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If you aren't familiar with the manga series Samurai Deeper Kyo (SDK) and you glance at the first volume or two, you'll find some slapstick humor, a certain amount of fan service, sword fights against monstrous opponents - and a few elements of mystery and mysticism. The series actually gets a lot more serious as it goes on, and becomes rich in both characters and plot, but it's hard to tell from those first volumes. I wanted to get across some of the feel of the meat of the series, and I settled on talking about this two-issue "special," which is included at the end of vol. 11 in the U.S. edition.

"Dragon of the Blue Sky" covers a major incident in the youth of SDK character Sanada Yukimura, who is not the star of the series. Although flashbacks with tasty bits of character background are scattered throughout the series for all the major characters, Yukimura is the only one to have his own separate gaiden - so I think that mangaka Kamijyo Akimine likes him as much as I do.

At this point in the series, the adventurers have just encountered another of Kyo's former allies, the huge bruiser called Bontenmaru, who brings them a message from Kyo's old mentor Muramasa, who is dying and wants to see Kyo. At Muramasa's place, after the party have their first real encounters with the mysterious Mibu Clan, the current storyline pauses for "Dragon of the Blue Sky."

At this point, we have seen Yukimura most frequently as a short, slightly-built, often-tipsy trickster, many years older than he looks, who cavorts lewdly with teahouse girls in public, dresses in drag to enter a tournament before his arch-enemy the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and seems to know gossip about everyone. But he's also an excellent swordsman, and Ieyasu fears him as a dangerous opponent who means to overthrow the Tokugawa regime. We've observed his tense relationship with his beloved older brother, Nobuyuki, who has made some odd political choices. Finally, we've seen that harming a helpless person (even a defeated enemy) or one of Yukimura's friends will put him into a cold rage, during which he can chop an opponent in half vertically with a single blow. We're about to learn more about what's made him this way.

(I apologize for the quality of the scans: Kamijyo uses a lot of very fine shading, and it hasn't all come out very well.)

"Dragon of the Blue Sky part 1" finds Kyo & co. a few days back down the timeline, apparently on the road to Muramasa's (we can tell, because Bontenmaru is part of the group). The party has camped for the night in an overhang on the edge of a cliff, and the rest of the group doesn't share Yukimura's enthusiasm for the beauty of the scene:


Sanada Yukimura: swordsman, joker, guerilla leader, bon vivant - and aesthete.

After one rude comment too many about Yukimura, Saizo, one of the "Sanada Ten" (loyal ninja warriors who serve and guard Yukimura), appears to defend his master, explaining that the Yukimura that the party sees nowadays is not the real Yukimura. Yukimura then offers to tell the others about the "Real Me" as a way of passing the time. His usual smile drops from his face, and he draws his sword as he begins:


Yukimura prepares to tell his tale. Center panel, top to bottom: Saizo, Benitora, Bontenmaru (l), Yuya (r), Kyo, Sasuke the younger (l), Okuni (r).

On the page facing the one just shown, against the backdrop of a medieval Japanese castle, Yukimura's narrated outline of his family's political situation nearly 20 years earlier is presented as a voiceover in the third person. As the second son of the small Sanada clan, he was sent as a hostage to the more powerful Uesegi clan in exchange for military support. But when the Sanadas were threatened with a direct attack by the Tokugawas, the honorable Uesegis sent Yukimura back to stand with his father and brother against the invaders.

"Sanada Saemon Yukimura was just beginning his eighteenth summer," says today's Yukimura. And we see him, sweet-faced and rather disheveled, no sword in sight, running down a steep path toward a village. The scene switches to the interior of the castle, where Nobuyuki, who must be about 20, is infuriated because his younger brother has run off again. Their father, Masayuki (who's playing Shogi with Kosuke, the young girl who will grow up to become Yukimura's cross-dressing kagemusha), remains calm during his eldest son's harangue. Two of the Sanada Ten (the young Saizo and the elder Sasuke) show up, and the four men discuss Yukimura's overly gentle nature. Masayuki defends his younger son by pointing out that he would be an excellent ruler in peaceful times, and notes that he and the head of the Uesegi clan both think that "a dragon sleeps inside Yukimura."

Meanwhile, Yukimura's village sweetheart Mizuki is delivering a bit of "September Morn"-style fanservice as she bathes in a stream near the village, to the secret delight of a group of young boys hiding in the bushes. There's a funny scene as Yukimura joins the boys, then unwisely breaks their cover. Eventually, while Yukimura is watching Mizuki and the children play ball, the two Sanada ninja show up to try to persuade him to return to the castle:


Top: Sanada Ten members Saizo (l) and the elder Sasuke (c) catch up with young Yukimura. The density and detail of this page is typical of most of the series. The odd arm stretch that Yukimura is doing as he says "My position ..." (middle row, left) would be recognizable to regular readers - it's something Yukimura still does "today."

In the ensuing conversation, Yukimura explains that he has no reason to fight: the Uesegi have convinced him that his family is going to be destroyed no matter what they try to do. Then the three men hear the children and Mizuki screaming. A pack of wolves (!) has shown up to menace the youngsters. But the wolves run away whimpering as Yukimura stares them down, and for the first time we see signs of the grim opponent that he can be in the present timeframe.

