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Manga / Lone Wolf and Cub

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The trials of single fatherhood.
"Assassin, Lone Wolf and Cub! I come for YOU!"

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 Rōnin 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 two live-action TV series in Japan. An English-dubbed Re-Cut comprising the first two movies was released in 1980 as Shogun Assassin. AnimEigo has released both subtitled and dubbed Vanilla Edition versions of the films and The Criterion Collection has put out a Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition subtitled box set of the films. A sequel called Shin Kozure Ōkami, written by Koike with Hideki Mori doing the art (since Goseki Kojima died in 2000), ran for eleven volumes in Japan; Dark Horse Comics began publishing the English localization in 2014, under the title of New Lone Wolf and Cub.

There is also a spinoff series, Samurai Executioner, focusing on Yamada Asaemon, the Shogun's sword-tester. There is also a Video Game adaptation, Kozure Ōkami, an Arcade Game released by Nichibutsu in 1987.

Lone Wolf is the Ur-Example and Trope Maker for the Badass and Child Duo and Badass and Baby tropes.

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:

  • Action Girl: A few examples:
    • O-Yuki, a street entertainer turned swordswoman on a quest to kill the swordsman who raped her after defeating her in a duel through the use of hypnosis.
    • Torizo, a female yakuza boss, also shows herself to be capable in battle (though it doesn't save her).
    • And then there's Retsudō's poor daughter Sayaka. He teaches her a specific technique to defeat Ittō, and we see her use it to kill multiple ninja in training. It's implied she would have won her duel with Ittō had he not used his son as a human shield.
  • 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 (Retsudō's second son) and wins.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Ittō once went even more Unstoppable Rage than he had previously been, when the Shogun directly threatened to kill little Daigoro.
  • Alternate History: There was a real life Ogami clan that disappeared from the historical record in 1655, followed by the extinction of the also real-life Yagyu clan a few decades later. The manga posits itself as a possible (albeit fictional) explanation for what may have happened to cause the extermination of both houses.
  • Annoying Arrows: While arrows are sometimes shown as being effective (particularly when Ittō stabs people with them), they're more often shown as being minor inconveniences at worst. In the chapter where Ittō gets stuck in Kyushu for a while, he agrees to fight a duel with an archer, and after he mortally wounds the archer he allows the archer to shoot him once as a courtesy. The resultant wound causes him no trouble at all when he has to fight later.
  • 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.Lampshaded near the end after Itto and Retsudo work to stop Abe-no-Kaii from flooding Edo:
    Retsudo: No man could have survived the flood.
    Itto: Then are we not men?
    Retsudo: Truly a wolf and a tiger.
  • Badass and Baby: The Ur-Example.
  • Badass and Child Duo: An iconic example. The manga is the Ur-Example and Trope Maker for this trope.
  • BFG: The "multiple-fire rifle". This is a "volley gun", with 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 Ittō can pull off the straight version of this trope. In fact, the final long stretch of Retsudo and Ittō'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 sakki (warrior blood lust) in others and respond accordingly.
    • Subverted by a group of crippled veteran ninja, sent by Retsudo after Ittō. They were experienced enough to mask their sakki from Ittō and spy on him undetected.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: In this story, there are the bad guys and the morally complex guys. Other than Daigoro, the rare genuinely innocent person tends to die horribly shortly after being introduced.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Ittō and Retsudo spend literally a whole day and night (as well as half of a book) doing this during their first arranged duel.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: 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.
  • 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 Ittō.
  • The Chessmaster: Ittō 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: Ittō 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 Ittō threw away those ideals when he started down the assassin's road. Retsudo does pretty well with it, too. More to the point, Ittō's abandonment of Bushido does not stop him from exploiting Bushido by preying upon his enemies' adherence to it. He won't hesitate to call out an opponent who is behaving dishonorably, usually because forcing the enemy to abide by honorable conduct puts Ittō in a more advantageous position in a given situation.
  • 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 Ittō (IE not get killed) Also somewhat toward the end when all the remaining Grass work together and succeed in breaking Ittō'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.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Ittō. 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.
  • Deep Cover Agent: The "grass" ninja. Generation upon generation live seemingly normal lives... until the command to activate comes in, in which case someone picks up the signals left by their grandfather's grandfather and gets going.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Torizo (real name O-Tori), a female Yakuza boss, does this to Ittō as she lies dying.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: A few examples.
    • Ittō is much chattier and more sarcastic in the first book than in following ones, where he tends to be more taciturn and stoic.
    • The kusa, or 'grass', ninja are identified as being of the Kurokuwa clan for the first eight books. They are later stated to be Yagyu ninja, not Kurokuwa.
  • 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: Ittō 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 badass accessory than the pram.
