A Swiss Samurai. Who Knew?

"365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice" from Dark Horse Comics

My high school Drama teacher (emphasis on the drama part) used to say: "All theater is about sex and violence!" Cheery fellow he was. I am thus pleased to discover a work of narrative fiction that encompasses both sex AND violence, but isn't really about either.

It's about enlightenment.

The weirdness that a Swiss artist/writer named J. P. Kalonji is the creator of this bande dessinee graphic novel about a young samurai, and that he chose to construct it as 379 sequential full-page splashes only adds to its unique charm. If Kalonji chooses to continue working in comics and do less design-work as his bio describes he may really be a new European talent to watch.

I, at first, mistook the work for manga. And I think, dear reader, you can forgive me for this given the size (manga/digest), the author's name (Kalonji), the publisher (Dark Horse), and the subject matter (samurai violence and enlightenment) of this graphic novel.

But after more thought I can see why the solicitation for the graphic novel compares the art to both "Blade of the Immortal" AND to "Bone". Jeff Smith's same slightly cartoony, fluid line can be found here and the starkness of the black and white makes the similarities all the more obvious. In fact, the stark solids of the colorless artwork also gives the splash-pages the appearance of simple woodcuts not unlike those that were common during the Edo period in Japan. The time at which the story is supposed to take place.

The work is -obviously- very Japanese. The character designs of each samurai our main character Ningen encounters are brilliantly distinctive to the point where you will remember a handful of faces after you've finished the whole thing.

Now that's remarkable because there nearly ARE 364 samurai (270 really) each depicted and each killed in turn by Ningen in his quest to avenge the death of his master. In that way, it's very similar to manga like "Blade of the Immortal" and "Lone Wolf and Cub" where opponent after opponent appear and get dispatched (usually by being cut in half) with a flick of the main characters blade.

Over the course of the book's 379 pages, 270 samurai go down and one year passes. One year = four seasons in four chapters: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. Ningen meets one woman with whom he shares a different emotion in each season: the young Aki in need of protection, the mature Fuyu who offers him protection and comfort (sexY tiME! very nI-cE!), the sweet Haru with whom he shares pure love (and subsequent pure pain), and finally the older Natsu who gives him practical assistance in the last moments of his life's journey.

Those aspects of the ultracompetent main character that I always found pretty ridiculous (dangerous looking men fall with little to no effort when he draws his sword, woman pop up out of nowhere and are either perfect angels or hot and ready to have sex with him with no dinner OR movie) are totally forgiven and work very well here because of the remarkable surprise-ending fantasy aspect of the story...

Why does Ningen meet only 364 samurai when the title is "365 Samurai"? In what way is Ningen's story a fantasy? Why does Ningen find everything he needs to continue his quest around the next corner?

That, my dear friends on the road of life, is what you need to read the graphic novel to learn for yourself.
Now, go READ it. It's gorgeous.

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