First serialized in 1970, "Lone Wolf and Cub" is among the most iconic manga of all time, spawning TV shows and film adaptations. Its story has been referenced in an eclectic range of modern works from the music of Wu-Tang Clan to the comics of Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill."
Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus:Volume 1, by Kazuo Koike, Illustrated by Goseki Kojima.
Dark Horse, Manga.
The story is set midway through Pax Tokugawa. Ogami Itto, an itinerant assassin, travels the countryside with his infant son Daigoro accepting contracts in exchange for a set fee. Some episodes are self-contained, while others advance a dilating plot in which Itto, framed by the rival Yagyu clan and banished from Edo (present-day Tokyo) and his high-ranking post as executioner, claws his way doggedly toward vengeance. The bond of father and son is tested by foes of all stripes as they toil to lay bare a secret that could rock the nation to its core.
By turns violent, tender, erotic and philosophical, Kazuo Koike's well-researched story joins with Goseki Kojima's visceral artwork to evoke the government bureaucracy, Buddhism, yakuza, military strategy, bushido and martial arts of the times. Pages of these 12 volumes are laid out Western style, in mirror opposite to the Japanese original.
Words like "seminal" and "epic" can be applied without reservation to "Lone Wolf and Cub." Its ending — simple, profound and poetically succinct — is the stuff of legend.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.