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As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers.
In the spirit of Halloween being tomorrow, I thought I'd review a horror-themed book.
"Wait!" you're thinking. "You must be mistaken. You're reviewing a feudal Japanese-themed comic about samurai."
MINOR SPOILER ALERT: There's really no way to talk about this without revealing a small thing that anybody who actually picks up this title would probably already know about based on the cover art. But, just in case you want to know absolutely nothing about this before reading it, you should stop reading my post now.
What's It About?
Bushido is a five-part mini-series that was published weekly, and the last issue publishes today. The story is based on a screenplay called "Rising Sun" by Shahin Chandrasoma.
The action takes place in feudal Japan and involves an orphaned boy, Kichiro, whose family is murdered by pirates who are definitely more than just regular men. They seem to have super-strength and a taste for blood...
Kichiro escapes and washes up on the shores of Japan where he is rescued by a samurai and trained in Bushido (the code of the warrior). However, as an outsider, Kichiro can never be samurai, even though that's his most fervent dream.
We meet Kichiro's adopted father, and his "brother," Orochi, as well as Mitsuko, the daughter of the Shogun.
Things quickly go very badly when the same pirates who attacked Kichiro's family at sea all those years ago turn up in the village of the Shogun and start killing indiscriminately. Over time, we find that some of the villagers who are seemingly killed start to rise up as the same sort of monsters who killed them.
There's also a murder that places one of the main characters in an awkward spot, an unresolved love triangle, father-son issues, and more. And at the heart of the story, we get a peak into what happens to a person who grows up having never been given free will to make his own choices, and then is finally confronted as an adult with the ability to make his own choice for the first time in his life.
Who Are the Creative Team?
Rob Levin pens the story, again, based on a screenplay. Levin is actually also an editor for Top Cow comics and has written a wide variety of independent comic titles including Witchblade, Mind the Gap, City of Heroes, and even a Cyberforce/X-Men cross-over.
In Bushido, I like how Levin handles the characters - they have depth and personalities that make it easy to determine the motivations of the individual characters. It would have been easy to paint each samurai as a stoic warrior type that's so often the cliche shown in movies. The four main "samurai" types (Kichiro, Orochi, their father, and the Shogun) in Bushido are each handled in a manner where there's no confusing them with each other.
Levin also clearly has a love of feudal Japan and its various trappings, which are well-handled in the story itself as well as in short essays at the back of the comics that delve into subjects such as the daisho ("the long and the short", the samurai's katana and wakizashi) and their history, construction, and cultural significance.
What is a bit off in the Bushido comics, though, is the pacing of the writing. On certain pages, it seems almost as though scenes are skipped or rushed past to get to the next scene. It all reads a bit choppy at times, rather than a smoothly flowing story that unfolds naturally over the course of the various issues. There's also an interesting arc for one character specifically who essentially makes a complete 180 in his outlook on "life" over the course of the first four issues. While I'm all about character growth and love to see what motivates a character to change how he views the world, it actually feels very rushed in that it happens over the course of only four issues. We barely know the guy so the change seems a bit forced.
On art duties is Jessada Sutthi and from what research I've conducted, this appears to be his first work in the comics medium. After obtaining his degree in Art Design in 2007 he worked as a freelance artist for a small game company and also did some book cover designs before eventually working on animation designs before becoming the senior concept artist for Studio Hive in 2012. Sutthi's character work on Bushido is really well-done and has an almost painter-like quality. The figures are beautiful and the shading and textures are all top-notch. Unfortunately what's missing from the work are detailed backgrounds - in fact, backgrounds of any kind are at times completely non-existent, which makes it difficult to judge the flow of the story, especially in action-oriented scenes with little or no dialogue or narration.
Who Will Like It?
Do you like samurai? Do you like vampires? Do you want to see samurai fighting vampires? Then you'll like this.
Any Good Fodder Here for my Role-Playing Games?
Most definitely. This is a great, fun example of genre-mashing and mixing up various tropes. This could give you plenty of ideas for intermixing some horror concepts into your standard Asian or Japanese-themed fantasy game.
The character of Kichiro also provides a pretty decent model of an outsider-type character and what it would be like to live in as ordered and structured a society as feudal Japan but never actually be allowed to be part of the society. The "outside looking in" type of perspective is always a helpful tool for illustrating what makes a society different. If you're playing in a Japanese (or pseudo fantasy Japan) type of game and yet it feels like standard D&D with katanas, then reading Bushido could help give you a few ideas for how to make your non-Western cultures come alive a bit more.
Is It Good for Kids?
You've got samurai cutting of vampire's heads with sharp katanas, and lots of blood flowing. Several of the characters get turned into vampires and start feeding on their former friends and colleagues, so I'd say "no." It's probably fine for teens and up.
- Format: Weekly 28-page full-color 5-issue limited series.
- Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology. That link leads to the page on the series; issue #5 comes out today. Given that the last issue of the 5-part series comes out today, no doubt a collected trade edition will be coming out soon. However, it should be very easy to find all of the back-issues at your local shop.
- Price: $2.99 per issue
- Rated: Non-rated but I would say Teen
- More Information: The series page for Bushido on Image Comics.
Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Medley: Autumn in New York / Embraceable You / What's New" by the Chet Baker and Stan Getz