Practitioners 28: Kazuo Koike

We here at Beyond the Bunker hope to list the greatest and best creatives in the history of comic books. In a continuing series (available every week on Tuesday) the most innovative, inspirational and important comic book visionaries will be appearing here. Check on the link below to see if one of your favourites has been included yet.

Born May 8th 1936 in Daisen, Akita Prefecture Kazuo Koike is one of a prolific and one of the most enduring and globally popular manga writers as well as being a novellist and entrepeneur.

Early in Koike’s career, he studied under Golgo 13 creator Takao Saito and served as a writer on the series. Golgo 13 was a Manga series, ostensibly written and illustrated by Takao Saito. Running in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Magazine since January 1969 and is the longest running Manga still in production. This was a strong start for a writer who would spreda to the world stage extremely quickly with his independent work; most notably perhaps – particularly to cult comic book fans globally his masterpiece; Lone Wolf and Cub.

Uniting with master artist Goseki Kojima first published Lone Wolf and Cub in 1970. A masterclass in slow burning plots and simple, effective storytelling utilising mesmerising and beautifully detailed black and white line work, Lone Wolf and Cub was designed to be accessable and the format and simple and beautiful imagery and telling made it an enormous success.

Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Okami) was adpated into six films starring Tomisabaruro Wakayama, four plays, a televsiosn series and is widely considered an important and influential work. It chronicles the story of Ogami Itto, the Shogun’s executioner who uses a dotanuki battle sword.When falsely accussed from the Yagyu Clan, he is forced to take the path of an Assassin. The one thing that perhaps sets the series apart entirely from all other Manga fare is that he moves out to seek revenge against the Yagyu Clan along with his three-year-old son, Daigoro.

Under Koike’s considerable skill, Lone Wolf and Cub takes in almost all aspects of Japanese life during its isolation from the world in the 19th Century. Honour, bravery and revenge are common place characteristics of the script but absent more often is the theme of paternity. While the stern Ogami protects and guides his son, usual paternal mores are distinctly absent. The script itself makes savage use of the tiny character of Daigoro as he and his father make their way through the landscape.

Koike’s main distinction is the control he exudes over his storylines. Meticulously detailed in accuracy, there is no sense of rush. There is a good reason for this. Both Koike and Kojima created 28 volumes of Manga before the epic concluded, with over 300 pages (in total 8,700 pages in all). Koike was prolific even by Manga standards. The storyline was episodic but steadily began to begin to feed on itself as the two characters continued their journey. A slow burning epitaph to a long passed age loaded (thanks to Koike’s ability) with incredibly memorable moments. Lone Wolf and Cub has been released through Dark Horse for international markets and continues to sell well.

One piece from a million strong catalogue of fan art relating to LWC

Koike also wrote Crying Freeman, Illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami, which again was adapted into a 1995 live-action film by director Christophe Gans. The simple premise relied on Koike’s previous writing assignments for influence but simplified and honed the ideas for a modern feel. Sharper and more concise, Crying Freeman followed a Japanese man kidnapped and conditioned and hypnotised and trained by the Chinese Mafia to kill. As a result the titular character cries after each assassination.

Kazuo Koike started the Gekika Sonjuku, a college course meant to teach people how to be mangaka. Included in the roster of students that attended are Tetsuo Hara – manga artist on Fist of the North Star, Yuji Horii – game designer and freelance writer who worked on the Dragon Quest series and others significantly more famous in Japan than to the western world.

In addition to his more violent, action-oriented manga, Koike, an avid golfer, has also written golf manga. He has also written mahjong manga, as he himself is a former professional mahjong player.

A distinctive and powerful writer, Koike elevates simple ideas and offers them in an accurate and incredibly indelible way. His greatest works are among the mot well known and well received Manga creations. Most notably perhaps is that this master of the form is no passing his own skills to a new generation of artists and writers as the gap between Japanese and global markets begins to close no doubt we will see more of Koike’s influences on the shelves in many western comic book shops. We just might not be aware of it. Like a master assassin in the night.

A page from Crying Freeman (written by Kazuo Koike)

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