Manga: Lone Wolf and Cub

"Assassin, Lone Wolf and Cub! I come for YOU!"

The trials of single fatherhood.

Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Ōkami) is an iconic manga created by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, describing the adventures of Ogami Ittō, former executioner for the Shogun, and his son Daigorō. Ittō, after being framed for treason against the Shogunate by the Yagyū clan, faced a choice between death and dishonor. Instead, Ittō Took A Third Option: abandon bushidō to follow "Meifumado" - roughly, either "the way of the demon" or "the road to hell". He would become a ronin assassin, Walking the Earth while planning his vengeance. And his son Daigorō, due to a Secret Test of Character from his father, now follows the same bloody road.

The original manga was published from 1970 to 1976. The series has been adapted into several movies and a live-action TV series in Japan. An English-dubbed "adaptation" of the movies was released in 1980 as Shogun Assassin. AnimEigo has released both subtitled and dubbed versions of the films. A sequel, called Shin Kozure Ōkami written by Koike with Hideki Mori doing the art (since Goseki Kojima died in 2000) is currently running in Japan. Dark Horse Comics has announced that they will publish Shin Kozure Ohkami in English early 2014.

There is also a spinoff series, Samurai Executioner, focusing on Yamada Asaemon, the Shogun's sword-tester.

Lone Wolf also inspired the American comic Road to Perdition, which changed the setting to 1930s Illinois and aged up the son to a pre-teen. Road To Perdition was later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks.

Unrelated to the famous Lone Wolf gamebook series by Joe Dever.

Lone Wolf and Cub provides examples of:

