Emerald and Other Storiesby Hiroaki SamuraDark Horse, 228 ppRating: Teen (16 + )
From Hiroaki Samura, creator of the multiple award winning Blade of the Immortal, comes a new collection of short stories, Emerald! Among the stories included in this collection are "Emerald", a western involving bounty hunters, corrupt businessmen and some very resourceful women, the unsettling and incestuous "The Kusein Family's Greatest Show", the vaguely sci-fi-ish "Shizuru Cinema" about the relationship between a manga creator and his high school girlfriend/roommate, an oddly enjoyable, offbeat collection of strips featuring Samura's commentary on Japanese society as filtered through the voices of a trio of young girls, "The Uniforms Stay On" and more!
"Emerald" is clearly the highlight and of the volume and a pretty entertaining Western with a few interesting twists despite it's short length. Samura eschews the typical "long gunman" style lead and instead creates a very clever female lead and a scenario that's left me wishing it had become a longer series. Meanwhile, "The Kusein Family's Greatest Show", which has one of the most misleading titles I've ever come across, is a bizarre and creepy tale about the disturbing relationship between a daughter and her widowed father. Oddly enough, the story starts off with a strong comedic tone, but as it goes on it gets progressively more perverse and the comedic elements are eventually overwhelmed by unsettling story that develops. The final page seems to indicate that it was intended as a comedy all the time, but instead it just comes off as an ill fitting climax to a disturbing story. "Shizuru Cinema", one of the shorter stories in the collection, starts off as a comedic little slice of tale which develops into a melancholy tale about the nature of memories. Another reading of it left me feeling that Samura was also attempting to say something about the creation of manga series, editorial involvement and audience pandering, but admittedly that might be a bit of a stretch. Another highlight of the volume is the "The Uniforms Stay On" series which is scattered throughout the collection. It's a pretty enjoyable series of shorts featuring commentary on various aspects of Japanese culture, news and more. Samura's lighter and sillier side is evident as he riffs off things ranging from labels on food in the grocery stores, the Korean wave, music and more. While there's not plot to speak of, it does offer interesting little glimpses into aspects of Japanese culture that don't necessarily make headlines over here in the west. There are three other short stories included in the collection, but none of them left much of an impression. One is a very short story based upon a game of Majhong Samura was once involved in, while the other two are a romantic comedy and another disturbing little tale which ends before it can ever really get going.
Emerald is full of Samura's wonderfully detailed artwork, which is something that's always a pleasure to see. The sketchy, thatch heavy style is reminiscent of his earlier work in Blade of the Immortal, which is something that will be a treat to fans who miss that style. While perhaps best known for the incredible action sequences that pepper Blade of the Immortal, Emerald shows that Samura can handle less bombastic material just as well. It's really a beautiful looking book with a wonderful attention to detail, eye catching costumes and more. While some of the stories in the volume may be lacking or disappointing, the visual most definitely are not.
While it's not a replacement for those of us jouncing for our next hit of Blade of the Immortal, Emerald is at the very least an enjoyable pick me up. The quality of the writing and the stories aren't quite up to snuff when compared to his other short story collection, Ohikkoshi, but it's still a must read for his already existing fans curious to see his other works. Those unfamiliar with Samura's work and who were hoping that this might be a good introduction would probably do better to check out Blade of the Immortal or Ohikkoshi instead.
Emerald and Other Stories is available now from Dark Horse Comics.