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Manga / Shigurui

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As everything in this world is but a sham, death is the only sincerity.
— Poem quoted in The Hagakure

Shigurui (シグルイ, "death frenzy") is a Jidaigeki martial arts drama manga based on part of Nanjou Norio's historical novel Suruga-Jō Gozen Jiai (mainly the first chapter); the manga itself is illustrated and co-written by Yamuguchi Takayuki. In 2007, Madhouse made a 12-episode anime directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki and written by Seishi Minakami.

The story begins at a deadly tournament with real swords ordered by the sadistic daimyo Tokugawa Tadanaga in 1629, a secret account of which records only six survivors out of twenty-two contestants. Our main characters are the one-armed samurai Fujiki Gennosuke and the blind samurai Irako Seigen, two Arch Enemies brought together by fate for one final Duel to the Death. Both samurai are accompanied by women: Irako is led by a woman named Iku, and Fujiki is aided by a young woman named Iwamoto Mie who seems to bear a grudge against Irako. At the moment the match begins, the narrative jumps back in time to show How We Got Here: it tells the story of the two samurai who once belonged to the same school of swordsmanship and how they got to this point, both maimed and determined to kill each other.


The artwork is incredible. Yamaguchi has a talent for visualizing human anatomy and likes to show it by giving us X-ray views of what the muscles, bones, nervous system, or organs of a particular person are doing in the midst of a fight or strenuous activity. The gore is almost overwhelming; he devotes exactly as much attention to the guts when they're outside as when they're inside, and for all the beauty of its techniques, swordsmanship is depicted as an art of butchery.

The plot and imagery create a powerful juxtaposition of beauty and brutality, which makes for a searing indictment of Tokugawa society and the inhumanity required by the code of the samurai. Graphic depictions of nudity, sex, violence, and gore make this a definite adults-only read.

Watch Out for Spoilers! You probably don't want to browse these pages until you've read the manga!


This manga provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Irako Seigen initially appeared to be this, rising to the top of the Kogan school after only two years of study.
  • Adaptation Amalgamation: Chika takes some minor traits from Suruga-Jō Gozen Jiai's Kinu Isoda (the Naginata user from the novel's second match, which fights against her cousin Zanami Kanzaemon - both of them have a minor Continuity Cameo in the tournament's roll call), like her proficiency with the naginata and being Tadanaga's special concubine.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Of the first chapter (of twelve) from Suruga-Jō Gozen Jiai, with some minor details from Tadanaga's conspiracy taken out from the Bukon Emaki novelnote . However, the manga covers the backstory from the fourth chapter (Kutsuki Gannosuke vs Sasahara Shuuzaburou, featuring the Funaki dojo and the Sasahara clan) and features the main character from the third chapter (Tsukioka Yukinosuke), hinting that the author was going to cover more duels from the novel.
  • All for Nothing: The common denominator of the series is perhaps the complete hopelessness and cynicism of The 'Verse. Nothing the protagonists ever do amounts to anything positive for anyone involved. Everyone gets maimed, killed, raped, disfigured, crippled or taken advantage of and there's nothing that can be done about it. You can fight the system all you want, you will fail miserably, everything you have will be taken from you, all your efforts will amount to nothing and you will be violently destroyed one way or another. So don't even try, accept your miserable life for what it is and for what little you have left. Or just commit suicide.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Completely deconstructed and Played for Drama. Nothing positive comes from Iku's relationship with Kogan as he is just as cruel, violent and ruthless to her as he is to his men.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Chika Funaki is highly muscular and strong enough to lift a horse over her shoulders, yet she is also a gorgeous beauty and desired as well as admired by the students. Unfortunately for her, the toad-like Gannosuke and insane Tadanaga are also drawn to that beauty, and won't take "no" for an answer. She also has some unusual genitalia that she doesn't want people to know about.
  • Animal Motifs: See Tiger Versus Dragon below.
  • Anti-Climax: In-universe, this is what the first round of the tournament at Sunpu Castle feels like to the spectators. Whereas the manga shows its readers the whole epic backstory behind Gennosuke and Irako's grudge, and reveals the true genius and willpower hidden in their techniques, all that the audience at Sunpu Castle is able to perceive is a Wimp Fight between a blind man who misses his swing, and a one-armed man who feebly drops his long sword and kills the other man with a short blade, thus ending the fight in a few seconds.
  • Anyone Can Die: Several characters had backgrounds, flashbacks, and exposition about their various physical feats, only to die with one sword slash, or even one punch, during a fight.
  • Anything That Moves: Tadanaga will not let something so trivial as a rape victim (Chika) having unusual equipment stop him.
  • Armor Is Useless: Downplayed. One of the characters is saved when the light chain mail woven into his clothes prevents a blow from cutting deep enough to kill him. The Funaki family's special skill is the ability to chop clean through helmets in midair (kabuto-nage), but this is treated as a very impressive skill that few are able to master.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Kogan wants Mie to marry and bear the child of his strongest student in order to preserve his sword school and bloodline. Kogan is so obsessed with the succession of his school—and cares so little about Mie's feelings—that he would go as far as commanding that student to rape and impregnate Mie against her will if she does not cooperate.
    • Funaki Ichidensai decides to choose a husband for his daughter Chika by holding a helmet-cutting contest open to all of his male students. Chika doesn't have any say in the matter, and when she objects to the grotesque Gannosuke being allowed to participate, her father says that even Gannosuke has a right to try. However, when he realizes that Gannosuke might actually be able to do it, he sabotages Gannosuke and declares another student the winner.
