The harrowing tale of Yagyu Jyubei’s struggle against the Aizu Seven Spears clan continues in the fourth and fifth volumes of The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls, serving up a succession of chapters that actually go together pretty well as a self-contained story. That’s not to say that those unfamiliar with the series can jump right in at this point, but it’s appropriate to discuss as a pair in that regard.
In these chapters, a mysterious wave of bride abductions hits the wind and grabs the attention of Jyubei and the surviving women of the Hori clan with whom he’s working. The grooms of these captive brides continue to be found alone on a bridge, drained of life and left for dead. The only way to dig deeper into these strange occurrences is for Jyubei and one of the Hori women to take on the disguise of bride and groom themselves, infiltrating the clan and putting an end to the abductions once and for all.
What follows is a typically bizarre mix of over-the-top villainy, bloody ninja action and copious amounts of nudity. Sounds like a solid mix—and in some respects the series still works—but it’s just uneven enough to bring about a waning interest in the direction it’s headed. The characters are plentiful, but it’s tough to care about them, and it says something about their presence when they still feel the need to provide name subtitles next to the faces in a lot of the chapters.
Masaki Segawa has an interesting art style, to say the least. The villains are just that, regardless of whether or not they’re actually twirling a mustache and cackling maniacally. Some of them have big butt chins, others are insanely obese… the artist wants you to know just how BAD they are. Then again, Jyubei always looks like he has a full pouch of Big League Chew in his mouth, so it isn’t always just the baddies looking down and dirty.
All of these visuals are enjoyable in a “grotesque” way, if that makes any sense. I mean, the only thing Segawa doesn’t render with complete distaste is the female form (read: boobs and butts), which tends to be almost comedically curvy. I hesitate to say that I enjoy his aesthetic, but the hyper-detailed ugliness of everything isn’t an issue for me. I do, however, recognize that this style might be repulsive to your average reader. That’s understandable when you’ve got, for instance, a strangely squat villain with an eggplant chin riding around atop an impossibly huge dog.
The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls remains a pretty middle-of-the-road ninja trash story. Naturally, I always use the term “trash” with the utmost of affection. Still, there’s not much of a reason to pick up something like this unless you’re a big fan of Basilisk or have read almost everything else domestically released in the genre. It’s not a bad read by any means, but I can’t help but imagine that, were Futaro Yamada still alive, he might be able to refine the storytelling a bit and add some more structure and substance to the computer-aided craziness of the artwork.
Publisher: Del Rey
Story & Art: Futaro Yamada and Masaki Segawa
Rating: M – Ages 18+
Images © The Estate of Futaro Yamada and Masaki Segawa