Every time I order through the mixed bag of the Previews catalogue I make sure to try a few new items. New series, new creators, new characters, new concepts or any combination of them all. For some reason I ordered this in one of my shopping frenzies and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in my pullbox last week. 365 Samurai And A Few Bowls Of Rice by J.P. Kalonji not only has a unique name; it’s also (as far as I can tell) the first in the new Dark Horse Originals line. This is how Dark Horse describe the line:
Dark Horse Originals are kindred spirits with my favorite people precisely because they break the mold: They’re difficult to describe because they transcend whatever genre they start in, and the only thing they truly have in common is that they’re undiluted expressions of the people who created them. They often test the boundaries of the medium, challenging what you think comics can and should be…
365 Samurai definitely falls into that category then. Creator Kalonji is a Swiss artist who’s worked with Wyclef Jean, Burton Snowboards, Grand Prix Skateboards and Thrasher Magazine, and this is his first comic project. It’s quite a bold entry too.
365 Samurai possesses elements of Jeff Smith’s Bone and the anime Samurai Champloo in its look if not the sense of fun, but that’s the charm here – its visuals. The actual text in the almost 380 page story is minimal. In fact Arnie probably had more lines in The Terminator, but Kalonji’s obvious strength is his skill with design. Every page is a giant single panel (like the Supes/Doomsday fight in Superman #75). That’s what gives the story it’s hefty nature, but also its quiet reflection and suspenseful build up to the next bloody fight. The main character Ningen is a deft (and none too handsome) swordsman in the Edo era of Japan on a search for enlightenment. Unfortunately that means killing 365 samurai. This paradox is never discussed in Ningen’s year long journey though. There are 4 loose chapters, one set in each of the seasons, but essentially the same things happen in each of them. Ningen walks, meets a girl, and kills some baddies. There are some touching moments, mainly revolving around Ningen’s female encounters and the unsurprising conclusion, but it’s Kalonji’s pacing and simple layout of every page that majors over these minor squabbles.
Obviously its a quick read despite its weight, but it’s one of those books that deserves a second read just to more closely enjoy the art on display, and thankfully there’s an 11 page sketchbook section included. Raindrops, blood, grass, mountains; it all looks good in the same way that Frank Miller’s Sin City does – bold simplicity. There’s few lines, but every character looks unique and emotions are clearly conveyed.
I hope Kalonji continues to unleash his talents upon more sequential art projects in the future. It’s always encouraging to see a new artist give comics a go.
See an over 30 page preview here.
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