  • Artifact of Doom: The deadly and unlucky sword owned by Kogan, Nanachou Nenbutsu. Forged in Bizen by an unknown swordsmith, legend has it that its owner at one time, Tamiya Nagakatsu, tested it by slashing a Buddhist monk who was in the middle of reciting a nenbutsu. The monk kept walking and reciting the nenbutsu without showing a single drop of blood, and his wound did not burst open until he had walked another seven chou (1 chou = 109 meters or 357 feet). Nana means "seven", so it was called "Nanachou Nenbutsu". In 1618, the lord of Kakegawa castle Ando Naotsugu recieved the sword from Tokugawa Yorinobu, and asked Kogan if he thought the legend was true. Kogan tested it by cutting through the head of a female convict, which to Ando's disappointment came apart immediately. Nevertheless, Kogan warned Ando that the sword was not of this world, and that it would bring calamity on his house if he kept it. It was only as the retainers were taking the convict's body away that Okabe Heike—the man who had been restraining her when Kogan cut her head off—suddenly felt the cut in his abdomen and his guts spilled out, causing him to die of fright before he even hit the ground.
    • Kogan later recieved the sword himself, and it brings him bad luck: He falls to Irako's blade, his school is destroyed, and the Iwamoto clan loses its stipend.
    • The next to own it is Bizennokami, clan elder of the Haramiishi. He performs seppuku to take responsibility for the shameful events of the revenge duel, and his son Yukichiyo tries to kill Fujiki in revenge, only to get killed instead: Fujiki truthfully reports the event to the Haramiishi clan, but they report to the officials that Yukichiyo died of illness, since it would shame the clan to let it be known that the son of an elder had lost to a pathetic failure like Fujiki who had not even the courage to take his own life.
    • Fujiki uses the sword in his final duel with Irako, actually winning by throwing the Nanachou Nenbutsu toward Iku and cutting open Irako with his short blade, but this victory leads directly to the loss of everything that would have made it worthwhile.
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: Seikun's rapier is depicted rather inaccurately, which can be disappointing when compared to the attention to detail the Japanese weapons get. Firstly, the ergonomics of the hilt are all wrong. The grip is excessively long for an exclusively one-handed sword, the pommel is too small, and the finger rings aren't large enough to pass the index finger through as one is supposed to. It also doesn't help that the length of the blade is portrayed inconsistently, but in any case it's probably too short for an early 17th century rapier. He holds the grip below the crossguard, and twists his wrist and knuckles too far when holding the guard 'fourth'; one should suppinate the hand with the palm facing up, and use the fingers to make the pommel wrest in line with the forearm. The types of lunges and thrusts he makes are plausible, but the trick where he makes the blade undulate like a serpent isn't possible with a real rapier. It is true that the rapier blade has some spring in it, unlike the blade of a katana which does not bend at all, but it still needs to be of relatively stiff temper in order to penetrate effectively, and would only flex if you bent it between two hands, or pressed the point against something solid; You could not make the blade wobble just by waving it around through the air. The author's confusion probably comes from the fact that most people are more familiar with olympic fencing foils, which are so flexible because unlike live steel they are specifically designed not to penetrate.
  • Attempted Rape: Mie has to deal with this a couple times, once from her crazy father, and again when her crazy father orders all his students to hold her down so Irako can impregnate her. Irako declines.
  • Backstory: Basically the whole thing aside from the beginning and ending.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: When the helmet-chopping Funaki twins face Fujiki and Irako ambushing them from either side of the road, they take a fearsome back-to-back stance with their swords over their heads, giving their opponents the impression of a Deva King wielding two swords.
  • Badass Pacifist: Tsukioka Yukinosuke has absolutely no desire to fight and even develops a technique that allows him to attack powerfully with the flat of his blade, ending fights non-lethally. However, he is also one of the few characters able to both dodge Fujiki's nagare boshi and survive an encounter with him with his skull in-tact.
  • Bald of Awesome: Sekiun.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Female breasts are drawn in detail, but the genitalia of both sexes are drawn as just a blank.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The deformed Gannosuke initially fell for Ichidensai Funaki's daughter Chika because she dispersed the students who were beating him up, and later threw him the rest of a rice ball she was eating. She actually let her guard down because she saw him as just a pathetic beast, but Gannosuke got his hopes up and became obsessed with the idea that they were meant to be together.
  • Berserk Button: You will not disparage Iwamoto Kogen or praise Irako Seigen front of Fujiki, not if you want to remain whole anyway.
  • BFS: Ushimata is so strong and such an expert in Kogan Ryu that he can use a giant furibo—a very heavy oar-shaped wooden practice sword which most students can only use for strength-building exercise called suburi—as a practical weapon against people wielding regular swords. In the revenge duel he shows the ability to wield two of them at once!
  • Blade on a Stick: While the vast majority of warriors in this series utilise katana, Sasahara Shuuzaburou is a master of the yari and is basically to spears what Fujiki and Seigen are to swords.