  • Against the Setting Sun: Used in one case to try and blind Ittō during a duel, though Genre Savvy note  Ittō puts a reflective ornament on Daigorō's head to blind the enemy and wins.
  • And Your Little Dog Too: Itto once went *even more* Unstoppable Rage than he had previously been, when the Shogun directly threatened to kill little Daigoro.
  • Animal Motifs: The Ogamis are wolves. Retsudō is a tiger. "Decapitator" Asaemon, the shogun's sword tester and one of the more noble samurai in the series, is called an eagle. Abe-No-Kaii Tanoshi, the poison taster and epitome of depravity, is called a worm.
  • Arch-Enemy: Yagyū Retsudō
  • Audible Sharpness
  • Badass: Ittō breaks the curve.
  • Badass and Baby: The Ur-Example.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Though in this case they are related.
  • Badass Beard: Retsudō
  • BFG: The "multiple-fire rifle". This one functions more or less like a really big shotgun rather than a rapid-fire weapon.
    • It's a "volley gun." It has multiple barrels designed to fire simultaneously, so it's more or less like strapping a bunch of guns together and shooting them all at the same time.
  • Barehanded Blade Block: Both subverted and played straight. The Yagyu Shirahadori revolves around not merely catching the blade with your hands, but also trapping it with your body, sacrificing your life to immobilize the opponent so that your comrade can finish him off. However, masters like Retsudo and Itto, can pull off the straight version of this trope. In fact, the final long stretch of Retsudo and Itto's last duel is a series of these as they block and then steal one sword back and forth from each other, only to block it in turn when the other one manages to snatch it.
  • Battle Aura: Virtually every trained fighter in the manga has this, allowing them to sense hostility (warrior blood lust) in others and respond accordingly.
    • Subverted by a group of crippled veteran ninja, sent by Retsudo after Itto. They were experienced enough to mask their auras from Itto and spy on him undetected.
    • Averted when Itto takes an assignment to kill a revered Buddhist priest. Although not being a warrior, the priest still has an aura so powerful that no one with ill intent can come close enough to touch him... Not even Itto. Leads to Itto taking a level in badass (if that's even possible) by withdrawing to the mountains to meditate and fast for over a week, while leaving Daigoro alone with food. Briefly interrupted only by a small group of hungry wolves (which he slays with his bare hands) Itto returns enlightened and able to suppress his negative energy output. He is then able to kill without bloodlust. The priest compliments Itto on his accomplishment right before Itto apologizes and splits him from scalp to sternum.
  • Big Bad: Retsudo
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows
  • Blade on a Stick: Itto has several concealed as railings on the cart. They can be wielded individually as nagamaki or the handles can be joined to allow them to be used as a naginata or a longer polearm. The latter are especially useful when he has to go up against cavalry and large numbers of enemy troops.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Itto and Retsudo spend literally a whole day and night (as well as half of a book) doing this during their first arranged duel.
  • Carnival of Killers
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Although LWAC does stay closer to reality than what you would casually expect, it still allows for some spectacular details. By default, studying martial arts will grant you a 6th sense (Battle Aura), make you fast enough to appear as a blur to Joe Normal, let you fight (and kill) in your sleep, and sturdy enough to flat out ignore the harsh elements of nature. Taken to even further levels in the case of ninja... or Itto.
  • The Chessmaster: Itto is a frequent user of the The Plan and its suptropes and even manages to combine the best parts of them.
  • Close-Call Haircut: Happens to Daigoro's topknot in one scene and is the closest the movie actually gets to injuring him.
  • Cheerful Child: Daigoro, despite living a life with a fairly high dosage of murder. On the other hand, when someone who knows what they're talking about actually locks eyes with the kid, they note that he has the kind of gaze that is usually only seen on extremely experienced warriors who have seen a lifetime's worth of slaughter, and remark how creepy it is to see it in a child.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Itto works the holy hell out of this trope; he wins several fights, especially early on, just by doing things like throwing his sword; for a bushi that would normally be unthinkable, but Itto threw away those ideals when he started down the assassin's road. Retsudo does pretty well with it, too.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Subverted once when a team of Kunoichi successfully take out an unlucky mook to demonstrate their skill, then played straight when a group of Kunoichi can't do anything to the protagonists, but the boss lady can pretty much hold her own against Itto (IE not get killed) Also somewhat toward the end when all the remaining Grass work together and succeed in breaking Itto's sword.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Sort of a meta-example: According to The Other Wiki , the author came up with the name Suio-Ryu because it sounded romantic, not knowing that a sword fighting school of the same name really existed. This also results in a mild case of artistic license since the way Suio-Ryu is depicted in the manga is pretty far from what it really is like.
