Kurogane Vol. 1

By Kei Toume
224 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

A young man turned into a cyborg in order to save his life after being torn to pieces. A talking sword that speaks for its new, silent master. Is this the future? No, Kurogane is set in Japan’s feudal period. But does this merging of cyberpunk and samurai era adventure mesh together? Or is it a combination of flesh and metal that simply can’t fuse together?

Jintetsu’s father was murdered by a government official in an effort to continue his corrupt dealings. Jintetsu’s plans to avenge his father might have been brought short, though, by being torn apart by a pack of dogs. That’s when Genkichi found Jintetsu, though, and was able to replace Jintetsu’s missing body parts with ones made of metal. With a talking sort to help Jintetsu say the words that his irreplaceable vocal cords no longer can, Jintetsu is ready to continue forward in his plans of honor and revenge.

The idea of mixing the sensibilities of cyberpunk and samurai together is in its own right a familiar one, both in comics (most notably Blade of the Immortal) and elsewhere. What caught my attention within the story initially, though, was that this is one of the rare ones that actually takes future technology and sticks it squarely into the past. It’s a much more literal interpretation of the idea, and in some ways I think that really sums up Kurogane. This first volume lacks any real subtlety; it’s very straight forward, very much a situation where what you see is what you get. Jintetsu is in many ways a pretty blatant protagonist, which is almost surprising when you remember that he can’t actually talk. What could certainly be a very enigmatic situation (like many of the chapters of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub) is pretty basic, if none the less entertaining. That’s not to say that there can’t be surprises, though. At least one plot line that one would assume would stay unresolved for quite some time gets wrapped up so quickly it’s almost hard to believe when it does, as if Kei Toume changed her mind part way through the series. It’s actually a very pleasant surprise, and one that gives me a lot of hope for what’s to come. Despite its almost blatant nature, Kurogane still moves at a nice pace and is certainly entertaining, after all. A little unpredictability about it just helps spice things up a bit.

What I really liked about Kurogane, though, was Toume’s art. It reminds me a bit of Kent Williams when he draws instead of paints his art; nice thick lines of ink that are at times almost slapped down onto the page. It’s a rough sort of style, with random strands of hair sticking out of character’s heads and a general sense of disarray. It’s a nice contrast for when the beautiful Otsuki appears on the page, but more importantly it makes these characters seem more realistic and human. It sounds almost strange to say that in a book with a cyborg samurai walking around several hundred years ago, but in many ways the cyborg attributes are almost the excuse to have a silent samurai with a mouthy sidekick wandering the land. Even better, not only do Toume’s characters look nice, but she’s got a good sense for drawing action and movement; characters crouch and spring without ever looking posed or artificial, something that Toume could certainly teach others. For a book punctuated with dramatic action sequences, this skill is a must.

Kurogane (which means “black steel” in Japanese) is off to a strange start. In many ways it’s very by the book, very ordinary. Then, at the same time, it throws strange plot curveballs and wraps up what one would almost assume was one of the major plots of the entire series. With four more volumes to go, I’m more than a little curious to see if Toume will simply resort to telling random stories of Jintetsu wandering Japan or if there’s something greater waiting in store. If the art stays this nice, though, I may just stick around and enjoy her figure work. Kurogane isn’t the sort of book you’ll feel the need to rush out and buy a copy of instantly, but it’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

5 comments to Kurogane Vol. 1

  • BTW, Kei Toume is a woman, not a man. Just saying.

  • Whooooops! Trust me that I am appropriately mortified. I’ll fix those personal pronouns ASAP! (Thanks for the good catch!)

  • Apart from that little thing it is a great review. You ever tried one of her other series? “Lament of the Lambs” is available from Tokyopop. Me, I like “Kurogane” better (not very partial to vampire stories). But IMHO the best of her stories are the more mundane ones, like “Sing Yesterday For Me” or “The Taisho Mysteries”. I’ve read them in French, though, since there are no English editions yet.

  • This was my first exposure to Toume’s works–I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for the ones you mentioned, though. My French is so horrendously bad that I may have to just hope for an English release down the line.

  • Reiku

    Kurogane is by far a splendid series for me. What many mangas have in twisting and seemingly endless plots, Kurogane makes up for with random events that occur during Jintetsu’s wandering.

    Plots are nice, but it’s a nice relief to see a manga with no set extensive plot.