  • Blind Weapon Master:
    • Kogan blinds Irako using his secret sword cut nagare boshi (shooting star), as punishment for sleeping with Iku. Irako and Iku are rescued by a swordsman named Tsukioka Yukinosuke, who takes them to a village in the Hida Mountains. There, with the help of Iku and Yukinosuke, Irako goes through the painful and difficult process of adjusting to his blindness, and ultimately develops the ability to sword fight as efficiently as he did before. He goes beyond that, however, by inventing a technique called mumyou sakanagare ("lightless reverse flow"): it's a modification of and a counter to Kogan's nagare boshi, which is even more powerful because Irako sticks the point of his sword into the earth instead of gripping it in his other hand as Kogan did, so that he can use his whole body to charge up the sword with energy and release it like a slingshot in a vertical ascending strike as he dives toward his opponent. With this technique, Irako comes back and starts killing highly skilled members of Kogan Ryuu one after another. He eventually earns the favor of the shogun's brother, Tokugawa Tadanaga, and his fearsome reputation as the Blind Dragon spreads far and wide.
    • Later on the trope is discussed between several characters. After three members of the Kogan school are murdered in succession, each killed by an unknown swordsman using an ascending vertical strike, the remaining members get together and discuss what to do. Protagonist Fujiki Gennosuke states he suspects Irako Seigen may be the culprit, and others back him up by pointing out that each of the victims' corpses was arranged in a way that referenced Seigen's grudge against each of them. When senior instructor Ushimata Gonzaemon points out that Irako is blind, the others argue that it's possible Irako could have defeated them because Munakata and Yamazaki both faced him in the pitch black of night, while Suzunosuke was an immature pupil. Gonzaemon, however, tells them about a certain swordsman of the Sengoku era named Toda Seigen. Toda was a master of Chuujou Ryuu, who specialized in using a sword of less than two feet to subdue an opponent using a blade over three feet in length. One of his disciples was the famous Sasaki Kojiro. In 1561, Seigen was commanded by his lord to fight a match with a disciple of Shinto Ryuu named Umezu, wielding a staff three and a half feet long. This was despite the fact that Seigen had gone blind from a disease. Using a club barely more than a foot long, he won by lunging through Umezu's defense and wildly beating him to a pulp at close range. Gonzaemon observes that this was how Toda had to fight, because he could not see; that is what a blind swordsman is like. In contrast, each of the warriors of Kogan Ryuu were killed by a single, incredibly precise strike. That's why at this point Gonzaemon doesn't believe it could have been Irako himself, but as they will soon find out, Irako has surpassed what a blind swordsman ought to be capable of.
  • Break the Cutie: Mie. Subverted by Iku, who has horrible, horrible things happen to her but stays fairly constant throughout. She's a tough lady. She only gets broken when Irako dies at the end of the manga.
  • Break the Haughty: Irako gets full of himself because of his rapid rise in the Kogan school, but loses everything in a short period and has to claw his way back up from nothing.
  • Breast Attack: Iku got this treatment for cheating on her cruel lover Kogan. Later, under duress, she burns her own breast instead of Irako's manhood with a hot iron.
  • Broken Ace: Irako starts out with the advantages of good looks, genius talent, and an advantageous betrothal, but soon ends up crippled and despised. Even after he rises again he's left with a chip on his shoulder.
  • Bulletproof Vest: In the revenge duel, Irako survives a cut to his side because he was wearing kusari (chain mail) woven into his clothes. Bizennokami tells his son that this is a matter of course for a samurai fighting a duel, and that it can in no way be considered underhanded or treacherous. At the same time he admiringly notes that Fujiki came equipped with nothing but his swords, which proves his determination to win using his skill: he knows that one who fears the blade of a blind man has no right to become master of his own dojo.
  • Bury Your Gays: Yamazaki, who was infatuated with fifteen-year-old male pupil Suzunosuke, is killed by Irako shortly after his homosexuality is revealed to the reader. The Funaki brothers don't last long after their introduction either.
  • The Caligula: Tokugawa Tadanaga is a depraved sadist, and he's such a powerful daimyo that a domain of 550,000 koku is subject to his every whim. Not a single person in Sunpu Castle has the courage to end his reign of terror.
  • The Casanova:
    • When he's not training in the Kogan dojo, Irako goes around seducing the pretty girls and women in the area. His conquests include Yae, daughter of a Kakegawa samurai; Fusano, younger sister of Sakurai Hikogurou; Kosuzu, wife of Master Kouta; Yoshi, the tailor's wife; Kimi, daughter of the eatery's owner; and Man, widow of Kayoi Teramachi. His affair with Kogan's concubine Iku is what ultimately gets him in hot water.
    • Yukichiyo, the handsome and strapping third son of Bizennokami, is said to have impregnated no fewer than three female servants of the Haramiishi estate when he was just thirteen years old. Judging by the way he checks out Mie, he's only become more of a ladykiller in adulthood.
  • Central Theme: The evils committed in the name of Honor Before Reason and Blind Obedience.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: The really high level fighters are supposedly just normal humans who have trained a lot, but they demonstrate all kinds of superhuman abilities.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Irako, who instinctively makes the move necessary to save his own life, going so far as to stab through the bones in his right foot to use his ultimate technique and then using the cut to remove the restriction on said attack. Fujiki is also forced to think outside the box in order to come up with ways to counter Irako, and eventually in the match at Sunpu Castle he wins by throwing his famous sword at Iku, closing in on Irako during the distraction, and using Irako's own shoto to carve open his torso.
  • Cooldown Hug: "Bosatsu" Ishida attempts to calm Gonzaemon out of his berserker frenzy during the revenge duel by offering him water. Gonzaemon smiles and looks like he's about to accept the water, but instead he tears out Ishida's stomach and keeps rampaging.
