Samurai Executioner Volume 1
|Written by||Kazuo Koike|
|Illustrated by||Goseki Kojima|
|Original run||1972 – 1976|
Samurai Executioner, known in Japan as Kubikiri Asa (首斬り朝), is a 10-volume manga created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, the same team that created the popular Lone Wolf and Cub series. The series was first serialized in Japan, from 1972–1976, arriving two years after Lone Wolf and Cub's start.
The story is set in the Edo period of feudal Japan. It revolves around Yamada Asaemon (山田 朝右衞門 Yamada Asaemon), nicknamed Kubikiri-Asa (literally "Neck-chopper Asa", often transliterated as "Decapitator Asaemon"), a ronin who is responsible for testing new swords for the shogun. The character is based on a real-life line of sword-testers who served the Tokugawa Shogunate up to the early 19th century. He is also frequently called upon to perform executions.
Many of the stories focus not on Asaemon, but on several of the people he meets in the course of his work. More often than not they are the stories of the criminals he executes, told as their last words before receiving the fatal stroke. As with Ogami Itto later, such encounters often give Asa pause for thought and reflection.
The Samurai Executioner series was published in English translation in the United States by Dark Horse Comics beginning in 2004. The series was completed with the tenth volume, released on May 26, 2006.
Each volume is written with historical accuracy, although the characters themselves are fictional. In the back of each book, Dark Horse has provided a glossary to help define the many Japanese terms used to keep the stories authentic.
List of recurring characters
Yamada Asaemon, nicknamed Kubikiri Asa: A young ronin who assumes the post of sword-tester in the first volume. Asaemon's reputation is fearsome among the populace because he killed both his father and his first love. He performed the former at his father's insistence, as the terminally-ill man wanted to test his successor's swordsmanship in an act of seppuku; the latter was his first execution: a criminal who had seduced him as a boy years earlier. He is atypical of portrayals of ronin in that he has a governmental post, owns a substantial house, and does not normally roam the countryside. He refuses to marry and have a family, stating in the story "Hellstick" (Volume 3: The Hell Stick): "Can a man who lives by killing take a wife and father a child?"; however, in the story "Gobari Sandosu" (Volume 6: Shinko the Kappa), he does marry Ame, the daughter of Tome, and immediately divorces her, but tells her that she will always be the wife of his spirit and the only woman he will ever call his wife.
Years later, Asaemon is ordered by his superiors to kill Ogami Ittō, but secret interference by Yagyu Retsudo causes his sword to become damaged. During his duel with Ogami, Asaemon's sword breaks, resulting in his death.
Sakane Kasajiro (坂根 傘次郎), nicknamed Catcher Kasajiro (畳捕り傘次郎): Introduced in the story "Spark Umbrella" (Volume 5: Ten Fingers, One Life); one of Edo's best policemen, who often uses a hook and rope to capture those he arrests. A lower-caste samurai, he looks up to Asaemon as a teacher and colleague and is the person closest to Asaemon. He is married to former criminal Shinko aka "Shinko the Kappa".
Sakane Shinko (坂根 新子), nicknamed Shinko the Kappa (河童の新子): Kasajiro's wife, named for the kappa tattooed on her back. Daughter of an executed yakuza Yaheiji (弥兵次), she is a reformed criminal who joined her husband Kasajiro on the Edo police force. Asaemon adopted Shinko and acted in the place of the father in law at her and Kasajiro's wedding.
List of Volumes
The ten volumes are as follows (in English from Dark Horse comics):
- When The Demon Knife Weeps
- Two Bodies, Two Minds
- The Hell Stick
- Portrait of Death
- Ten Fingers, One Life
- Shinko the Kappa
- The Bamboo Splitter
- The Death Sign of Spring
- Facing Life and Death
- A Couple of Jitte
Yamada Asaemon makes an appearance in the manga Lone Wolf & Cub in Chapter 27, "Decapitator Asaemon", and in the 1970s Kozure Ōkami (Lone Wolf & Cub) television series in episode “Headhunter Asaemon”, where he was played by actor Gō Wakabayashi.
- Mikito Ujiie. Oo Edo shitai ko: Hitokiri Asauemon no jidai. [Corpses in Edo: The time of Hitokiri Asauemon] (Tokyo, Japan: Heibon-sha, 1999)