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Hinata no Ookami, vol. 4, by Misaki Saitoh. Grade: B+
Well, I've reached the 4th of the 4 books that I bought in this series, and Serizawa still isn't dead yet. This implies that Saitoh has a lot of storytelling left to go before reaching a conclusion. On the other hand, she put the series on hiatus after the end of volume 5, so maybe I'm wrong on the above count.
(Yamanami gets treated, and compensated, for a cut arm.)
The Ryoushi (the men under Serizawai tasked with patrolling Kyoto on behalf of the Shogun) receive a request to save a merchant being robbed by some members of the Loyalists. It's just Hijikata and Yamanami up against 4-5 opponents. Two are killed, and two are allowed to escape. But, in the fighting Yamanami takes a deep cut to the arm, and the merchant feels guilty enough about it to assign his personal doctor to care for the injured man, and to hand over so much money as to solve some of the group's financial problems for a while. Later, Serizawa and some of his men meet Sasaki and his new girlfriend, Oguri, on the road. Serizawa jokes about taking an interest in the girl. This proves to be a problem for him later when both Sasaki and Oguri are found dead the next day; Sasaki of sword wounds, and Oguri because she'd bitten her tongue off. Naturally, Hijikata suspects Serizawa, but Oume claims that Serizawa had been with her all night. Serizawa adds that someone has stolen his seal and some of his funds.
(Saeki accidentally encounters Katsura.)
The evidence points to one of Serizawa's men, Saeki, who had expressed interest in the girl. While Hijikata is following Saeki, the suspect bumps into Kogoro Katsura, one of the Loyalists from Choshu, a domain at the north end of Kyushu. Since Katsura's partner recognizes Saeki, it becomes pretty clear that the suspect has a past that he wants to keep hidden. He disappears, and after a few days' investigation, Hijikata and the staff-wielding Yamazaki track him down to a nearby inn. It's an expensive place, and it's a good bet that the guy is using Serizawa's seal to pay for it. Hijikata gets Saeki to confess. He admits that he'd lured Ogura out to the woods and then attempted to assault her. Sasaki interrupted him, but the boy was too green and hesitated too long in bringing out his sword, and was an easy kill. The girl bit her tongue off rather than submit to his assault. Saeki has a record of similar incidents, and he intends to run off somewhere until things cool down. But, as he turns to leave, Hijikata kills him, and Serizawa shows up to finish the job. Afterward, Serizawa berates Hijikata for not acting like a real samurai (Hijikata was raised as a peasant). Hijikata dislikes the treatment he's getting from his superior, and spends the night writing up the rules for proper Ryoushi gang behavior, which includes not shaking down Choshu-related merchants for cash.
(Hijikata kills Saeki.)
The rest of the group accepts Hijikata's rules, and his suggestion to host a matsuri (festival) to sell green tea to raise money. One of the events at the festival is a sumo match, which Serizawa refuses to watch because he hates sumo wrestlers. The other Ryoushi members want to go drink sake and watch the matches, forcing Hijikata to be the one to run the tea stand. A little later, Serizawa tries using a small canon against the warehouse of a cloth merchant that refuses to be shaken down, but his men don't know how to load the thing, so they just torch the warehouse instead. This attracts all kinds of the wrong attention from the shogun and the emperor, and Hijikata and Kondo are getting close to losing their patience with the guy. However, some of the Choshu clan rally at one of the main gates leading in to Kyoto, and the local lord hosting the Ryoushi orders them to go to the gate and stand guard. None of the Ryoushi see combat; instead, they just spend the night standing at ready in the middle of a pouring rain. The next day, their commander announces that for their impeccable service to the Shogun, the Roushi are to be rewarded with an official name change and upgrade in status as city guards - they're now to be known as the Shinsengumi. A few days later, Kondo and some of the new Shinsengumi set out to arrest any remaining members of the Choshu clan still living within the city. They visit the inn that Katsura is at, but he's apparently long gone (actually, he's hiding in the toilet). During the assignment, Kondo finds himself attracted to one of the women working at the inn. And this is where the volume ends.
(Serizawa, punishing a merchant that refuses to be shaken down.)
Comments: I like the artwork and character designs in this series, and the fight scenes are well-drawn. I do wish the story went past volume 5, but I guess you can't have everything. If I find the next volume available used, I'll buy it. Recommended if you like historical fiction.
(The Roushi become the Shinsengumi.)