  • Crapsack World: Edo Japan is depicted as an irredeemably unjust society where tyranny and cruelty are rampant. An obviously depraved and bloodthirsty man like Tadanaga can rape and murder his subjects with impunity because he's the daimyo of Surugua and brother of the shogun, and he only gets his comeuppance after his actions threaten the shogunate itself. Inflexible codes of behavior enforced by the constant threat of violence force people to obey even insane or evil leaders, and these same codes frequently scapegoat or punish people for things that aren't really their fault. The code of the samurai demands Disproportionate Retribution for any slight, and the Cycle of Revenge ensures that everyone keeps killing each other forever. The schools of martial arts often behave like groups of thugs that spread misery and pointless violence For the Evulz. It's a No Woman's Land, where women have hardly any rights and are treated with just as much cruelty and violence as men, with the addition of sexual sadism and rape (and even men aren't safe from the latter either, especially nubile male teenagers). Love, compassion, and life itself are fleeting; only the horrors of death and suffering remain constant, along with a sense of total hopelessness, any possibility for a better life being immediately destroyed, and the only possible escape being suicide.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Fujiki and Irako get tangled in this, which ends up destroying them.
  • Deconstruction: It could be argued that the series is a deconstruction of the romanticized image of feudal Japan found in modern media. To be more precise, it highlights the horrors that could happen when insane or evil leaders abuse the system.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The story spares no detail in showing how alien to modern values the morality of the Tokugawa era was, with its focus on Blind Obedience and Honor Before Reason. For example, in an official meeting Fujiki kills another sword teacher for daring to mock the Kogan school, and instead of being arrested he is praised by the witnesses for defending his master's honor.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Supposedly the cause of Iwamoto Kogan's madness after his betrayal by Yagyu. While Munenori recommended Kogan for an interview with the imperial bureaucracy, he knew that Toyotomi Hideyoshi, by then the Retired Regent, also had six fingers. By telling Kogan to hide his sixth finger, the interviewer will naturally take Kogan's attempt to hide said finger to be an insult to Hideyoshi.
    • Also implied to be the reason why Mie commits honorable suicide following Gennosuke's win. Her life was defined by men who blindly follow the will of their lords and masters. When she finally found some kinship in Gennosuke after he begins to grow out of his extreme loyalty, ultimately his final act to Irako (who, while finding him despicable, sees him as a Worthy Opponent) is reluctantly beheading him under Tadanaga's orders. Witnessing this is what makes Mie go over the edge.
  • Diagonal Cut: Many a splendid cut is so neat that it takes a second or two at least for the evidence to appear.
    • Kogan added to his fame when he beheaded six criminals at once with his Shooting Star technique, and two of the criminals' heads remained on their necks.
    • The ceremony of the sticky bean, which is performed on initiates of the Kogan school. Irako, like everyone else before him, is made to kneel before the now-demented Kogan and has a bean stuck to his forehead. Kogan cuts a cross in it, and since the bean and forehead both look intact at first, nobody can feel relief until the bean splits apart but the initiate's head doesn't.
    • In the revengue duel, Gennosuke's arm shows no sign of having been cut through until he tries to grip the hilt of his long sword with it. As soon as he does, it separates from his shoulder and the blood comes rushing out.
    • Happens to characters in many of the imagine spots.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The series claimed to rely on accounts found in the private diary of Suruga's (where Sunpu Castle is located) chief councilor, a document that is handed down in the family of one Tejima Takeichiro.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Violent retaliation follows any form of insult or disobedience. Frequently enforced by the samurai code of honor, in which a response that's disproportionate by modern values is the only acceptable response for a samurai.
    • When Kogan consults Gonzaemon on which of his star pupils—Fujiki or Irako—is stronger and more worthy of marrying Mie and continuing the Kogan lineage, Gonza makes the mistake of endorsing Fujiki "out of respect for Mie-dono". Kogan is so offended by the suggestion that he should consider Mie's feelings at all in this decision that he uses his sword to give Gonza a Glasgow Grin.
    • Any student of Kogan-ryuu is honor-bound to maim the person who dares to insult their style or master in their presence. When Fujiki spars with Shuuzaburou's spear student Inomata Shingo, he uses his wooden sword to amputate all four fingers from Shingo's left hand because the over-enthusiastic youth had carelessly blurted out that Irako Seigen made his name by defeating the renowned Kogan school. He was about to "beautify" Shingo's face as well, before Shuuzaburou intervened and rebuked him.
    • Kogan permanently lost his potential for advancement in rank because his jealous rival told him to hide one of his six fingers when he presented himself before Toyotomi Hideyoshi's official. The official accused him of insulting Hideyoshi—who, unbeknownst to Kogan, also had six fingers on one hand—and he was rejected.
    • Tadanaga crucifies a servant boy and uses him as an archery target for the crime of accidentally treading on the hem of his robes.
    • Chika tears off part of Matahachi's face for blurting out in surprise that she has the anatomy of a man.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Fujiki as he helped maim Irako.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: One of the flashbacks after Mie develops an eating disorder shows her being force-fed a liver by Kogan to encourage her health...except the scene has him forcefully grabbing her from behind while she's in the nude, and the liver is vaguely phallic shaped. By the end, her blank, emotionless stare is on par with a rape victim's.
