Diego Lafuente’s personal blog

May 12, 2006

Asa, the Executioner 首斬り朝

Manga. It's been a while since I talked about this in the blog. I'm going to tell you about my new acquisition, something exquisite and recommendable from a writer that many have had the opportunity to read in his masterpiece, I believe, Lone Wolf and Cub by Goseki Kojima. This time, I have acquired volumes 1 and 2 of Kubikiri Asa 首斬り朝, known in the Western world as Asa, the Executioner.

The story focuses on a character, Asaemon Yamada (山田朝江門), bearer of the Onibocho sword ("demon sword"), the man in charge of testing the shogun's swords. Interestingly, we see a resemblance to Itto Ogami (拝 一刀), the shogun's official executor, but they are different people in the storyline. To give you a little context, Asa the Executioner was written and drawn before Lone Wolf and Cub. But this led to a union, precisely with a duel between Asaemon Yamada and Itto Ogami, from which he did not come out alive. The character's temperament is tough and cold, a person in charge of killing people judged by an unjust regime, but behind that icy character there is a code that pushes for justice, for good.

In the first chapter, we discover the story of how Asaemon became the shogun's sword tester. Traditionally, this job was passed down by inheritance, and that's how it is fulfilled. Swordsmiths were in charge of supervising and guarding the nobles' katanas, those that the shogun intended to reward the daimyos with and those that the daimyos offered to the shogun. By their rank, they were entitled to 500 measures of grain and for their work, they were paid 300 sacks of rice. Asaemon's father forces him to execute him as if he were the shogun's official sword tester, thus he is executed with a perfect cut between the eyebrows, by his own son Yoshitsugu, the day before his test to become the official shogun's sword tester. Asaemon's father thus fulfills his wish to teach his son the Yamada family's secret technique.

This scene is truly impactful, reciting the Nehan-gyo 涅槃経, which goes like this:

By the index finger: Everything flows, nothing remains. By the middle finger: No living being exists eternally. By the ring finger: Life is the dream of existence. By the little finger: All is illusion.

In this way, he took his sword and put an end to his father's life. An ideology based on bushido, the samurai code, and Buddhism were intertwined. It shows with force the world of the Edo period in which samurai society dominates all aspects of life.

If you have read Lone Wolf and Cub, this series won't leave a bad taste in your mouth. They are different characters, but both, for various circumstances, end up living the path of hell.

Each volume has cost me about 10 euros, which is a bit expensive, but considering it's by Goseki Kojima and Kazuo Koike, it doesn't hurt me at all.