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Manga / Lady Snowblood

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"I am a vehicle of retribution who roams in search of my mother's sworn enemies."
Lady Snowblood

The Lady Snowblood manga series was created by Kazuo Koike while the artwork was drawn by Kazuo Kamimura. First published and serialized in 1973 in the Weekly Playboy magazine in Japan. The manga series didn't get translated into English until 2005 by Dark Horse Comics.

The story begins with the birth of the protagonist, Oyuki. She was born on a snowy day inside a woman's prison. Before her mother passed away due to complications with childbirth, she entrusted a prison cellmate to look after Oyuki while reminding her that she has a task to fulfill — her last wish: to seek vengeance against her enemies, who slaughtered her family and raped her brutally in the past.

After years of torturous training under a strict priest, Oyuki grew up to be a fine looking woman in her prime, chasing the remaining enemies of her mother. Oyuki uses her sex appeal, charms and a sword hidden under an umbrella as her tools of death to get the job done as an assassin.

The manga itself was popular enough to be adapted later into a 1973 live-action film of the same name directed by Toshiya Fujita, starring Meiko Kaji as Oyuki. The film created a cult following, resulting in a sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance. Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the film, which resulted in the creation of Kill Bill.

A Science Fiction reimagining called The Princess Blade was released in 2001.

The Manga provides examples of:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Most of the male population try to rape Oyuki a some point. If it isn't Oyuki, then it's some other poor woman.
  • Attempted Rape: Several times.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: A very rare non kid's show example; the story has quite a few informative notes about Japanese history.
  • Author Avatar: Gaikotsu Miyahara. He actually writes Oyuki's story down as she progresses. Try not to think about it too much—the Fourth Wall seems to warp recursively around this guy.
  • Batman Gambit: Oyuki does this all the time.
  • Big Prick, Big Problems: Blackmailer Genjiro's freakish size causes him problems in all sorts of ways, but his inability to find a partner who can handle his penis weighs particularly heavy on him.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Blackmailer Genjiro subverts this. Amusingly enough, that was the whole reason why he blackmailed people. He wanted to raise up his funds to move to England, since the women in Japan were too small for him to fit it in.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Some of the motivations of the clients when hiring her were questionable at best. Some of her allies are either part of a gang, or a scheming trickster like Gaikotsu Miyahara the Wanderer. Oyuki is not exempt from this trope herself considering her mission and actions towards others, such as how she deals with Hanzo Takemura.
  • Crapsack World: An era in Japan where big drastic changes in the society due to the influence of the western world coming onto their doorstep, women were treated as second class citizens at best, crime is quite rampant through out the series.
  • Cruel Mercy: Oyuki doesn't kill Okono, leaving her to face the ruin of her business, angry clients, fraud charges, and most likely murder charges for people Oyuki killed (Okono ordering her entourage to attack Oyuki was a big mistake; them obeying her was an even bigger one). She's not dead, but her life is over.
  • Dark Action Girl: Oyuki could be classed as one.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Oyuki gets more than her fair share of indecent proposals from women, and she's quite happy to oblige.
  • Everyone Has Lots of Sex: In addition to all of the rape (see No Woman's Land below), there's plenty of consensual funtimes going on as well. The Rokumeikan in particular is basically a nightly orgy.
  • Fairytale Motifs: The Japanese title, Shurayuki-hime, is a pun on the Japanese name of Snow White, Shirayuki-hime (literally, "Princess Snow-White"). Shura can be translated as "conflict."
  • Fanservice: Why else would Oyuki get naked at least once every chapter?
  • Femme Fatale: Oyuki.
    • At first she seems to be a Femme Fatale, but if you look closely she is a real Vamp. Most people she kills deserve their demise, but she went too far when she forced a chauffeur to rape his employer's daughter, then killed the girl in order to blackmail the hapless man into becoming an accomplice to another murder. Although she promised to let him go free, she kills him anyway.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: A gang of rickshaws kidnaps isolated women and sells them to brothels. Oyuki manages to persuade them to make beautiful lacquered paintings on their rickshaws, which generates massive publicity. Then she secretly puts a portrait of the Emperor under one's seat, leading to the gang's arrest and execution for insulting the emperor.
