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It's the final volume of Samurai Executioner and, like the previous nine volumes, the last is a combination of life's varying tides of good fortune and ill circumstance. The woman who once stole the weapons of samurai cops is becoming a cop herself. It's a story of gender struggles in a time long past. All the while criminals keep losing their heads to Asa the decapitator. But one criminal might leave something behind that could hurt our favorite protagonist.
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Kazuo Koike is a prolific Japanese manga writer, novelist, and entrepreneur. Early in Koike's career, he studied under Golgo 13 creator Takao Saito and served as a writer on the series. Koike, along with artist Goseki Kojima, made the manga Kozure Okami (Lone Wolf and Cub), and Koike also contributed to the scripts for the 1970s film adaptations of the series, which starred famous Japanese actor Tomisaburo Wakayama. Another series written by Koike, Crying Freeman, which was illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami, was adapted into a 1995 live-action film by French director Christophe Gans.
Goseki Kojima was a Japanese manga artist known for his collaborations with Kazuo Koike. The team was often referred to as the “Golden Duo.” Kojima’s best-known work was Lone Wolf and Cub. Other titles attributed to Kojima are Samurai Executioner and Path of the Assassin. In 2004, Kojima won an Eisner Award.
The last six Samurai Executioner stories share with their 48 predecessors the excellence of Koike's canny scripting and of Kojima's art with its resemblances to the historical films of Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi. None of the six is as intense as the diptych of "The Bamboo Splitter" and "Toothless Yoshichi" in The Bamboo Splitter (2005), or the extraordinarily gritty "Life Link" in Ten Fingers, One Life (2005), but the two featuring a young policeman and his ex-offender wife, series regulars since debuting in Shinko the Kappa (2005), bring erotic jollity into a milieu in which sex is elsewhere harsh and violent. As before, the mysteries raised in the shorter stories focused on single executions are resolved by swordsman Asaemon's quest to understand those he executes; the poignant "The Chrysanthemum Head" is one of the finest such pieces in the entire series. The concluding story, "Cough," sounds once more the series' persistent theme of common humanity by tracing a cold from condemned to prison guards to policemen to even the executioner. Ray Olson
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