  • Forgot About His Powers: During a mission to kill a revered Buddhist priest, Ittō develops the ability to suppress his negative energy output. This prevents anyone who doesn't also have that skill (which is basically everyone) from being able to attack him. He uses this power in that chapter to scare off a bunch of peasants who try to kill him, but decides not to use it against actual warriors. However, even though Ittō has to deal with civilian mobs in later books (once the Yagyu put a gigantic bounty on his head), he seemingly forgets about this power and has to go to great lengths to avoid civilian attackers without getting into fights.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: The chapter "Penal Code Article Seventy-Nine". Daigoro is the main character, Ittō never even appears, and in the biggest departure from most chapters no-one dies, though Daigoro undergoes a rather vicious public beating.
  • Frozen Face: one of the assassins sent after Ittō 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 Ittō more effectively than any assassin before him.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: The Action Girl O-Yuki fights naked in order to scare and distract the enemy with her tattoos.
  • 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 Ittō subsequently try to kill him after the assassination is completed in order to either silence him (since Ittō'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 Ittō in the very first chapter of the series.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Ittō'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.
  • 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 Ittō.
  • Honey Trap: Used by a samurai widow in The Frozen Crane. She lures her husband's killer into an empty farmhouse by faking an illness. Once inside, she proceeds to seduce him. As he's having his way with her, her brother-in-law strikes with his sword from the pile of hay he was hiding in and stabs him in the back. It fails to kill him instantly, however, and he manages to flee outside where he is chased down and finished off by both the widow and her brother-in-law, just as Ittō and Daigoro arrive at the scene.
  • Humiliation Conga: Retsudo's schemes may have destroyed the Ogami clan, but Ittō 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 and beaten with a wooden tray by the Shogun himself 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, Ittō 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 Ittō. If he hadn't allowed Daigoro to run him through with his spear, it would have ended in complete victory for Retsudo.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Downplayed and played for drama. When they talk shop, Ittō and O-Yuki come to the conclusion that her nemesis is not a swordsman at all but a skilled hypnotist, whose various tricks are all used to draw attention to his eyes, allowing him to dominate his opponents' will. When they next clash, and he attempts to use the same trick on her again, O-Yuki is able to draw his attention by disrobing and drawing his attention to her tattoos, which breaks his focus and causes him to look away, opening him up for her revenge.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Besides Daigoro's weaponized baby cart, the series could also be called a walking-tour of obscure Japanese weapons, along with even more outlandish examples, such as the group of elite firefighters who repurpose their ladders as combat implements.
  • 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 Ittō was eventually hired to assassinate him.
  • Invincible Hero: Ittō 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 Ittō's wife is killed.
  • Killing Intent: Almost all martial artists radiate and detect the warrior spirit and bloodlust within their foes. As stated above, Ittō had to meditate to control his spirit to get to the Buddhist monk and kill him without bloodlust.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo:
  • Let's You and Him Fight: One ninja assigned to assassinate Ittō concludes that he can't do it himself, so instead he just acts as a normal client and hires Ittō to kill a squad of extremely capable swordsmen, figuring the swordsmen will win.
  • 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.
  • Manly Tears: Makabe in "Cloud Dragon, Wind Tiger" cries these when Ittō praises him as an ideal retainer prior to their duel.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Morality Pet:
    • A running theme in the novels is the fact that Daigoro keeps Ittō 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, Ittō 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 Ittō encounters involve people caught between what's right and what's expected.
  • Naginatas Are Feminine: Zigzagged. Ittō, who is a most manly man, uses one regularly, but so do several young and/or female characters.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: There's one story where 'Decapitator' Yamada Asaemon is commissioned to kill Ittō while also fending off the Yagyu. After several Yagyu soldiers try to kill Asaemon and get butchered, Retsudo decides that he wants to use Ittō to take down Asaemon. Then, when Asaemon and Ittō meet, the two duelists agree to first cut up three stone Buddha statues each before fighting each other. Asaemon's sword breaks on the third Buddha and Ittō kills him, at which point he discovers the Yagyu had predicted what would happen and put an iron collar on Asaemon's third Buddha statue (which was what broke Asaemon's sword). Ittō notes that if the Yagyu hadn't done that, Asaemon may well have won. Given what happens later in the series, that would probably have been a better outcome for the Yagyu.
  • Ninja: The Yagyu have literally hundreds of them in their service. By the end of the manga, Ittō has killed them all.
  • 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 Ittō and Retsudo, and comes dangerously close to killing them.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Headless Sakon in the chapter "Half Mat, One Mat, a Fistful of Rice". His reckless behaviour (renting himself out for target practice) and odd, lazy-eyed face make him seem stupid, perhaps even mentally challenged. In fact he is one of the wisest and most morally upright people in the story.
  • One-Man Army: Ittō. Made quite obvious when opposing samurai consider it a fair fight to challenge him to a duel... using several units of mounted cavalry against Ittō on foot.
    • Retsudo eventually gives up trying to kill Ittō sneakily, and sends orders to every Han and Daikan to arrest or kill him on sight. Ittō single-handedly crushes two Han and three Shogunate territories, including seventy armored warriors of Sanuki Han, whose Daimyo Masatsune (a one-time student of Suio-Ryu under Ittō) brings army units of spearmen and cavalry to prevent Ittō from entering his Han.