  • Downer Ending: Fujiki finally got his revenge and killed Irako. In despair, Iku committed suicide. Lord Tadanaga's officials commend him, then order him to cut off Irako's head and stick it on a pike. Fujiki is appalled by this order—by this point, he has come to respect Irako (if not like him), and finds the command disgraceful to Irako's memory. But, when the official invokes his duty as a samurai, he reluctantly obeys, severing Irako's head and humiliating the corpse. Mie, his betrothed, sees that he is still the same puppet that held her down on Kogan's orders to be raped, and kills herself in despair. In the end, Fujiki lost everything to his quest for vengeance, his pride and his wife are dead, and most importantly to him, the Kogan-ryuu school is dead as well. What is left to him is to live as a puppet for the Lord. He attained the highest honor as a samurai, but cannot enjoy any of it as he apparently ended completely mind-broken. Made worse by the fact that in the very first chapter of the manga, Tokugawa Tadanaga is executed for treason and planning a coup, so Fujiki's brief moment of glory, even if it's unimportant to him, will fall sooner than anyone expects.
  • Drunk with Power: Perhaps the whole aesop of the series is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. No person in a position of power ever shows an inch of morality or benevolence but rather wanton cruelty and shameless sadism.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Sanity is a rare quantity indeed in the Japan of Shigurui. Deconstructed in that leaders who don't value sanity eventually do lose their heads. Tadanaga was executed without so much as facing his brother Shogun in a proper war and Kogan's legacy was totally destroyed as well.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Even Gannosuke, who murders Chika's fiances as they come, can do nothing against Tadanaga when he takes Chika as a concubine.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: One night, eleven months after Irako's expulsion from Kogan Ryuu, Irako and Fujiki both serendipitously discover the secret of performing Kogan's Secret Art, nagare boshi, almost at the same time but in different ways.
    • Irako and Iku are set upon by three bandits, and when the blind Irako tries to swing his sword at them he accidentally embeds it deep in a tree trunk. He desperately tries to pull it out and manages to free it at the last moment, cutting through the bodies of his attackers with speed and force that astonish him. This causes him to remember the last thing his eyes beheld—Kogan's nagare boshi—and understand the mechanism by which the blade is charged up and released like a slingshot: in Kogan's case, by holding the tip of the blade with the fingers of his left hand.
    • Fujiki figures out the same thing when he realizes a bottle discarded by Kogan has a hole in it that could have only been created by a person's fingers moving at incredible speed. He goes to a deserted house and experiments on bottles until he discovers the slingshot principle. The next morning when he comes in for practice, Gonzaemon can tell with one look at him that Fujiki has figured it out, and immediately grants him a full license to teach Kogan Ryuu.
  • Eyepatch of Power:
    • Gunzou, one of the seven ronin challenged by Suzunosuke, wears a tsuba eyepatch to look tough. Subverted when Fujiki easily defeats him.
    • Date Masamune, known as the "One-Eyed Dragon of Ōshu" also wears a tsuba eyepatch. The difference is he's legitimately one of the greatest warriors in the country.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Irako has his eyes slashed through, and becomes completely blind.
    • We're shown the legend of how Date Masamune supposedly poked his eye out when he was a child, and immediately ate it.
  • Finishing Move: Irako. Every main character. The Kogan-ryu is basically nothing but this.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
  • For the Evulz: Many of the horrific acts of violence perpetrated throughout the series, whichever the context, are completely pointless and have no benefit other than the sadistic pleasure of the perpetrator and displaying that Power Corrupts everyone, no exceptions.
  • Genre Throwback: This series, both visually and story-wise, brings to mind old Jidaigeki manga like Lone Wolf and Cub.
  • The Ghost: Shogun Iemitsu is talked about by the characters and narration but never depicted directly. His largest influence on the story is ordering the death of his brother Tadanaga, once again from offscreen.
  • Gorn: It's drawn by the same man who made Apocalypse Zero, so this is to be expected.
  • The Grotesque:
    • The third daughter of ranking official Toyooka Souemon was so ugly that people often compared her to a praying mantis. We never see what she actually looks like, because she is represented as a literal praying mantis wearing a kimono. A man named Ishida Hontarou was chosen to be her husband, and his friends expressed their pity, but Ishida loved his homely wife and fathered three children with her. This willingness to see past appearance is part of why people call him "Bosatsu"note  Ishida.
    • Kutsuki Gannosuke was so misshapen and hideous from birth that people compare him to a toad and treat him as subhuman.
    • Anyone dumb enough to challenge the Kogan-ryu has to be given a "new look" before they're sent home, making their noseless, one-eyed, or otherwise mutilated faces a living advertisement for the strength of Kogan-ryu.
  • Guns vs. Swords: Tomoroku the marskman tries to shoot Gennosuke, but the later is able to block the bullet with his katana, and cuts Tomoroku's head for his trouble.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Tadanaga Tokugawa is described as having a "temper like a natural disaster" and anything could set him off and there's no controlling him. Deconstructed in that without control, he had no chance of actually deposing his brother Shogun and was executed instead.
  • Handicapped Badass: Both main characters, eventually: Irako becomes a Blind Weaponmaster, and Fujiki a one-armed master swordsman.
  • Heir Club for Men: According to the customs of Edo Japan, only a male can inherit the leadership of a family institution such as a sword school. A patriarch with no son to carry on his family name must either adopt a male heir or, if he has a daughter, make her husband the successor.
    • Iwamoto Kogan only has a daughter, Mie, so he intends to marry her to the student whom he deems most worthy.
