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Jiro Taniguchi

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"When I was thirteen… I heard the call of Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit.
"For three days and three nights, with no sleep or food, I prayed on Paha Sapa, the sacred Black Hills.
"Through deep meditation I communed with a holy power… and was able to have a divine vision.
"It was a message which showed me the path which was to lead my life.
"A vision of the future.
"In my dream I saw a figure which was half man, half horse.
"The creature approached and spoke to me.
"Listen well. You must not paint your face when you enter into battle.
"And, at the end of the battle, you must not take any war trophies from the defeated.
"When you follow this path… enemy arrows and bullets… will only graze you.
"When you lead Oglala warriors into battle, no storm will defeat you.
"And then, in the distant sky where the spirit departed… I saw a pair of shooting stars.
"I could never understand… what that meant for all these years.
"But now, at long last… I am able to understand them.
"Hiko. Manzo. They were you two."

Jiro SUMMIT OF THE GODS / A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD / A ZOO IN WINTER / FURARI / GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE Taniguichi had wanted to draw a Western for over twenty years, but seemingly it was felt by publishers that there would be little interest from his domestic audience. Until he hit on the idea of incorporating Japanese central characters. Having discovered the first Japanese migrants to the US included some of the formerly powerful Aizu clan he excitedly began to formulate his story. Here's the Edict from the publisher to educate us further…

"Defeated samurai Hikosaburo and Manzo are exiled from Japan during the Boshin War in 1868 as the new Meiji government took hold of power in the country. They travel to North America and settle in the mountains of Crow territory.

One day Hikosaburo encounters a young native woman who has just given birth hidden in the scrub. Called Running Deer, she tells of how she escaped from two white traders who had 'bought' her, and they soon come looking for their possession.

Taniguchi's well-researched detail and meticulous artwork reveal an accurate portrayal of the 'Indian Wars' of the period, including the infamous Little Big Horn encounter, and present a fascinating view of the daily lives and relationships of the Oglalas, and how the code of honour compares to that of the Samurai."

It makes such perfect sense, I'm slightly surprised no one had thought of this particular idea before. Though you could argue it is a riff on the 1988 novella Dances With Wolves which spawned the hit film about an American soldier who goes full Native.

As you might expect, Taniguichi executes this story, both in terms of plot and artistically, with the precision of a swooshing katana cleanly removing an opponent's head from atop their shoulders. Our two r?nin find themselves adrift both culturally and spiritually in this strange new land until their deeply held Bushid? moral code changes the course of their lives forever during a chance encounter. Taken in by the Oglala tribe and finding much in common with their new hosts, Hiko and Manzo are eventually reborn as the warriors Winds Wolf and Sky Hawk.

Unfortunately for them, the American army forces led by one cocky George Armstrong Custer, ostensibly protecting the ever-advancing railroad workforce teams, are about to completely shatter their new found sense of peace. Before too long, it begins to dawn on our displaced duo that perhaps they have ended up in another fight which they can't possibly win…

"Many warriors are dead. But… we still can't drive the whites out of the Black Hills.
"From time to time… I no longer understand just what it is I'm fighting against.
"Actually… I think their numbers are increasing.
"It might be that it's us that are being driven into a corner.
"I can no longer clearly see the shape of the enemy we're meant to constantly be striking at.
"Maybe because it's just too massive?
"I can't help but feel like we're going to be swept up in a maelstrom of black clouds.
"Right now… it's like it was back in the past.
"It feels like the battle of Aizu in the Boshin Civil War…
"When we were forced into a siege… and brought to bay."

"Are you saying this will be a losing battle too?"

"That… I don't know. But… no more running away."
"Of course. I'm resolved to that. My bones will be buried here as an Oglala warrior."

Near note perfect writing as always from Taniguichi, your heart will bleed for the repeated injustices dispensed to the indigenous population in the name of 'progress'. Still, despite the inevitable conclusion, he demonstrates their stoic resolute heroism and that of Hiko and Manzo as their comrades-in-arms, in the face of the increasingly insurmountable odds. As a way of life at one with nature and practised for generations was summarily destroyed by the hegemonising newcomers with barely an afterthought.

Still, Custer eventually got what he deserved and the Battle of The Little Bighorn as depicted here will have you practically swinging every tomahawk and katana alongside the real good guys as it gradually begins to dawn upon Custer that his enormous ego might just have got the better of him. Indeed, his deep-seated arrogance in underestimating the brave warriors deliciously turned out to be the very cause of his not-so-sad demise. It was of course to no avail in the long run, but I'm pretty sure it felt rather good to those involved massacring him and every last man in his command at the time of his fabled last stand. I enjoyed reading this obviously fictionalised take on it immensely too!

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