Lone Wolf and Cub (Vol. 6): Lanterns for the Dead by Kazuo Koike
The Lone Wolf and Cub series is well-known for the amount of research that went into allowing a lifelike picture of the historical era to be faithfully presented. This definitely adds to my enjoyment of the series, but added to this is the fact that while each individual story is generally self-contained there is a wider story arc that informs each of them both within and across volumes. Best of all is when specific details from previous tales make their way into later installments and not only add to the full picture we see, but show how Ogami Itto and Daigoro are growing and changing as they follow their bloody quest.
“Lanterns for the Dead”: One of the things I really like about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is the inside view it gives to the many facets of Tokugawa-era Japan. In this story we see a little bit more from Yakuza society as a low level member unwittingly offends a fearsome superior and pays the ultimate price. His grief-stricken friend tries to achieve a hopeless vengeance with obvious results. Along the way, however, his path intersects with that of Lone Wolf and Cub and the fearless Yakuza killer may not be as free from the arm of vengeance as he thinks.
“Deer Chaser”: Another side of the underbelly of feudal Japan is shown as we meet a party of ‘deer chasers’, grifters who play roles in order to con rich fools into rigged gambling dens. When they come across an abandoned temple displaying the call-signs of Meifumado and the map markings of Lone Wolf and Cub’s prospective clients, their leader, who harbours his own dark secret, understands what is going on and decides to try the ultimate impersonation in order to make the score of a lifetime. Does anyone think this is going to end well?
“Hunger Town”: A rich noble has bled his Han dry of resources in order to feed his obsession with dog hunting. Ogami somewhat heartlessly trains his own dog in order to gain access to the noble who is also his next mark. Along the way he sees the poverty and starvation that are left in the wake of the noble’s selfish and venal ways and there may be more than just a deadly assassin waiting to pay him back for his crimes.
“The Soldier in the Castle”: Six nobles fear that their Han is being threatened by a ruse of the Shogunate when they hear that a regular gold shipment has been diverted through their territory for no good reason. They turn to Lone Wolf and Cub for aid in destroying the convoy before it can reach their land so they cannot be implicated in its loss. Ogami accepts and uses an old war tactic to both destroy the Shogun’s forces and draw out the Kurokuwa ninjas who are complicit in the plan, thereby creating yet another powerful enemy in his quest to destroy those who destroyed his family.
“One Stone Bridge”: Daigoro is left to tend for his father who is still suffering from the wounds he received in his last mission. A husband and wife who have lost their own child come across the boy and are enchanted by the boy’s devotion and resolute ways. They find the ill Ogami and try to help him with a doctor, but even while suffering Ogami has enemies he must fight. The Kurokuwa find him and declare their own war against the enfeebled assassin. Luckily Ogami has a few tricks up his sleeve from past adventures that might help him to survive this fight.