365 Samurai and A Few Bowls of Rice
Writer/Artist: JP Kalonji
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
After debating with myself about whether to pick this up or not ”“ one does not normally plonk money on 400+ pages of single, full-page panels without a reality check ”“ I just had to give in. Though the premise of a lone warrior on a quest to kill 365 Samurai in order to attain enlightenmentÂ is paper-thin at first glance, it is surprising how much of an emotional punch French cartoonist Jean-Philippe Kalonji manages to invest into his sometimes-philosophical, sometimes-melancholy and all-bloody debut in the American market.
A major part of the attractiveness of the book is the way in which it utilises the comic-book format. The uniform size of the full-page panel creates interesting ways to frame a sequence. A close-up of a bloody sword, an overhead shot of a rain-swept milieu, a panoramic view of duelling characters ”“ Kalonji’s technique is that of a virtuoso storyboard artist, his vision unique enough to make you flip through pages at breakneck speed one minute, in a tableau of whirlwind, gruesome action; and then force you to slowly take in a quiet, introspective sequence. It is not entirely wordless, but the use of speech balloons is highly limited, almost as if the creator has taken it on himself to convey maximum information with a minimum of language. (See also: Kurosawa, Akira and Smith, Jeff). It’s not all swordplay, mind you ”“ there are ample clues on the way that Ningen’s (the name means ”˜man’, incidentally) quest holds deeper philosophical overtones than are apparent to us, and so the ending is not entirely unexpected. A stunning effort that deserves to be read by a wider audience, by a graphic novelist whose body of work needs to be translated, like, right now.