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Friday, May 31, 2013

Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsucho: But I Wasn't Finished Eating Yet....

It's the end of Manga May! I had planned on also reviewing a non-Kurumada manga this month, but the prep for Anime Boston was more extensive than I had planned, so that title will be done at a later date. Anyway, to end this focus on Masami Kurumada manga, let's take a look at a more-recent spin-off that wasn't drawn by him... Yet is the canon sequel to his fourth-most-well-known manga!

The original Fuma no Kojirou manga ended in Weekly Shonen Jump back in 1983, after 10 volumes. In 2002, Akita Shoten's Champion RED magazine debuted Saint Seiya Episode.G, a non-canon prequel, drawn by Megumu Okada (the creator of Shadow Skill), to the original Saint Seiya manga that starred the Gold Saints of Seiya's time. With that title becoming a successful venture, Kurumada decided to return to another title of his, but this time he would be more heavily involved in the story & actually have it be an official continuation; Kurumada only supervised Episode.G, as well as The Lost Canvas. So, in 2003, Champion RED debuted Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsucho/Kojirou of the Fuma: The Yagyu Assasination Pledge, which was written by Kurumada himself but was drawn by Satoshi Yuri, a former assistant. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag, the biggest reason of which isn't even really the title's own fault.

At least four years have passed since the Fuma Rebellion ended. During this time, Hakuo Academy has degraded into a shell of its former self that's run by delinquents, & the Fuma Clan hasn't really recovered. Renya, a member of the Yagyu Clan, is on the hunt for his older sibling Ranko, who brought the Fuma to Hakuo all those years ago, who has disappeared. Renya is also searching for the Fuurin Kazan, the Sacred Sword Ranko gave Kojirou during the battle with the Yasha Clan, as it was originally meant for him to protect. In his search, he finds the remains of the Fuma Clan's home, but all he finds are three ninja: A girl named Komomo & two boys named "Kojirou". Unfortuantely, Renya has no idea that his meeting with the Fuma is part of the plan of Karma, a mysterious group of people who wish to use Himeko Hojo, Hakuo's principal, as a sacrifice to revive their king Indra, so that they can take their revenge on the Yagyu Clan. In order to revive Indra completely, though, they need Komomo, who is the "Shrine Maiden of the Fuma".

As a sequel to the original manga, Yagyu Ansatsucho does a nice job at keeping continuity intact. In the beginning of the Sacred Sword War Chapter, the Fuma Clan's home was destroyed for the most part, & the Fuma Rebellion only made things worse, so this sequel follows that by having the Clan be essentially nonexistent. The idea of having Hakuo Academy be degraded over the years is also a nice touch, too, indicating that battle between the Fuma & the Yasha really didn't help the school out at all in the end. Finally, Renya's search for the Fuurin Kazan is quickly over once he meets & fights Kojirou, where he's told that the sword was in fact destroyed, matching what happened at the end of the Sacred Sword War. Overall, Yagyu Ansatsucho does a great job at tying all of the previous arcs into this one, whether it's minor or major, and it follows Kurumada's seeming penchant for not giving the past an idealized portrayal; even Ring ni Kakero 2 does some similar things to its prequel's cast. It even references the anime by having a chapter titled "Kaze no Soldier/Soldier of the Wind", after the anime's last opening theme.

Even the new characters fit in nicely with the story. Komomo was actually a minor character who was shown in the very first chapter of the original manga & was promptly forgotten about, so making her an important part of the story was another nice touch in keeping continuity intact. Komomo wasn't included in the anime adaptation, but her small appearance was kept in the live-action tokusatsu/J-Drama TV series. The "other Kojirou", nicknamed Tora (his name is done as "虎次郎" instead of "小次郎", so everyone just uses the虎), is a brand new character that's purposefully meant to remind readers of the original Kojirou, as Tora's schoolboy hat, open coat, and even his pompous attitude is exactly like that of Kojirou from back then. Kojirou, in turn, is now older & more knowledgeable about life, though he still brings out his usual brashness at times. Renya is mostly an angry man who wants nothing but answers, and is ready to fight at a moments notice, but he has the skills to back up his attitude. In a nice surprise, though, another returning character is Soushi Date, one of the Cosmo Warriors from the Sacred Sword War, who is revealed to be hired by Ranko to help Kojirou out in the upcoming battle; it is in this manga that we finally find out more about Soushi's past, even if only slightly.