    • Oyuki's revenge on Okono. See Cruel Mercy for details.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Oyuki fights naked more than a few times, including the very first chapter, which should let you know what kind of ride you're in for.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: "Toichi Haichi", the secret weapon of a brothel's success.
  • Important Haircut: After Oyuki finally starts on the active phase of her revenge, she cuts her long hair short.
  • Instant Expert: Oyuki takes a month to master her pickpocketing skills.
    Kiku of Tajire: You'll have to go through severe training. You'll have to practice until you bleed everyday and still it'll take a year before you get a hang of it.
    Oyuki: I'll do whatever it takes, but I must master it in a month.
    • Of course when you have revenge as your fuel you can do wonders!
  • Lady of War: Oyuki
  • Last Request: Oyuki generously does her best to accommodate Blackmailer Genjiro's by having intercrural sex with him.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: At one point, a lesbian character tells Oyuki: "I knew you were one of us." And indeed she is: Oyuki has sex with at least four women over the course of the story, of whom only one had anything to do with her current assignment. And the only sex a guy ever has with Oyuki (excluding universally disastrous rape attempts) is intercrural. This may have something to do with her mother's Back Story.
  • Mugging the Monster: As a beautiful woman in a crime-ridden and crapsack feudal Japan, Oyuki is targeted a lot by would-be rapists. They very quickly (and fatally) learn the error of their ways.
  • Must Not Die a Virgin: In the end, Blackmailer Genjiro's motivation amounts to this. Oyuki generously obliges him.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Auntie Kiku of Tajire.
  • No Woman's Land: Feudal Japan in the world of Lady Snowblood is a misogynistic hellhole. Seriously, women can't leave the house without being preyed on, threatened with violence, or sold into sexual slavery.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Oyuki sometimes does this to get her job done.
  • Out with a Bang:
    • Blackmailer Genjiro was already dying, but Oyuki allowed him to have intercrural sex with her in order to fulfill his Last Request.
    • Oyuki poses as a Buddhist nun to get close to a girl suffering from tuberculosis, who she introduces to the joys of lesbian sex to speed up her death (losing sweat while ill is a very bad idea), so that she can get her hands on the death registers after the funeral. Perhaps feeling a rare twinge of conscience at doing this to a total innocent, Oyuki justifies this to herself as Letting Her Die Happy.
  • Parasol of Pain: Oyuki's signature weapon, with a hidden sword inside.
  • Pet the Dog: Oyuki gets several moments, such as generously sparing a thieving employee from being punished by Auntie Kiku, and saving her victim's daughter from being forced into a life of prostitution in the last chapter.
  • Posthumous Sibling: Before Oyuki was born, her father and brother were brutally murdered and her mother was raped. Her mother's last wish is for Oyuki to avenge these crimes.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Quite a few, resulting in Girl on Girl Is Hot scenes. Out of four lesbian encounters Oyuki has on-screen, only one of them was purely for mutual pleasure with no darker purpose.
  • Rape as Backstory: The painful past of Oyuki's mother. She wanted revenge for it, but could only kill one of her tormentors before being caught by the police, leading her to seek companionship in prison until Oyuki could be conceived as a "walking demon" who would complete her vengeance, making this a prime example of...
  • Rape and Revenge: One of the classics.
    • Sayo might have been able to cope with the rape itself, horrible as it was, or even the fact that her husband and son were murdered at the same time. But to discover that it wasn't the act of random mob violence it appeared to be, but a coldblooded, premeditated part of a scam? Someone had to die for that.
  • Rape by Proxy: Oyuki forces a chauffeur to rape his master's daughter, threatening to kill him if he doesn't. She kills him anyway.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The whole premise of the series.
  • Slut-Shaming: Oyuki does this to a girl who's about to get raped, telling her that because she's not a virgin, she has no right to complain.
  • Training from Hell: From the priest who trained her as an assassin and her pickpocketing training, as well.
  • Would Hurt a Child: When a child witnesses one of her murders, Oyuki is fully prepared to kill him until she realizes he's brain-damaged and no one will listen to him.
  • You Bastard!: There's a bit of exposition on the scientific theories of the late 18th century, where one guy suggests that the Japanese should start having children with Europeans and generally open up to the Western world. The narration goes on to ponder on if this had happened, maybe Japan wouldn't have become the jingoistic nation it was, avoiding its expansionist policies and involvement in WWII... and you, the reader, wouldn't be holding this book right now.