  • Cooldown Hug
  • Crazy-Prepared: Itto. Also Retsudo with his Yagyu Grass.
  • Crotch Grab Sex Check - a variation - checking out the existence of breasts instead, to confirm femininity. As this is done as part of a security checkpoint and ID check, the person doing the checking is a woman as well, and they're very polite about the pat-down.
  • Crusading Widower: A neat summary of the plot.
  • Deep Cover Agent: The "grass" ninja.
  • Determinator: Itto again.
  • Died Standing Up: Both Itto and Retsudo.
  • Disposable Woman: Azami who?
  • Evil Versus Evil: Abe no Kaii versus Retsudo.
  • End of an Age: The story is set right as Japan's feudal era started breaking down. The rising merchant class and the ever-growing masses of unemployed samurai are minor recurring themes in the story. Frank Miller, who did some of the American cover art for Dark Horse, described the story as "a man, a boy, a country, and their journey into Hell."
  • Enemy Mine: Itto and Retsudo works together to stop a flood caused by Abe No Kaii.
  • Eyepatch of Power: After losing his eye to an arrow, the Big Bad spends the rest of the manga proving that the eyepatch may be an even more Bad Ass accessory than the pram.
  • Frozen Face: one of the assassins sent after Ogami was a ninja trained to show no emotions at all. Because he shows no reaction to anything, he's incredibly stealthy, and uses it to menace Ogami more effectively than any assassin before him.
  • Grand Finale: A seriously hardcore one that encompasses at least the last three books.
  • Harmful to Minors: Daigoro's childhood is traumatic even by manga standards.
  • He Knows Too Much: Many of the people who hire Itto subsequently try to kill him after the assassination is completed in order to either silence him (since Itto's policy is to get the entire story behind the assassination before carrying it out), or to avoid paying him. It often overlaps with You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. It never works. Some employers are smart enough to avert this, such as the man who employed Itto in the very first chapter of the series.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Itto's blind quest for vengeance makes him suitable for this trope. Considering that he's willingly endangering his only child and is more concerned with avenging his tainted name than his murdered wife, he may qualify as a Villain Protagonist. Near the end of the series he seems to get increasingly tired of killing (sometimes going so far as to shed Manly Tears after cutting down a few dozen people), but by then he's too close to completing his revenge to stop.
  • High Concept: The series is replete with themes relating to Buddhist philosophy, including detachment, freedom from desire, and the extinguishing of the Self. Many chapters also explore many of the warrior aesthetics that were central to the beliefs of Samurai at the time, such as duty to one's lord, sometimes even to the detriment of one's own honor. There are also explorations into important aspects and philosophies in the waging of war.
  • High-Pressure Blood
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Yagyu clan are traditionally portrayed in both history and folklore as noble and brave and champions of the common people. On the other hand, they also had the reputation of founding one of the greatest swordfighting schools in Japan, were believed to have ties to ninja (if not ninja themselves), and were very close allies and servants of the ruling Tokugawa shoguns, so few other organizations in bakufu-era Japan would have been as big as a threat to Ogami Itto.
  • Humiliation Conga: Retsudo's schemes may have destroyed the Ogami clan, but Itto manages to get some serious payback. Over the course of the series, he kills every single one of Retsudo's children, even Retsudo's illegitimate son and daughter, slaughters all of the Kurokuwa ninja clan and, for a time at least, completely destroys the Shogun's faith in Retsudo to the point that Retsudo is publicly snubbed at a very important ceremony (so important, in fact, that had it been anyone but Retsudo, the result would have been instant seppuku). Even after that, Itto kills all of the remaining Yagyu forces and finishes by slaughtering every last one of the Kusa ninja that the Yagyu had spent generations planting into domains throughout the country. By the end of the story though, Retsudo has managed to win back the Shogun's trust and respect and he technically wins his duel with Itto. If he hadn't allowed Daigoro to run him through with his spear, it would have ended in complete victory for Retsudo.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Daigaku, the lord of Yonezawa han in Wife of the Heart. His father is described as having been a good ruler who supported the Hayase family's project of building a bridge over the dangerous Omono River, thereby vastly decreasing accidents on the river as well as increasing the han's prosperity. By contrast, Lord Daigaku is nothing but a sadistic, cowardly thug who has no interest whatsoever in bridges and who beat and permanently crippled his capable subordinate Hayase simply because the latter stood up for Chiyo the ferrygirl, who had accidentally spilled water on Daigaku's robes. Daigaku's failings were arguably the reason why Itto was eventually hired to assassinate him.
  • Invincible Hero: Itto goes up against somewhere between a few gangs to legendary warriors and even entire armies multiple times, and is rarely grievously injured. In a manga where there is hardly a chapter without at least one fight scene there is not much suspense for how it will finish.
