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Manga / Samurai Executioner

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"Punished is not the man himself, but the evil that resides in him"

Samurai Executioner is a spin-off manga series from Lone Wolf and Cub. It focuses on the encounters and experiences of one of Itto's opponents (Yamada Asaemon), the Shogun's sword-tester and executioner.

The series follows the progress of Asaemon's career as the Shogun's O-Tameshi and an official executioner. There are several important arcs throughout the series, interspersed with vignettes focusing on individual executions that Asaemon carries out. The series also follows the development of Sakane Kasajiro, the Edo-era equivalent of a beat cop who greatly respects Asaemon and views him as a mentor figure.


Samurai Executioner provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Kasajiro pretended to have died from a wound sustained during an investigation to pull his wife's leg, even Asaemon found it funny.
  • Action Girl: Shinko the Kappa starts out as a criminal successfully stealing jitte and swords from officers in an attempt to get the government to revoke her father's execution, though she ultimately fails. Even after she ultimately ends up Happily Married with Kasajiro, she's still a force to be reckoned with, to the point she actually joins him on the police.
  • Alternate Personality Punishment: One of the criminals Asaemon has to execute is a woman whose Split Personality is a pyromaniac, but is completely unaware of what she does when in her trances. As Asaemon is against killing people who don't know why they're being killed, he arranges for fireworks to go off during the execution, causing the woman's other personality to take over, letting Asaemon execute the guilty personality with the innocent one (instead of just the innocent).
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  • Berserk Button: For Asaemon, finding out that he executed an innocent man who was framed by the men who arrested him is a pretty big one. Miscarriages of justice in general are things that Asaemon takes very seriously.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Asaemon is a complete stickler for the rules, even when his coworkers and superiors are thinking of bending them to get out of a sticky situation.
  • Celibate Hero: Asaemon had one love in his life (who he ended up executing) and one wife (for a few hours in order to defuse a riot, after which he divorced her). His reasoning is that he wants his family line to end with him.
  • Cool Old Guy: An older policeman named Yakichi gives Kasajiro some relationship advice, in addition to telling Shinko and Kasajiro exactly what they needed to (over)hear to stop fighting.
  • Crapsack World: To the underclasses of Edo Japan, life sucks.
    • The series takes great pains to demonstrate that, even for actual samurai, life isn’t always a bed of roses. Several arcs throughout the series revolve around how the Edo Period’s class system can be almost as bad for those at the top as it is for the ones at the bottom. Samurai may have certain rights and authority that peasants don’t, but they are faced with fierce competition for government positions and the stipends that come with them. The fact that the class system of the Edo Period prevents them from taking any form of menial labor to get by just makes the situation worse. As a result, despite being amongst the upper classes, many samurai live in poverty equivalent to that of peasants, on the verge of starvation, and are even exploited by the merchants.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Subverted: Because Asaemon's job is to kill people in no position to defend themselves or even hack apart dead bodies, his opponents think he has no chance in real combat. They are very quickly proven wrong.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: What was acceptable to the authorities in Edo Japan included:
    • Allowing prisoners to be killed in prison by other inmates, so that they save on the expenses incurred during executions.
    • A cuckolded husband may kill his unfaithful wife and her lover if he caught them in the act.
    • A Buddhist nun who was raped by the spoiled and dissolute son of a wealthy and influential sake brewer forgives her rapist and begs Asaemon to spare his life, saying that she "provided temptation," an argument which in the modern age would be considered as essentially Blaming the Victim.
  • Dirty Cop: Many in the Edo police are this, more or less openly taking bribes from criminals and the rich and powerful. If need be, random people will be framed for crimes. In general, the police force as an institution is more concerned with preserving the social order and hierarchy than in pursuing justice.
  • The Dreaded: Asaemon, full stop. A group of rioting prisoners aren't worried about a small army of police surrounding the prison because of the hostages they have. But the moment Asaemon shows up is a Mass "Oh, Crap!" moment for the lot of them.
  • End of an Era: Samurai takes place at the end of the Edo era, with the rise of the merchant class and the downfall of the samurai.
  • The Executioner: The main character Asaemon Yamada is the local executioner. He takes his duty very seriously, and has immense compassion for those he kills, doing his best to make them repent for their crimes or trying to understand what drove them to commit the crime that got them executed.
    • Because he's also the shogun's sword-tester (which involves cutting straw mats and dead bodies), he is repeatedly thought to be worthless against enemies who aren't tied up. The kind of people who think this are very quickly and fatally proven wrong.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Quite a number of the condemned do this. Some require help from Asaemon (usually by way of the Last Request).
  • Footnote Fever: Due to the Shown Their Work below, the translators at Dark Horse Comics had to do this.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Readers of Lone Wolf and Cub know that, unfortunately, Asaemon is ultimately destined to perish in his duel against Ogami Itto due to the interference of the Yagyu.