    • Funaki Ichidensai was going to leave his school to his twin sons, who were both fearsome swordsmen and masters of the Funaki specialty of chopping a helmet thrown into the air in half. After the twins are killed by Irako and Fujiki, Ichidensai is still left with his daughter Chika, but even though she's an Action Girl who has mastered the family style, she's disqualified from becoming the grandmaster simply because she's a girl. Her father arranges a helmet-cutting contest between the male students to determine who is worthy to marry Chika, and her husband will become the official head of the school, even if his abilities are inferior to Chika's.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Tokugawa Iemitsu and Tadanaga, grandsons of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
    • A contemporary of their grandfather, Date Masamune, also makes an appearance. Appropriately, the name of the chapter was "One-Eyed Dragon", which is also Date's Real Life nickname. As he meets Tadanaga, he noted Tadanaga's resemblance to Oda Nobunaga, Tadanaga's "granduncle". note 
    • Yagyu Munenori, father of Yagyu Jubei, also appeared as Kogan's rival in the backstory.
    • Toyotomi Hideyoshi is also mentioned, along with the interesting trivia that he had six fingers on one hand, which became a plot point in Kogan's backstory.
  • Honor Before Reason: When Fujiki is being scolded by shogunate officials for his misconduct one of them makes a disparaging remark against his master, and Fujiki immediately kills him with his sword without standing up. The other officials praised his skill and honor for doing so and do not retaliate after.
  • Hypocrite: When Chika protests against her father allowing the grotesque Gannosuke to compete for her hand in marriage, Ichidensai initially defends the latter's right to try, saying that every person should get the opportunity to change their circumstances at least once in their lives. Not only would Gannosuke's right to do so come at the cost of Chika having no say in the life-changing matter of who she marries, but it turns out that Ichidensai only let Gannosuke join the contest because he didn't think the guy could actually win. As soon as he recognizes that Gannosuke might actually be capable of cutting the helmet, he pulls a dirty trick to make sure a different student wins.
  • Ironic Echo: Irako's taunt towards an enraged Gonza in chapter 49 recalls an earlier dialogue between them when Irako entered the Kogan dojo to join as a student.
  • Irony:
    • Fujiki and Irako each receive a famous sword to use in their duel at Sunpu Castle: Fujiki wins by throwing his cursed sword away, defeating Irako with the short blade, while Irako's supposedly peerless sword fails him by breaking under Fujiki's Blade Lock.
    • The final duel is classic dramatic irony, where the audience knows things the characters do not. The spectators see the duel as a farce between two horribly injured warriors, since the one-armed man dropped his sword and the blind man missed his swing. The audience and duelists understand that Fujiki purposefully threw his sword at Iku, who was Irako's eyes, to trick Irako into striking too early.
    • The sword passed down to Fujiki from Kogan is supposed to bring its owner to a bad end, and Mie sees a vision of Fujiki being cut in two before he goes out to fight Irako. She hides this from him, saying she envisioned him victorious. It turns out that Fujiki wins the fight and kills Irako, which is seemingly at odds with those bad portents, but the loss of Mie and of his self-respect makes it a Pyhrric Victory. The sword seems to have been unlucky after all, and Mie's vision may have signified Fujiki's moral rather than actual death.
    • Despite being an era littered with rigid fixation on bushido and fealty to their betters, ultimately the one who ends up succeeding the Kogan-ryuu style and lives comparatively better is Unryuusai, a man who wasn't even a Kogan-ryuu student and the one person who betrayed Kogan by "confirming" Irako's side of his murder when he knew otherwise, later opening his own unofficial Kogan-ryuu school in Edo. By contrast, everyone else who tried to stick to the rules died with nothing left to their name.
  • Karmic Death: Irako gets his revenge for his humiliation by slowly picking off the Kogan-ryuu students involved in his blinding. He kills Shinpachirou Munakata and leaves a bamboo sword in his mouth, referencing the wooden sword he received during the duel, and burns half of Kuroemon Yamazaki's face because he led the group in (attempted) castration via hot iron. Only Suzunosuke is really innocent of that event, but his severed head got an ironic hiding place.
  • The Lad-ette: Chika Funaki is an Amazonian Beauty who chops helmets in half and hits harder than the male students at her family's dojo. She has a very masculine sense of confidence, including her casualness about being topless, and takes an aggressive role in sex with whomever she takes a liking to. These traits are implied to have been learned from her Manly Gay older twin brothers. She also has ambiguous gentials, which she is very insecure about.
  • Manly Gay:
    • Yamazaki may be a little bug-eyed and funny-looking, but he's as strong with a sword as any of Kogan's students, and you wouldn't guess just based on his mannerisms that he's attracted to boys.
    • The Funaki Brothers, Kazuma and Hyoma, are huge, muscular men who can cut helmets in half. The male prostitutes they hire frequently end up with bruises or even broken bones from their rough treatment, but the brothers are so scary that no one dares to complain. While they mention needing to get a bride in order to ease their father's mind, this could either mean they're bisexual or that they use men for fun and women for getting children.
  • Made of Plasticine: Strong characters are depicted being able to rip the nose, face, or entire jaw off of someone using their bare hands, or completely amputate all the fingers from someone's hand using a blunt wooden sword.
  • Might Makes Right: Only the strong and the tough can actually live in the series' Crapsack World. That goes for raw combat ability, but even more so for lords who command huge numbers of warriors through birth and rank.