Then there's Karma, which is made up of a small group of characters. The main focus is on the "Shikenoh/Four Sword Kings", which is based on the concept of the "Shitenoh/Four Heavenly Kings" of Buddhism. Unlike other manga, though, which use the Shitenoh concept in name only (i.e. it's simply a quartet of strong fighters), Yagyu Ansatsucho actually goes an extra step & has each of them use one of the Kings' names. The leader of Karma is Vaiśravaṇa Zenon, who mostly stays to himself & slowly enacts the ceremony that drains Himeko of her blood & soul onto a "Demon Sword" called the Indravajra (or "Yagyu Asatsucho"), which strengthens Indra for when he can revive. The Shikenoh that you see the most is Virūpākṣa Fubuki, a female mystic who is able to monitor what the heroes are presently doing & keeps tabs on them. Considering how rare a tough female warrior is in a Kurumada manga, I really like Fubuki, & her design is also just awesome, with a cloth with an eye drawing covering one eye & an sleek jacket. The third member is Dhṛtarāṣṭra Gamma, a man who is especially strong & is the first Shikenoh to fight the heroes, but his unknowing of who exactly he is hides a stronger force. Alongside the Shikenoh is a masked man named Mumyou, who comes off very similar to Char Aznable in execution.

Finally, there's another nice surprise with what Zenon does to keep Kojirou & the others at bay while the ceremony is going on: He revives the five strongest members of the Fuma that died during the original manga. Kirikaze, Shoryu, Kouu, Ryuho, & the Fuma Leader are all revived in order to stop Kojirou, but in a neat twist these five have slightly different plans in mind. They are using this new time of life to test Kojirou, & see if he truly is meant to be the new leader of the Fuma; Kirikaze tests Kojirou's dedication to his clan & brethren, Shoryu & Kouu push their bodies beyond their limits using a technique called Fuma Rashomon, which lets them use 200% of their physical potential, to see if Kojirou is willing to kill if need be; & the Fuma Leader tests Kojirou's belief in the "eight winds" of the Fuma to see if he truly worthy of wielding the Tenpuuken, the Treasured Sword of the Fuma. All the while, Ryuho tries protecting Komomo from Karma. It's honestly a neat way of having Kojirou fights his deceased brothers in a way that makes sense, while keeping these revived Fuma from being made into evil people, though Shoryu & Kouu honestly do try to kill Kojirou, who has trouble fighting them off until Soushi makes his return.

In true Kurumada fashion, this manga goes by at a fast pace, with a lot happening in just three volumes. Literally, Volume 1 is about introducing the characters but focuses on Kojirou's fight with Renya, Volume 2 focuses on Kojirou's fights against Kirikaze, Shoryu, & Kouu, with the beginning of his fight with the Leader, & Volume 3 finishes the fight with the Leader before getting to the fight with Gamma & an initial skirmish with Indra himself, who definitely delivers on being the godlike being that he's named after. The fights don't drag on & definitely still have that style that Kurumada is known for, even if he didn't draw the pages himself. The use of Buddhist deities also gives this manga a nice sense of originality from other shonen action titles. I honestly can't name another title that actually uses the Four Heavenly Kings by name, even if it's just a Gold Saint-style descriptor, as well as Indra. The story definitely has all of the potential to be the best story arc in Fuma no Kojirou... But notice that I just said "potential".