  • It's Personal: The entire premise of the plot after Itto's wife is killed.
  • Kill 'em All: The only characters who survive the whole story are Daigoro and the shogun, and the shogun only survives because it would have messed up history.
    • Whether or not Daigoro survives the sequel remains to be seen.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Both Daigoro and Itto show up in episode 22 of Samurai Champloo, and Daigoro makes another appearance in episode 24.
  • Little Miss Badass: Daigoro border-lines between being a male example of this trope and a Tyke Bomb . At the age of four he is already resourceful enough to manage without his father or other adults for days on end, capable of one-punching a kid twice his size and handle weapons (meagerly, but still...). He WILL engage groups of adults in combat despite overwhelming odds, and has actually killed people in the confusion of combat when they tried going after him.
  • Master Poisoner: Abe no Kaii
  • Meta Casting: Abe Tanomo's appearance was based on actor Ryūnosuke Kaneda, who was later cast as Abe Tanomo in the 1976 TV series.
  • Missing Mom: Daigoro's mother has been killed before the start of the events. He never had any chance to spend time with female role-models; he does seem surprisingly well-adjusted, for the most part, with the only scary bit being the fact that he's picked up his daddy's Death Glare, a specific type of bone-chilling gaze that several samurai recognize as belonging to someone who has witnessed a lot of killing.
  • Morality Pet: A running theme in the novels is the fact that Daigoro keeps Itto from going too far over the edge when it comes to killing and becoming an outright Noble Demon; although with all the blood that's spilled, it makes one wonder what would happen if Daigoro wasn't there.
    • To be fair, Itto mostly kills the people he's paid to kill, or those who try to kill him first. Assuming Daigoro wasn't there, he would most likely go berserk and get killed rather quickly.
    • Also, subverted in the last chapter. Daigoro kills the big bad!
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: A key part of the entire culture of this era; obedience and service to one's lord is expected even when the lord is undeserving or outright idiotic. Many of the situations Ogami encounters involve people caught between what's right and what's expected.
  • Ninja: The Yagyu have literally hundreds of them in their service. By the end of the manga, Itto has killed them all.
    • The Mole: About two hundred of the thousands of Yagyu soldiers are the "Kusa" — "The Grass", deep-cover agents placed in each province of Japan to act as agents for the Yagyu. Retsudo is forced to summon them all back to the capital before the end.
  • Naginatas Are Feminine: Zigzagged. Itto, who is a most manly man, uses one regularly, but so do several young and/or female characters.
  • Non-Action Guy: Abe no Kaii.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Abe no Kaii. Despite being a Dirty Coward and Non-Action Guy in a manga where badass warriors dropping like flies, he manages to survive for several volumes against both Itto and Retsudo, and comes dangerously close to killing them.
  • One-Man Army: Itto. Made quite obvious when opposing samurai consider it a fair fight to challenge him to a duel... using several units of mounted cavalry against Itto on foot.
    • Even more so in the final book where Retsudo actually needs to raise a whole army, complete with suicide bombers to soften up Itto enough to kill him (despite Itto already being critically wounded from a previous encounter). Itto still wipes out all of Retsudo's elite mooks before falling.
  • Only Six Faces: Goseki Kojima was an excellent artist who showed a lot of variation in his male characters, but for some reason every woman he draws looks exactly the same.
  • Papa Wolf: AND HOW! Interestingly, that's only on the rare occasion when Daigoro is in serious danger. Itto has no problem with putting his infant son in jeopardy to gain an advantage or set up a trap, and actually views him more as a partner than a boy needing protection. However, when Daigoro is in danger unrelated to their adventure, Itto tends to freak out and do crazy stunts to save him; culminating in rowing out to sea in the middle of a major storm because Daigoro was sick and wouldn't eat anything but oranges.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: After crossing a narrow walkway over a mountain to get to a village where he was hired for a job, Itto has to fight a series of women trained to kill, the only people left in the village. He wins handily, and leaves. Then the bridge collapses out from under him. Turns out the actual bad guy who had hired him let him kill the women as part of his Batman Gambit just so he could sabotage the bridge, which would cover his tracks by killing Itto. Our heroes only narrowly survive.
    • Another example occurs when several different bounty hunters meet each other and decide to attack Itto as a group, knowing that any one of them trying it by themselves was a recipe for a horrible death. They're a motley group, even including an old woman who swallows and spits needles, but unfortunately the group tactic fails to avert the horrible death aspect of the operation.
  • Rated M for Manly: Itto especially.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Trope Codifier of this for anime and manga.
  • Samurai: Though Daigoro and Itto are technically Ronin, they are pursued by Samurai (and the occasional horde of Ninja)for much of the plot.