  • Morton's Fork: In Tokugawa Japan, there are a million ways you could be forced into a choice between two equally bad options.
    • When Irako says that Tadanaga's ape couldn't compare to Fujiki as an opponent, Tadanaga draws his sword and commands Irako to draw. This forces Irako to either disobey a direct order from the great lord, or to violate the rule that no one is to draw a weapon in Sunpu castle on pain of death. He takes a third option by refusing to draw his sword and flattering Tadanaga's belief that he should be shogun instead of Iemitsu.
    • A smaller fork faces Urita Niemon when Sasahara Shuuzaburou shows him his famous "tongue-cutting spear", and asks Urita if he thinks he could really hit a target that small with the point of his spear. Urita is at a loss for words because if he says no, it would be rude, and if he says yes it will sound like flattery. He avoids the question by changing the subject.
    • The former takes place amidst a much harder dilemma: Sasahara Shuuzaburou is commanded by his superior to kill Urita, and present him to Tadanaga as a scapegoat for an alleged spy. Sasahara is loath to murder his innocent guest, but since the alternative is to be witch hunted himself—thus endangering all the other ronin whom he is sheltering at his estate—he decides to sacrifice Urita.
    • All of the daimyo who are invited to spectate at Tadanaga's tournament with real swords at Sunpu Castle have to choose between angering the dreaded lord of Suruga, or participating in an event that the shogunate will surely view as treasonous. At least one of the daimyo who attends ends up having his lands confiscated.
    • At the end of the duel between Fujiki and Irako at Sunpu Castle, Tadanaga's official commands Fujiki to cut off Irako's head so it can be stuck on a pike, telling him that if he truly is a samurai then he must obey his lord. Gennosuke is nauseated at the idea of disrespecting the corpse of his Worthy Opponent, and will lose his self-respect if he does it, but if he refuses then his name is mud: at best he and Mie will be ostracised by society all over again, and at worst they might be put to death. He takes the path of obedience, and it leads to a Downer Ending that was perhaps inevitable in hindsight.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Fujiki delivers a brutal one to an already wounded Irako relatively early in the story. He then proceeds to deliver a harrowing off-screen one to seven ronin later in the story, literally tearing them apart with his fists.
    • Yamazaki, the bug-eyed student of Kogan Ryuu, delivers one to two samurai in a bar, similarly pulverizing their heads with his bare hands when he overhears them disparaging his fencing school.
  • No Indoor Voice: Shuuzaburou's student Shingo speaks in a boisterous and booming manner. Unfortunately he doesn't choose his words carefully when speaking to Fujiki Gennosuke, and gets "beautified" for his carelessness.
  • Not So Different: While disgusted with Fujiki's ability to commit immense violence in the name of protecting the honor of Kogan Ryuu swordsmanship, Sasahara Shuuzaburou is still capable of committing similar atrocities for his own lord, if unwillingly.
  • No Woman's Land: Played with. Shigurui is a very misogynistic setting where women are treated as little more than property or bargaining chips. However, the setting is extremely cruel towards men as well since it's a world where Might Makes Right.
  • Off with His Head!: Gonzaemon decapitates Semimaru with a precise slice. Inexplicably, the already decapitated corpse manages to stab Gonzaemon's leg with his poisoned battle claw.
    • Tomoroku also gets his head sliced by Gennosuke when he tries to run away.
  • Old Master: Funaki Ichidensai made a name for himself when he first performed his feat of cleaving a helmet during the battle of Shizugatake way back in 1583, and now in the Kan'ei era, he's the aged head of his own school.
  • Parrying Bullets: Fujiki defeats an assasin using a matchlock pistol after catching the bullet on the habaki of his sword, which he does by correctly predicting it would be aimed at his forehead and being very lucky.
  • Spike Shooter: Semimaru the manservant carries a poisoned needle in his mouth which he can spit with such strength that it can pierce a fish's eye. Before he could pull this move on Gonzaemon, he's quickly offed.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: There are a few admirable or at least fair officials to be found in the story, contrasting with the corruption around them:
    • Elder Haramiishi Bizennokami, one of the high-ranking officials of Kakegawa supervising the revenge duel, is a man of integrity who calls his son Yukichiyo to learn from Fujiki Gennosuke's example. When Gonzaemon goes berserk, he dares to step up and challenge the the fearsome giant by himself despite this meaning almost certain death, though he is spared having to do this by Irako re-entering the fight. In the aftermath of the duel, Bizennokami saves the lives of multiple officials who would have been put to death by asking to take all responsibility for the fiasco on himself, performing seppuku with his son serving as his kaishaku.
    • Sasahara Shuuzaburou, spear instructor to the Tokugawa clan, kindly shelters Fujiki and Mie in the time before the tournament at Sunpu Castle, exercising great tolerance in response to Fujiki's difficult behavior while trying to advise him about his duel.
  • The Scapegoat:
    • The mysterious murderer hacking up all of the top ranking members of the Kogan-ryuu school had yet to be found, so they planned on making one of their men into the culprit to save face. Two more dead students later, the whole thing was blamed on Sanjuurou Okitsu,who had already expressed doubt over Kogan-ryuu's survival and was killed by Gennousuke.
