Authors: Kan Shimozawa / Hiroshi Hirata | Illustrator: Hiroshi Hirata
Page Count: 218
“Don’t make me responsible for what’s happening around me!”
A one-shot manga containing two Zatoichi adventures, both adapted from one of the many films starring Shintarô Katsu.* If you’re not familiar with the character, Ichi is a blind masseur (Zato is his title) who’s also a master swordsman. He tries to avoid conflict but his compassion always seems to place him in the thick of it.
The first story is titled The Ballad of Zatoichi, adapted from the 13th film in the series, Zatoichi's Vengeance (1966). It has Ichi undertake a dying man’s wish and unwittingly become a role model for an orphan as a result. It’s largely faithful to the film but some scenes are omitted and some new ones have been added. Of the missing scenes the most prominent is the story of the whore and her lover, which carried a large part of the emotional weight. The book is weakened by its absence. It’s debatable whether or not the additional content makes the story better but it certainly puts a different slant on things.
The artwork is functional. The style is comparable to Goseki Kojima's work on Lone Wolf and Cub. If you're going to create a jidaigeki/bushido manga then there's no better influence to take than Goseki, but it’s not as sophisticated. The backgrounds are often too empty and the facial expressions aren't given nearly enough attention. It fares better in the action department. The sword fights are dynamic and the angles are cinematic. I haven’t performed a direct comparison, so it’s possible they’re copied directly from the film.
The second story is Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, adapted from the 14th film, also called Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage (1966). The changes this time are significant. Again, the emotional heart of the story—the reason for the pilgrimage—is lessened, reduced to just a few sentences. What remains is another simple tale of an honourable man putting himself in danger while attempting to right a moral wrong. It's still enjoyable but the lesser page count and a story that’s had all the affecting pain filtered out of it make Pilgrimage the weaker of the two.
3 swift deaths out of 5
*You can find mini reviews for many of the Zatoichi films on our sister site, In a Nutshell, including both the ones mentioned above. It’s an ongoing project and I will eventually have all films covered.