  • Girls Behind Bars: Several sex scenes happen in the women's prison, most of them of some relevance to the plot (such as an inmate trying to get pregnant to delay her execution, as she wants to die after one of her hated enemies).
  • Good Is Not Soft: Asaemon. He will tear you a new one if you deserve it. At the same time, he is totally capable of making the condemned feel comfortable before he chops off their heads.
  • Happily Adopted: Subverted somewhat as Asaemon officially adopts Shinko in order to make it easier for Kasajiro to marry her.
  • Heel Realization: To Asaemon, it is most important that the condemned be truly repentant of their crimes before he executes them.
  • Implacable Man: If Asaemon is ordered to execute someone, it doesn't matter how well-connected or influential or what their station might be. He will carry out the execution no matter who or what might get in his way.
  • Last Request: Asaemon encounters many such requests. Whether he grants them depends on circumstances.
  • Lawman Baton: All police rely primarily upon their jitte, as jitte are designed for disarming and subduing criminals and are pretty much a policeman's badge of office. Shinko actually steals their jitte as a means of blackmail.
  • Named Weapons: Asaemon has his personal sword, Onibocho, which he uses for his executions (as well as fighting in general).
  • Never Trust a Title: Half-averted. Asaemon is an executioner. However, he isn't a samurai. He does however, *execute* Samurai from time to time.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: The rapist son of a sake merchant trashes his apartment so Asaemon can witness that he's not always himself. Asaemon has none of it and takes him in.
  • One Last Smoke: A tobacco-addicted criminal requests to be executed while enjoying her last pipe.
  • One-Man Army: Asaemon during the prison riot chapter.
  • Pyromaniac: One woman really gets off on watching fires, but has no memory of her crimes otherwise. In order to avoid executing an innocent, they arrange for the other personality to be out by setting a blaze on the day of the execution.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Asaemon, at least in so far as his position will allow. Asaemon's compassion for the condemned is a major fixture of the series and he will go to great lengths to fulfill their last requests, at one point going so far as to spend a year nurturing and growing a chrysanthemum at the request of one of the people he executed in order to understand the mindset that led the man to commit his crime.
  • Rōnin: Asaemon himself. His depiction is especially unusual for that of a ronin, given that he holds a government post and is very well off as a result. Indeed, his lot is quite a bit better than a few actual samurai vassals that he meets, most notably master swordsman Tsukuba Bakushu, who wants Asaemon's post.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Shinko's kappa tattoo on her back causes her victims to think there's an actual kappa when she's out swimming.
  • Serious Business: An old man kills someone after they damaged his chrysanthemum. Asaemon cuts another flower and spends a year growing another one (at the old man's request) to understand why... and finds that after spending a year taking care of the flower, he can't bring himself to cut it down.
  • Shown Their Work: The series might as well be called "Life for Commoners during Edo Japan: The Series".
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Kasajiro and Shinko have a serious case of this, to the point that they get into legitimate fistfights before reaffirming their love for one another. She even had a black eye on her own wedding day.
  • Smug Snake: A plasterer named Yoshichi murders and rapes little girls then cheerfully leads the police to the bodies once caught because he's figured out a way to avoid execution. Asaemon disagrees with his logic.
  • Soft Water: Subverted, and not in the usual way: a rapist's father agrees to let Asaemon take away his son in exchange for testing the family's sword collection (more than 300 of them). As they only know of testing blades on bodies, they expect him to give up... only for him to start hitting the river with the swords, shattering them.
    Asaemon: Focus your ki, and water becomes harder than steel.
  • Suicide by Cop: Some penniless and out-of-work warriors slaughter a household and make no effort to hide their identity so they can make a point about the ill-treatment they receive from the government and rice merchants.
  • Take a Third Option: Yoshichi the plasterer gets the name of the beatified first Tokugawa shogun - Tōshō Daigongen, better known as Tokugawa Ieyasu - tattooed on the back of his neck, ensuring the executioner can't decapitate him without committing blasphemy. Asaemon cuts out the tattoo in a single stroke without damaging it, then decapitates him.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Subverted: Asaemon always finds a way to be both.
  • Torture Technician: Toothless Yoshichi has an odd method: by alternating pain and relief (such as making them walk on snow then thawing their feet), he soon gets the perpetrator to talk, without leaving lasting harm.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Asaemon's opponents occasionally underestimate him, assuming that, as an executioner, his skills are of little to no use in real combat, considering he practices almost exclusively against victims who are restrained or corpses. They are sorely mistaken.
  • Woman Scorned: O-Toyo, who responded to being abandoned by her lover for another woman by stabbing said other woman to death, followed by her mortally wounding her cheating lover. However, as the wound was not instantly fatal, she faces the likelihood of being executed before he can expire. She gets herself pregnant - in a women's prison, no less - in order for her execution to be delayed so that she can outlive him, all out of spite.
  • Zen Survivor: Asaemon again.