniveling coward at this stage, that he begs Sokaku to take him on as a student. Sokaku doesn't take students, but he has no problem in letting someone learn by unsuccessfully attacking him a lot. Over time, Kanoh does turn into a semi-decent martial artist. We get some flashbacks on Kanoh, and his involvement in politics before his arrest. He and Fuma both stay at the house of a well-to-do family for a while, and Fuma seduces Taki, one of the women there. Things wrap up with Kanoh going through a crisis while knowing that he can't return to his own family.

(Fuma doesn't like people ganging up on Ainu that aren't allowed to defend themselves.)

Comments: Overall, this is a good story if you have some understanding of Japanese history and the political environment following the Meiji Revolution. The Japanese isn't that easy to read, and there's no furigana to show how to pronounce the kanji. However, the series has been fan translated, so that will help a lot. But, if you plan on reading the scanilations, BUY THE ORIGINAL MANGA to support the artist. You'll feel morally superior if you do.

(Enter Sokaku.)

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