    • In the time leading up to the tournament at Sunpu Castle, Sasahara Shuuzaburou has twenty-two ronin staying at his estate, including one Urita Niemon and his pregnant wife, Kaya. Sasahara's supervisor, Sone Masatomo, is being pressured to find a spy for the shogun whom Tadanaga is convinced must be lurking at Sunpu. This spy may not even exist, but Tadanaga cannot be reasoned with, and he's bound to take their heads unless they find somebody to take the fall. Therefore, Sone randomly picks a name from the list of Sasahara's guests and commands him to make Urita the spy. At first Sasahara refuses, but after Sone reminds him whom his spear belongs to, he reluctantly returns to his estate and uses his tongue-cutting spear to kill Niemon, Kaya, and their unborn child before they have a chance to know what hit them.
  • Secret Art: Many schools of martial arts, including the Kogan Ryuu, require a blood oath to keep the techniques secret from the uninitiated. Not only are they the source of the school's livelihood, but anyone who knows their techniques could counter them in a duel. Kogan's nagare boshi, his ultimate art, is so secret that he only teaches it to students who reach the highest level of achievement. When he uses it on Irako, he goes so far as to make the uninitiated students put on blindfolds so they don't see it. Irako ends up becoming the first person he ever had to use his secret technique on twice, and when Irako uses it against Fujiki in the revenge duel, it's the first time anyone has ever seen it performed in public, and it amounts to a betrayal of Kogan Ryuu to its enemies.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Mie is so disappointed in Fujiki when he obeys Tadanaga's officials and humiliates Irako's corpse that she commits suicide: her desire to avenge her father, to restore the Iwamoto clan, and to become Fujiki's wife all came to nothing in the end. It's a regular shaggy dog story for Fujiki, since he goes on living but his life is rendered meaningless.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Most of the major fights in the series are concluded by the exchange of decisive blows.
  • Slasher Smile: Ushimata's Glasgow Grin is terrifying when he's coming for you.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality:
    • A very strange case that mixes level 2 (Whores, whores, whores) and level 7 (Can't Stand Men, Can't Live Without Them). On one hand, all female characters of the show are just here to be fucked and discarded like mere prostitutes and/or be taken advantage of. On the other hand, men are not presented as being particularly heroic for doing this to women who are all described as deeply depressed and broken because of how men treat them. But unfortunately, In a World... where Might Makes Right, if a woman can't fight, she has no choice.
    • Sometimes, even if a woman is a warrior, she can't change her fate. Chika (Gannosuke's crush) eventually became Tadanaga's concubine, and can't retaliate when he rapes her because he's the Shogun's brother.
  • The Stoic: Fujiki. Ushimata (who also counts) even lampshades it at one point.
  • Sword Plant: Irako figures out how to weaponize this, embedding the point of his sword in the ground in order to charge up potential energy. It's the same principle as Nagare-boshi, in which a Kogan swordsman grips the tip of the sword in his left hand, but Irako's is more powerful because the earth provides more resistance and he can use his whole body to charge up energy instead of just his upper body. When he breaks the point free, the speed and power of his rising cut are so great that practically nothing can stop it. Eventually he runs into a problem, which is that he cannot use it if the ground he stands on is too soft. In desperation he stabs his point through his foot, and from then on he is able to grip the blade in the enlarged space between his toe bones, making the ground no longer necessary.
  • Taking the Bullet: When Seikun turns his rapier against his master the Kengyou, the hulking manservant Semimaru takes the blade in his shoulder, lifts Seikun into the air, and disembowels him with his battle claw.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Characters in the book are highly suggestible and easily give in to flights of fancy where they see their opponents or themselves as mythical creatures.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Fujiki chose to be Lawful, even if he did struggle at one point.
  • Tiger Versus Dragon: Kogan Iwamoto and after him Gennosuke Fujiki symbolise the Tiger while Seigen Irako symbolizes the Dragon.
  • Tragic Monster: Fujiki. Pity the peasant boy who was given a second chance at life by a master who then went crazy, causing him to be honour-bound to do some evil acts.
  • The Unreveal:
  • Villain Protagonist: Sort of. It's open to debate whether any of the characters are technically a hero.
  • Weird Trade Union: Irako becomes a member of the Todouza, the blind men's guild of Edo Japan. Most of their members work as musicians, masseurs, and acupuncturists, but they have strong connections with the shogun and his government. Shizuhata Kengyou, the supreme leader of the Todouza, gives his support to Irako, making Kogan and his students unable to harm him without severe political consequences.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Be it Kogan himself, Tadanaga or any person in a position of power, utter dementia or mental instability is their characteristic. All leaders are portrayed as rotten to the core and irredeemable, but most of all insane and good cases for life imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital.
  • Wooden Katanas Are Even Better: Some of the most impressive feats shown are done with wooden bokken.
  • World of Badass: Deconstructed. This version of Edo Japan is crawling with legendary swordsmen and freaks of nature but nothing positive nor heroic comes from it for anyone since it only instigates a Vicious Cycle of revenge and death... All for Nothing.
  • Wrecked Weapon:
    • Ushimata is undone when he tries to perform the shooting star technique against Irako, but his death grip on the handle of his sword breaks the wooden peg holding the blade inside the handle, causing him to swing the empty handle while the blade goes flying elsewhere.
    • In the duel before Tadanaga, Irako's supposedly peerless sword fails him in the final duel when Fujiki cuts through the blade at its base.
  • Yandere: Gannosuke decides that he and Chika must be made for each other since they're both deformed (him obviously, her secretly), and murders each of her husbands before she can consummate with any of them.


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