Difficult to follow stories that show brief glimpses of potential.
What They Say:
Hiroaki Samura’s Emerald and Other Stories collects seven powerful short pieces from the manga maestro that have appeared in various Japanese magazines. In “Emerald,” Samura tells his first explosive adventure set in the Wild West, and a series of humorous vignettes about two motor-mouthed teen girls is woven through several riveting tales. A masterful storyteller bounces around genres and time periods in this unique Collection, which is a perfect companion volume to Samura’s Ohikkoshi anthology!
Hiroaki Samura is the winner of Japan’s Media Arts Award, an Eisner Award, and three British Eagle Awards! Fans of Hiroaki Samura’s award-winning Blade of the Immortal epic will be overjoyed with this genre-hopping collection—which is presented in English for the first time!
Presented in English for the first time!
Writer: Hiroaki Samura
Artist: Hiroaki Samura
Emerald and Other Stories is a collection of short manga from Hiroaki Samura, the creator of the highly regarded Blade of the Immortal. The main stories, “Emerald,” “The Kusein Family’s Grandest Show,” “Brigitte’s Dinner,” “Shizuru Cinema,” “Low-Grade Strategy: The Mirror Play,” and “Youth Change-Chaka-Chang” are interspersed with brief vignettes starring two school girls in “The Uniforms Stay On.” The stories run the gamut of genres from straight-up Western (“Emerald”) to horror (“Brigitte’s Dinner”) to psycho-drama (“The Kusein Family’s Grandest Show”) and “The Uniforms Stay On” provide brief moments of comedy.
I hadn’t read Samura before, but with his impressive credentials (winner of Japan’s Media Award, an Eisner Award, and three British Eagle Awards) and his most well-known work, Blade of the Immortal, is very well regarded, so I was looking forward to reading this. Unfortunately, I ended up more confused and disappointed than entertained.
The two best stories were “Emerald” and “The Kusein Family’s Grandest Show.” “Emerald” is a straight-up Western telling the story of two mercenaries and a helpless girl. The alluring Black Rose hires Jimmy “Raygun” Weed to take out Mr. Randolph, a wealthy landowner that makes his money in various legal and illegal ways. The final player in the story, Sara, is a young orphan left with her parent’s debt to Mr. Randolph. She enters into a dangerous game of Randolph’s choosing. He presents her with two small leather pouches, one with a hare, the other with a coyote. If she chooses the coyote, she wins, but if she chooses the hare then she will have to work off her debt in his brothel. Their stories collide at the end and a bloodbath ensues.
“The Kusein Family’s Grandest Show” is a psycho-sexual family drama between a daughter and her father. Kaoru’s mother died when she was young, and no one has taken her place in her father’s heart until their new housekeeper, Ms. Saho. Although her father never overtly professes or expresses romantic feelings for Ms. Saho, Kaoru can’t help but feel that there is more going on between the two. Kaoru’s relationship with her father is already strained because of his habit of constantly filming her, even when she’s making love to her boyfriend. It turns out that Ms. Saho is Kaoru’s father’s nurse as well as housekeeper and she performs certain other services as well. Kaoru’s parents were engaged in a sado-masochistic relationship with her mother adopting the domineering role and her father the subservient. For a time Ms. Saho fulfilled that domineering role, but now that her father is dying, Kaoru (who bears more than a passing resemblance to her mother) takes over for her, using her father as a bench when she plays piano, pouring hot tea on his head, and other acts like that. They never go so far as to have sex, but they do everything else.
While I won’t necessarily say that I particularly liked this story, I can’t deny that it reached me on an emotional level. It was a very disturbing psycho-sexual drama that made my skin crawl. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but sometimes that’s not the point of stories. This one appears designed to elicit a strong emotional response—repugnance in my case—and it does that well. It also possesses the tightest, most cogent plot out of all of the stories in this collection, which also sets it apart.
“Emerald” makes the list of good stories simply for the fact that it’s hard to screw up a Western. As a genre it’s remarkably simple, but powerful. That said, it’s not without its faults. The story jumps from one scene to the next with no real transitions between them, making it a bit confusing at times. I couldn’t tell if the scenes were occurring at the same moment or if the narrative was jumping around in time. I also never got a strong feeling as to who these characters were. Even as caricatures they were rather ill-defined. The only exception to this being Sara, who displays a strong spirit and intelligence in the face of a terrible situation.
The rest of the stories fell flat for me. I found them difficult to follow narratively and the plots uninteresting. The short segments “The Uniforms Stay On” were designed to be funny little vignettes starring two school girls. I think they were intended to be the sherbet between meals—a palate cleanser before moving on to more hearty portions, but the humor was lost on me and I was constantly wondering why I was even reading these stories.
I wanted to like Emerald and Other Stories, but even the tales I enjoyed (or at least could appreciate their craftsmanship) weren’t without their flaws. Some of the tales were confusing narratively, and others just didn’t appeal to me on an emotional level. Not recommended.