Saturday, 20 April 2013

Lady Snowblood: A Manga Gory Enough to Inspire Quentin Tarantino

A Review By: Amelia
Lady Snowblood issue one
Ever think to yourself you’d like to read an ultra-violent manga about a sexy geisha-esque woman hell-bent on revenge? One that goes to any length to achieve her vicious goals, usually while naked? Yes? Well then, Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood is just the manga for you! Never heard of it you say? Honestly I hadn’t either until its vibrant yellow and black spin caught my eye on the shelf of a comic book store. The picture of the lovely, sword-welding woman on the front sealed the deal and for ten dollars, the first volume of Lady Snowblood was mine to enjoy!

In the early 1970s Lady Snowblood was published in Shueisha’s Weekly Playboy but wasn’t translated to English until 2005-2006 by Dark Horse Comics. Once translated, Lady Snowblood was split into four volumes, each volume containing five or so separate episodes that have self-contained arcs, but are also a continuation of the main plot.

Now, the plot of Lady Snowblood follows a young woman, Oyuki (aka Lady Snowblood), in a generation-spanning revenge plot. Oyuki was born and then meticulously trained for one purpose and one purpose alone: to kill the group of men who kidnapped and repeatedly gang-raped her mother after slaughtering her family. It’s not a gentle backstory and it gets no more gentle from there on in. Oyuki sheds blood with her charms, her sex appeal, and her cleverly concealed katana sword without batting her beautiful eyes. She makes her way through a crime-ridden, shit-sack, feudal Japan working as a mercenary for anyone who can afford it, all the while moving closer to her final objective.

Oyuki in all her glory
The whole of the story follows Oyuki on her gory quest of revenge and she’s really the only character you learn anything about. A few personalities from her past appear throughout the four volumes (her past really being her mother’s past but I digress). Oyuki is a very beautiful women but that is where her positive attributes end. Sure she’s intelligent, charming, and determined but she’s in it for all the wrong reasons. Oyuki could be seen as a femme fatale as she uses her sex appeal to achieve her goals but femme fatales are not usually bad to the bone. Oyuki, although she slays many people who deserve to be slain, has crossed a few lines in order to reach her endgame. Oyuki was born of hate, raised in hate, and sustained by hate; some of her exploits will leave a more gentle reader reeling.

One other character worth mentioning is Miyanara San who is a character who threatens to burst the fourth wall wide open! Miyanara is a writer who pens Oyuki’s stories of brutal conquest in an effort to draw out the killers of her family; and although played as an antagonistic character to begin with, he eventually comes into his own as he treats Oyuki like his daughter and even risks his life for her.

The on-going themes of Oyuki’s struggles are hate and revenge; and trust me when I say they’re on-going. You never stop hearing about how much Oyuki hates everything, about how her mother’s revenge must be fulfilled. Truthfully, by the last volume, you’ll be so sick and tired of hearing about her unwavering belief in her family’s retribution. Oyuki has a seriously unbreakable code. I’d almost say ‘righteous’ if not for the fact that what she does isn’t in the least bit honourable. She’s been indoctrinated to an extreme: nothing is too much to reach her goals and by the end of the series, you’ll be happy to have her murderous shenanigans over and done with.

The art style of Lady Snowblood fits nicely with its themes. The style is surprisingly beautiful when compared to the storyline. The locations (streets, forests, houses, etc, etc) and clothing have a level of detail usually not seen in manga. The faces and bodies of the characters, in comparison to everything else, are rather bland. They’ll have smooth, regular features if they’re a good character and rough, odd features if they’re not. Nakedness is seen often–Oyuki gets naked at least once a chapter–but, for the most part, it’s tasteful. Okay, maybe not tasteful, but not too overly offensive for people who don’t mind nakedness.

An action sequence
Action is drawn with long, sweeping lines and the blood splatter (and there’s a lot of it) is done in solid black. It’s actually a really nice effect against the snow and rain of certain fight scenes. Of course there’s only so many new ways to draw a katana sword slicing through a person’s neck so style does end up getting a little stale towards the end.

Lady Snowblood is very obvious in its intentions. It’s a ‘seinen manga’ (a seinen manga being a manga aimed at the target audience of 18-30 year-old men) and it is damn proud of that fact. There’s a storyline, but it’s not a complex one, there’s plenty of blood, violence, and more than enough sex to satisfy any red-blooded reader (it was published in a weekly Playboy after all). But women, like myself, who enjoy a good romp in violence every now and again can still enjoy this manga. Oyuki is a woman after all and, although not a woman to base your own character as a person upon (I can’t stress that enough!), she’s kickass, smart, confident, and doesn’t take anyone’s shit. 

My final thoughts on Lady Snowblood is that it’s an interesting manga. It’s ultra-violent, ultra-sexual, and gruesomely ridiculous. Its storyline is a little tired, a little trite; its characters a little hollow. Yet it’s still a compelling series. Don’t discount the work because it was published in Playboy, it offers something I’ve never seen in a manga before. It’s hard to explain but, put simply, Koike has brought to manga what Tarantino has brought to film. I guess it’s only fitting that Tarantino’s violent revenge epic Kill Bill was inspired so much by Lady Snowblood’s gory exploits thirty years before.

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