MANGA REVIEW | "The Elusive Samurai" - Vols. 4 & 5
I can be quite the sucker for alternate history stories. Although it’s good to be knowledgeable of the true goings-on of the past, there’s something intriguing when what-if scenarios are presented. Yusei Matsui has been doing this quite well with The Elusive Samurai, which bases its premise on real-life samurai Hōjō Tokiyuki. In its fourth and fifth volumes, Tokiyuki’s quest to regain Kamakura continues with new allies to aid on his journey.
However, not all goes well at first when Hōjō and his Elusive Warrior comrades first meet the Suwa sect. Every soldier there has a literal death wish, as they feel dying in battle is the greatest honor one can have. Hōjō’s words of wisdom at first don’t hit with the Suwa sect, especially leader Hoshina Yasaburo. But after their first fight with the vicious Shinano governor Kiyohara ends in chaos, Hōjō gives Yasaburo the big picture on what’s really going on.
Although the fights have been impressive in The Elusive Samurai, it’s the words that somehow speak louder in this case. Hōjō has shown his strength in fighting in the previous volume, but it’s still his thought process and philosophies that are filled with a true fighting spirit. But it’s not a fight towards death Hōjō aims for; it’s a fight to survive, one that hits hard at Yasaburo when he splashes some sense into him. (He also uses some butt-slamming techniques on Yasaburo, but we can blame/thank the mere drop of alcohol that got into the nine-year old’s mouth for that!)
One other great aspect of this manga is Matsui’s means of creating villains. There’s nary a sliver of sympathy that can be thrown at the likes of Sadamune and Kiyohara, as readers are smacked with massive body counts built upon their commands. Matsui also finds ways to make us laugh at these wicked foes, such as with Sadamune’s bug-eyed appearance or Kiyohara’s means of doodling on those beneath him. Not only does it make it easy for readers to despise them, but also to laugh at their true insubordination.
Perhaps this is why I couldn’t really get into the chapter revolved around Takauji. Considering he’s the main baddie of The Elusive Samurai, seeing him have to deal with his own troubles didn’t leave room for anything empathetic. We all know the awful stuff he did to overtake Kamakura and how he destroyed Hōjō’s family; so why should we care if someone tries to overtake him? All it did was just show why Takauji is as ruthless as he is, especially with his own violent crew behind him.
Thankfully, the fun returns when Hōjō enters the lair of Sadamune in the fifth volume. It’s a war of words, as Sadamune attempts to get Hōjō to reveal his true path. Although nary a weapon is on display, the questions and answers that are delivered fly as fast as a perfectly-aimed arrow. While The Elusive Samurai is guilty of being a tad too wordy, this one-on-one with our main hero and key villain is absolute perfection!
But the MVP of this intense visit is Ayako, who uses a unique technique to thwart Sadamune’s plans. Not only is she a wiz at fighting, but music comes second-nature to her. Both of her specialties come into play during a fight with Shinzaburo, as she plays a hell of a drum solo with her skull! Even more entertaining is Ayako’s promise to Hōjō, whose words give hope that these two become a couple in the future.
Alas, there is no time to think about the lovey-dovey things in life. A war is about to break out, and Hōjō needs as many allies in his corner. Fortunately, Yorishige finds folks that not only contain great strength, but also the ability to keep a solid secret. (How Yorishige reacts to their reaction to hearing the truth about Hōjō is childishly funny.)
If there’s one warrior in The Elusive Samurai that deserves a standing ovation, it’s Unno Yukiyasu. The man is a badass through and through, and the reason behind his great skills and strategy is one of the funniest reveals this manga has given us! Storing up his feelings and letting them explode on the battlefield gives way to a man who may be — and pardon this vulgar wording — edging himself towards a legendary status. (An honorable mention should probably go to Ayako’s father Mochizuki, who’s just as tough as nails and unpredictably funny as his daughter.)
There is a lot of back-and-forth over who’s making better strides in battle. One moment it’s Sadamune and his team wracking up the body count, and in the next it’s Yorishige who’s outwitting the enemies any way possible. (Yes, that includes donning a less-than-convincing disguise that’d make Tuxedo Mask groan.) It’s when the kokushi Kiyohara finds himself in deep shit when it appears that Yorishige will have the upper hand, but the fact that many have fallen on the ally side could spill trouble in the near-future.
The Elusive Samurai is guilty of having too much exposition, but when it delivers a truly glorious moment, it almost erases that issue at hand. Volumes Four and Five are filled with many reasons why Hōjō is one hell of a shonen manga protagonist. He’s still growing, but with every battle both physical and mental won, he’s becoming a beacon of hope for his comrades and Kamakura as a whole. These two volumes of The Elusive Samurai showcase Hōjō’s greatest strengths, even when it involves some sort of butt-smacking technique.
VOL. 4 RATING:
VOL. 5 RATING:
Promotional consideration provided by Chantelle Sturt and Mandy Earles of VIZ Media.