When it comes to problems with Yagyu Ansatsucho, there's no getting around the biggest of them all: It's technically not finished. Volume 3 ends with Indra sending Soushi & Tora to other locations in the world. Soushi gets sent to the ruins of his clan's home, who all died trying to stop Indra's revival & left Soushi the sole survivor, & it's never shown where Tora gets sent to. Kojirou manages to break through Indra's spell & finds himself in front of Mumyou, who's holding Komomo hostage; the last page is literally Mumyou's silhouetted face, after taking his mask off. Let me get one thing out of the way here, because it's not exactly a major secret. It's never stated or shown explicitly in the manga, but it's blatantly obvious that Mumyou is Musashi Asuka, Kojirou's rival-of-sorts from the original manga. He has the same hair style as Musashi, he uses a long sword like Musashi, & the one special move he uses is called Hiryu Enbusen, which is similar enough to Musashi's Hiryu Haouken. Oh, and Mumyou literally teleports at one point in the manga, which is something that only "Psychic Soldiers" like Musashi & Ryoma can do. Honestly, I'd be more shocked if Mumyou wasn't Musashi. But, yeah, Yagyu Ansatsucho is unfinished, never having had another chapter serialized since 2006. According to Wikipedia Japan, Akita Shoten still technically categorizes it as "on hiatus", but let's be honest here; after seven years of nothing, I highly doubt that we'll ever get more of this manga. In the years since the hiatus, Satoshi Yuri (or at least someone with the same exact kanji for the name) has moved on to the anime industry, working as a designer for shows like Chaos Dragon, Battle Girl High School, Strike the Blood II, & Terraformars Revenge. Therefore, it's likely that Yuri won't ever come back to continue drawing this manga. In the end, it's this sudden stop that really hurts this manga the most... &, boy, what a stopping point it has!

Really, the other flaws with this manga mainly come off of the hiatus, because they're all about the unanswered questions & seeming unimportance of some of the characters. For example, it's known at the end of the original manga that Ryoma was still alive, yet he's never seen in this sequel, outside of one panel that showed that Kojirou & Ryoma had interacted with Mumyou four years prior, which likely clued the duo into the existence of Karma. Likewise, we never found out what the last member of the Shikenoh, who would have used the name Virūḍhaka, is like because he was never shown or hinted at. At the same time, new characters like Renya & Tora get the short end of the stick by being essentially useless. Renya shows his stuff in Volume 1, but early in Volume 2 he gets easily defeated by Mumyou's Hiryu Enbusen, which sends him falling down a waterfall, never to be seen again. Tora, on the other hand, is hinted at having great power within him, but never really gets to show it off, as he's easily defeated by anyone he tries fighting, even Renya! It's made all the more annoying by the sense that the manga was likely heading towards its climax already by the end point of Volume 3. What's known is that Soushi starts fighting Fubuki, Kojirou was likely going to fight Mumyou, & Tora is somewhere. My guess is that Tora would fight Virūḍhaka, Kojirou would then fight Zenon after Mumyou, & then the final fight with Indra would happen, Tenpuuken vs. Indravajra. I would guess there's at least two or threee more volumes-worth of story to tell, and that sucks.

All that's really left to talk about is Satoshi Yuri's artwork, which honestly is one of the more interesting parts of this manga. Being an assistant to Kurumada really shows, because a lot of the manga looks very much like Kurumada's general style: Low perspectives, bishonen character designs, and some crazy visual sights for some of the attacks. The new outfits for Kojirou & Soushi have are really stylish, too, which helps make them Yuri's own versions. At the same time, though, Yuri's artwork also goes into a really rough style when the action & emotions get really intense, which reminds you that this isn't drawn by Kurumada himself. Honestly, Satoshi Yuri's artwork comes off as a mix of Masami Kurumada, Kazuhiko Shimamoto, & even Go Nagai to an extent, and the end result is kind of wild & really interesting.

Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsucho has a lot pf potential, but it's hiatus-induced stop really kills any momentum it earned. It keeps the continuity with the original manga intact, making it a true sequel in all the right ways, and the story it started telling definitely has a lot of really good moments, but considering that it could likely never be properly finished it must be judged on what is out... And what is out is the equivalent of having a delicious meal, and right before you get to the best part the maitre d' takes it away from you with nothing more than a simple, "That is all you'll be having tonight." This manga could have potentially given Fuma no Kojirou that something it needed to be more than fourth-best in terms of Kurumada's catalog of manga, but unfortunately the series stays where it is. Make no mistake, though, as Fuma no Kojirou is still a really good series filled with memorable characters & concepts, but in the end B't X, Saint Seiya, & Ring ni Kakero 1 still easily top it. Much like nearly everything else Kojirou-related, though, Yagyu Ansatsucho has no English translation, but I still felt that it was worth talking about. At the very least, it lets me cross another Kurumada manga off the list of stuff to review.

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