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Hinata no Ookami, vol. 3, by Misaki Saitoh (2005). Grade: B+
(Yamazaki and the imposter.)
Events progress slowly. Kondo and Serizawa receive the praise of the local lords, and the Ryoushi group is recognized by the citizens of Kyoto whenever they go outside due to their distinctive uniforms. At night, they frequent an inn and enjoy the food and drink there. One of the two spies takes the opportunity to drop secret messages off a bridge and into the hands of a messenger waiting on the riverbank below. For the moment, the spies don't have a lot to report, other than that the number of members of the Ryoushi are increasing. Oume, the courtesan violated by Serizawa, has been kicked out of her old job for failing to bring the money back that is owed to the inn, so she's reduced to either staying with Serizawa himself, or Shiki Niimi (co-commander of the Ryoushi, at the same rank as Serizawa and Kondo). Oume tries talking to Hijikata a few times, but he can't understand any of her motives, although he suspects that Serizawa had assaulted her, and he's trying to find proof of that. Then, one day when Hijikata, Souji and a third group member are in Osaka walking around, they discover that they've gained the nickname of "Mibu no Ookami" (Wolves of Mibu), and that someone is masquerading as one of the Ryoushi to get free food and drink from the inns. In trying to track down the faker, they encounter Susumu Yamazaki, a staff specialist that shows Souji how to disarm an assailant without bloodshed (Yamazaki later joins the Ryoushi as a doctor and spy.)
(The last moments of Kiyokawa.)
A few days later, in Edo, Sasaki and some of his men finally succeed in assassinating their commander, Kiyokawa. Word gets back to Kyoto, and Hijikata and Kondo wonder if they should contemplate using the same tactic against Serizawa. They postpone making any decisions. Then, they get orders to split up, with Souji, Kondo and Serizawa going to Osaka, and Hijikata staying behind to take care of things in Kyoto. In Osaka, while on patrol, Serizawa and a few of his men run into a sumo wrestler who refuses to get out of the way, and instead raises his arms to prevent them from passing. So, to demonstrate the dominance of the samurai, Serizaka kills him. In a few hours, the inn the Ryoushi are staying at is surrounded by 30 angry sumo wrestlers demanding revenge. Souji and Kondo work to subdue the wrestlers without killing them, while Serizawa is determined to rack up a body count. In fact, only 1 man in the crowd is killed outright, but a number of others are crippled before the mob runs away in terror.
(Serizawa doesn't like sumo.)
In Kyoto, one of the two Loyalist spies finds a girlfriend, a girl somewhere around 15 years old. She comes to the compound to meet the spy, Aijirou Sasaki. As the other members of the compound suffer differing levels of jealousy, Hijikata receives a letter from Kondo detailing the troubles being caused by Serizawa. Hijikata immediately prepares to go to Osaka, and the girl acts like she's disturbed at seeing him leave without being able to talk to him. In Osaka, Serizawa reiterates his opinion that a real man, a real samurai, cuts down anyone that would oppose him, creating a clear divide regarding public relations between himself and the rest of the Ryoushi, who grew up mainly as farmers and village peasants. The volume ends at this point.
(Hijikata, Aijirou and the girl.)
Comments: There is some action, and some fighting, in this manga, but primarily it revolves around the interpersonal relationships of the different Ryoushi members, the acquisition of new members, and the events leading to various rule changes, etc. Again, if you like Japanese history, I recommend this series.
(Misaki Saitoh and Daisuke Hirakawa interview.)
Note that the last few pages of volumes 1 and 2 contained character sketches and some joke sequences. This time, there's a long interview between Saitoh and Daisuke Hirakawa (voice actor who participated in the creation of the Hinata no Ookami drama CD).