Firstly I want to apologise for the lack of postings over the past two months. Meg, my wife has been having a hard time with her pregnancy and my workload skyrocketed after we were given a new contract. Thankfully things are calming down so I’m once again looking to pick up my reviewing again.
Direction: Right to Left
by: (Script) Kazuo Koike (Art) Ryoichi Ikegami
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Genre: Seinen, Action
He is Yo Himomura, deadly assassin for the 108 Dragons, the Chinese Mafia. But to the criminal underworld who fear him, he is known as Crying Freeman, the killer who sheds tears at the fate of his victims. Young, handsome, sensitive, an artist, Yo has been hypnotically programmed by his Dragon masters to kill on command: he cannot resist his masters’ commands to kill, his masters cannot stop his tears of remorse.
Yo is an intriguing character, he starts off as a happy guy who is an up and coming character. Because of his sense of right and wrong he ends up falling foul of the 108 Dragons, and ends up being hypnotized to be an assassin. I liked the way his personality went through subtle changes over the course of the series, though even at the end he was still changing.
Emu Hino is even more interesting than Yo, in that she starts out as a target he has to kill, and ends up his wife. Ay first she comes across as a timid woman, a typical traditional Japanese wife sort of feel. But almost immediately we see her bloom into something that’s quite astounding. Her relationship with Yo is amazing as well, given the way he is, I was expecting conflicts, especially since his life style appears to conflict with her personality. However rather than conflicting it actually works really well.
This is most assuredly one of my all time favourite manga. Yet despite this it isn’t without it’s flaws, though I can overlook those purely on the fact that Koike really has written an amazing story
One of the biggest flaws of the story is the sudden shift in focus of the 108 Dragon’s. At the beginning of the story they’re introduced as this major evil drug smuggling torturing cultish group. However over the course of even the first volume, the focus suddenly shifts.
The drug smuggling, torturing, evil aspect never really comes up again, it’s almost as if that aspect was used simply as a plot device to kill off the first target. however I loved how Emu was introduced to the story, there was no doubt of the emotions felt between the two characters, nor that they would be together.
Essentially this series ends up being a telling of their life together, how they adapt to ach other and the work they live in. The action and story is used to tell a rather simple love story and, frankly it does it really well.
While Freeman does go through a lot of personality changes, after all he goes from a reluctant assassin at the beginning, to one taking the kill orders towards the end. It’s Emu that seems to go through the most changes. I loved how she seems to bloom after meeting Yo. She goes from a timid woman, to being a sword wielding killer, yet she still manages to retain not only her innocence, but her normal personality.
The trust she has in Yo is amazing, and yet a bit freaky. This is emphasized early in the second volume when Yo is swimming in shark infested waters and calls for Emu to jump in, which she does immediately. Nothing major you May think, but it turns out she couldn’t swim, she just dove in because he called for her.
This trust becomes a core aspect of their relationship due to Yo usually ending up sleeping with other women in the course of his assassinations. And he in fact ends up with several lovers as well as his wife.
The story arc dealing with the Muramasa sword was done amazingly well I thought, and it did address a bit of an imbalance between Yo and Emu. While it was made clear early on that she was a better strategist than he was, by adding the Muramasa into her mix she becomes more equal to Yo, and in fact even rivals him at times. Such as when she dances with the Muramasa sword in the second volume.
The weird thing the assassination thing never really comes up again, per say. Sure he goes out killing, but it seems more like he’s just defending the 108 Dragon’s from attack, or fighting a war against another organisation. Whether this was due to the fact that Yo became the new head of the 108 Dragon’s and as such shifted focus, or for some other reason, it’s never really made clear, but it is something that bugged me a little.
The ending of the fifth volume while being “complete” it’s also incomplete. When you get there you can’t help but feel there should be more afterwards. Sadly this is a flaw with all series like this, no matter where you end them it’s always going to feel incomplete, because there is no end. Rather than trying to keep the story going indefinitely they end it at a good point, though I do wish we had some more volumes, if only cause I want more of the awesome story.
Art wise, I’ve no complaints either. I find the art style really fits this type of story, and the attention to detail given by Ikegami is frankly amazing. The tattoos are frankly stunning, the character designs are done amazingly well, with the traditional clothing looking amazing. There were a few times I found Yo’s design to be a bit off, usually on the face when he’s doing something, it looked a bit weird, out of synch? maybe? It’s hard to actually describe what was wrong, since it was mostly a feeling than an actual flaw. However these minor flaws were in no way able to hinder the enjoyment. Rather the opposite, Ikegami’s art fitted perfectly with the series and as a result we get a series that is damn near perfect!!
One other thing I have to mention is that there is a lot of sex in this series, and one rape scene later in the series. However it’s all handled in a good way, though the censorship is a bit annoying. The censorship isn’t, I believe, done by Dark Horse though, they were done by Ikegami in the original art. I don’t really like the blank censorship used, that’s where they simply leave a white space with nothing drawn in. Personally I would have preferred some of the other forms of censorship, since this style really does hinder the art and setting a bit.
The release I have is the Dark Horse Manga version, and I find it to be the best version. I wasn’t keen on the Viz Edition, which was flipped, and had some rather off translations. Dark Horse’s version is un-flipped and doesn’t translate the SFX’s, rather we get a little box with the translation. I like this style as it doesn’t interfere to much with the art, like the english SFX’s can do.
I have to admit I was surprised that choose to release this in oversized volumes, with an average of 400 pages, but I’m glad they did. The over size really works well making for a great flow in the reading, there’s no need to break the story mid flow due to page counts. Though admittedly this did happen in the first volume, but that’s understandable given the first volume and part of the second is basically setting the stage.
Overall, this is a series I think most people should read, and I think most people would enjoy.