  • Secret Test: Before Itto embarks on the path to "Meifumado" he offers an infant Daigoro the choice between a sword and a ball. Daigoro chooses the sword, which is why Itto takes him along on the assassin's road. Had Daigoro chosen the ball, Itto would have killed him.
  • Seppuku: Itto's original job was technically to serve as a second (kaishakunin) for feudal lords ordered to commit seppuku by the Shogunate. The second's role is to provide relief from the agony of seppuku in the form of removing the subject's headnote  in one stroke if the act of seppuku is performed properly, but in the case of a lord, most samurai would be forbidden from performing that act. Itto's role as an official designate of the Shogun meant that he took lives at the will of the Shogun.
  • Static Character: Itto. He does undergo a little bit of development, but for the most part he's set apart by how rigid and secure in his convictions he is and not how he changes over time. Most of the development that occurs in the story happens to others; those who don't die horribly when coming into contact with Itto tend to leave changed by contact with Itto's personal presence.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Abe no Kaii.
  • Single-Stroke Battle
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: lampshaded, explained and justified. It works because he is perceived as a ronin/samurai with at least some shred of honor, which he is not (he's an assassin), thus catching his opponents completely off guard.
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Itto exemplifies this trope. Whether it's using his own child as bait, holding somebody else's child hostage to persuade suicide, skewering a man mid-coitus (as well as the unfortunate woman he was bumping uglies with), cutting down pacifistic holy men or throwing his sword into somebody's face (see previous trope). Given the rigorous code of bushido, this is often cranked up to eleven in comparison. Usually followed by some mortally stricken foe yelling "WTF?!?... you can't DO that!!!" in total disbelief. Whereupon Itto flatly states that rules are for samurai and men... "having chosen the path of the demon (the road to hell), Daigoro and himself are excused from adhering to either".
  • Unconscious Objector: In the manga, Itto dies standing up while wrestling with Retsudo for a sword in the midst of their Duel to the Death. It gradually dawns on Retsudo that this has happened, so he lets go of the sword and steps out of sword range. After a number of beat panels, Itto finally collapses.
  • Video Nasty: Shogun Assassin.
  • Weaponized Car: Or at least as close as you could get for that time and age. Daigoro's babycart is a rolling armory of concealed knives, spears, spring-loaded blades, a multi-barreled rifle and steel plated bottom (which works quite well as a bulletproof shield). The cart is profiled enough to nearly qualify as a third protagonist throughout the early series.
  • Women in Refrigerators: Almost every important woman in the story ends up being raped, murdered, or both — in either order.
  • Worthy Opponent: Despite all the hate they have for each other, Itto and Retsudo do share a profound respect.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Played straight. The manga doesn't try to hide the fact that women of the era were viewed as inherently inferior to men. However, many named female characters break the mold of their station and when they do, prove to be just as heroic, villanous and/or dangerous as most men. Itto is Genre Savvy enough to recognize this. Not that he has any qualms about killing a defenseless woman for that matter... or defenseless man.
    • In one episode, our heroes meet the widow of a samurai Itto killed. Since it's her duty to avenge her husband, Itto respectfully agrees to a duel with her. And kills her.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Played straight and subverted. Most of the villains casually commit atrocious acts of torture, mass murder and rape. Either joyfully or by sworn duty. However, nearly all of them draw their line at harming children. For this reason, villains are severely shocked upon realizing that Itto puts his own son in harms way to get a tactical advantage in a fight and commonly call him out on it.
    • Taken to it's extreme towards the end of the series, when Retsudo running out of troops call in a group of out-of-service, veteran ninja to take on Itto. After having studied their prey, the ninja deduce that they can kill Itto but will need to use a strategy which includes killing Daigoro as well. Noting how Itto and Daigoro are the appropriate age of the children and grandchildren they themselves could have had, they lament on their life of absolute servitude and decide to commit suicide rather than harm a child.
  • You Killed My Father
  • You Are Already Dead: Hired to kill a holy man, Itto slashes him down the center. Said holy man compliments him for a good minute before falling into two halves. Itto killed him this way because he couldn't bring himself to kill the man in a way that would cause pain.
    • The priest himself compliments Itto on acheiving such perfection that he could kill a holy man. This perfection came about because the priest advised him to do so. In a way, the priest gave the assassin the way to kill him. Itto was prepared to commit seppuku until the priest talked him out of it.
    Priest: "Is this not good? A man may perfect his path only through dedication. Is this not good? (falls in two pieces)"

Alternative Title(s):

Shogun Assassin, Lone Wolf And Cub