    • Even more so in the final book where Retsudo actually needs to raise a whole army, complete with suicide bombers to soften up Ittō enough to kill him (despite Ittō already being critically wounded from a previous encounter). Ittō 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. Ittō 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, Ittō 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, Ittō 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 Ittō. Our heroes only narrowly survive.
    • Another example occurs when several different bounty hunters meet each other and decide to attack Ittō 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.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Stomache-churningly averted — apparently Ittō doesn't think so or doesn't care. At one point he sits and watches a young woman being raped to death without evincing any concern. He has in fact contracted to kill the bandits responsible but apparently decides it's not the right time to strike.
  • Real Men Can Cook: Both Ittō and Retsudo know their way around a kitchen, it turns out. When Abe-no-Kaii mocks them for it, they give quite a sensible retort: If you're in the middle of a war and, say, all your servants die in battle, it's either shift for yourself or starve.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Trope Codifier of this for anime and manga.
  • Samurai: Though Daigoro and Ittō are technically Rōnin, they are pursued by Samurai (and the occasional horde of Ninja) for much of the plot.
  • Say My Name: Ittō sometimes screams "Retsudōooooo!" in anger during major encounters with the Yagyū. Also Retsudō, who starts screaming Ittō's name as well after the latter kills most (later all) of his children.
  • Scaramanga Special: Ittō has several spears 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.
  • Secret Test: Before Ittō 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 Ittō takes him along on the assassin's road. Had Daigoro chosen the ball, Ittō would have killed him.
  • Seppuku: Ittō'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. Ittō's role as an official designate of the Shogun meant that he took lives at the will of the Shogun.
  • Sheath Strike: Ittō is fond of using his scabbard against certain opponents, as they don't expect it at all. Typically it's used as a distraction; there are several times when backstabbing officials (or people who want to test Ittō and see if he's as good as they say) are talking to Ittō in a room with soldiers hidden behind the paper wall panels, ready to strike. Ittō gets around it by chucking his scabbard through the wall to get a non-lethal first strike and take the official hostage to de-escalate the situation (or kill them if he's been hired to do so.)
  • 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.
  • Training from Hell: In "Hunger Town", Ogami Ittō does this to a dog in order to teach it to act as bait during an assassination.
  • Übermensch: Itto, at the same time, demonstrates admirable levels of compassion and nobility as well as shocking levels of amorality and ruthlessness. As an assassin, he has completely abandoned the notions of bushido or honor and uses whatever underhanded trick or tactic he can think of (including using his own son in dangerous traps) plying his skills to anyone to raise money for his true goal––revenge on Retsudo and the Yagyu. However, he's also willing to do tasks and endure indignities that pretty much any other samurai would rather kill themselves over than be subjected to. He’s willing to do the work of peasants, and even accepts a prospective prostitute’s punishment in her place to win her the right to go free. He never once lords his status over the commoners and is quick to recognize and praise samurai-like qualities in people he meets, from all walks of life. Itto’s complete commitment to fulfilling his quest is such that it earns him a great deal of respect from many of the people around him, despite his dishonorable actions.
  • Unconscious Objector: In the manga, Ittō 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, Ittō finally collapses.
  • 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). Oh, and it floats. The cart is profiled enough to nearly qualify as a third protagonist throughout the early series.
  • We Have Reserves: Retsudo makes heavy use of this trope, sending wave after wave of ninja, samurai, and ashigaru after Itto...and he keeps killing them. Ultimately, Retsudo keeps using all his reserves, right up until he doesn’t have any left.
  • Worthy Opponent: Despite all the hate they have for each other, Ittō 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. Ittō 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 Ittō killed. Since it's her duty to avenge her husband, Ittō 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 Ittō puts his own son in harms way to get a tactical advantage in a fight and commonly call him out on it.
    • Taken to its 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 Ittō. After having studied their prey, the ninja deduce that they can kill Ittō but will need to use a strategy which includes killing Daigoro as well. Noting how Ittō 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.
    • From both Ittō and Retsudo's point of view, Daigoro walks the path of Meifumado together with Ittō, making him an equally valid target. In fact, one of the items Ittō purchases with all his assassin fees is a compliment of grenades so Daigoro can participate in battle. His reasoning is that Daigoro, being four, would stand no chance against trained Yagyu warriors otherwise. Retsudo agrees and allows them.
  • You Are Already Dead: Hired to kill a holy man, Ittō slashes him down the center. Said holy man compliments him for a good ten seconds before falling into two halves. Ittō 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 Ittō 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. Ittō 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)"
  • Zerg Rush: A Yagyu speciality. Itto, at one point, even describes the style of the Ura Yagyu as “The sword of the many against the few.” In particular, Yagyu assassins often work in teams, using coordinated tactics and sacrificial ploys to neutralize opponents before killing them. However, Retsudo also makes use of the classic version of this trope on several occasions throughout the manga, straight up throwing entire armies’-worth of his subordinates at Itto and Daigoro in an effort to kill them.