And then he faints, to the disgust of the children.

The ninjas give up: as Sasuke Sr. notes, none of his ninja skills are good for persuasion, and in any case, Yukimura will have to find his own reason for fighting.

The scene changes to the interior of Mizuki's house, where she is serving Yukimura supper. Although she plainly loves him, his attitude toward the samurai values that her parents taught her to hold dear distresses her.


 

Finally, she comes up with an idea that reaches him: "Protect me and the children ... think of that as the reason you were born a Sanada." You can almost see the little lightbulb going on in his head (fortunately Kamijyo doesn't draw it, though ...): "OK, I'll protect you."

Later on that evening, alone, Mizuki combs her hair and daydreams about Yukimura, then admonishes herself: "He's much too high-class for me!" And up in the castle, Yukimura is practicing a little calligraphy ... maybe love poems?

Then all hell breaks lose, and the end of Yukimura's boyhood begins.

The Tokugawa forces arrive. Yukimura hears the alarm bells from the town and rushes to the window, where he sees the houses below the castle are on fire. Running downstairs, he demands that his father send the Sanada troops to save the village. Masayuki, known historically as a crafty tactician, refuses. He's already sent Sasuke and some of the others to evacuate the townspeople, and his plan is to allow the Tokugawa troops to become involved in sacking the town and then fall on them while they are occupied. Unfortunately, he only says that "most" of the townsfolk have already escaped. Yukimura immediately assumes the worst and starts to run outside as he is, completely unarmed. A fully armored Nobuyuki catches him almost immediately.


Nobuyuki takes a hands-on approach to correcting his wayward brother. Their father, Masayuki, is at top right.

Yukimura, shockingly, decks his older brother with a single punch, and runs off. His father lets him go, saying that tonight they will see whether the dragon inside his younger son awakes - or sleeps forever.

Now, at the end of Part 1, in a grim echo of the first part of the tale, we see Yukimura running down the same road in the dark, the burning village ahead of him, as he thinks "Mizuki, wait for me."

As Part 2 opens, Yukimura arrives in town to find the place in chaos, houses burning and last-minute evacuees milling about screaming. He encounters his young village playmates and is relieved to find them safe, but to his horror, they tell him that Mizuki couldn't get away after she helped them to escape. The scene shifts to Mizuki, running, almost at her last strength, clutching her father's sword as she encounters a group of Tokugawa solders who announce that they plan to "have a little fun" before they kill her. She screams for Yukimura, and when he shows up, the troopers flee without a fight, echoing the encounter with the wolves.

Everything seems well, but Mizuki insists that Yukimura take her father's sword, and he puts his arm around her to hurry her along. Then, suddenly, you can see the horrified realization come over him: she has a grave wound on her back. She smiles up at him, says "Thank you" - and dies.

Yukimura collapses in an alley, sobbing, the dead girl in his arms.

He's not left alone with his grief for long. The Tokugawa troops, perturbed by the mostly empty town, are alert, and one of them points him out to a commander, By his clothing, they can tell that they've caught something more interesting than a young townsman - despite the fact that he appears to be unarmed (the sword is on the ground behind him). The commander offers impressive rewards to the man who takes the youth's head. We see another poignant shot of Yukimura cradling his beloved, then the plain sword that belonged to her father being unsheathed (just a bit of the hilt, the first few inches of shining blade, and a section of the scabbard are shown) - and the page turns to a double-paged scene of devastation as Yukimura cuts down the entire troup before the horrified commander's eyes. On the next pair of pages, the commander himself takes on the unarmored boy, but he can't do more than wound the youth. "That's not even close," remarks Yukimura calmly, as he pulls the commander's blade from his own shoulder, astonishing the man. "Mizuki's pain is far greater ... far greater." Those are the last words that the Tokugawa commander will hear:


The dragon awakes: Yukimura unleashes his signature move for the first time.

Eventually Yukimura, once again carrying Mizuki's body, encounters Saizo, Sasuke, and a band of Sanada troopers. They kneel in respect before him, and the ninja request his orders. He responds with dignity, issuing a series of crisp commands, but wraps them up with what will become another of his well-known quirks (from the viewpoint of a typical samurai): "And finally, do not die!" In our last view of the young man, he is stating resolutely "From this night forward, I am a warrior."

Back in the present day of the manga series, the more sentimental members of Yukimura's audience are in tears. He, however, has once more become his usual chipper self, smiling and unreadable, the naked sword casually balanced against his shoulder. In response to sympathetic remarks from the others, he answers flippantly " ... if it were true, it sure would be sad ... ! Well, I'm off to bed ... bye now!" Completely shaken up, those who were most affected by the story shout insults as he leaves, but young Sasuke, a present-day member of the Sanada Ten, calmly remarks to Kyo and Okuni (who are rarely moved emotionally), "A bad liar, as always."

Walking along the cliff, Yukimura apologizes courteously to his faithful Saizo for putting him through the recitation and the memories it must have aroused. Then he continues on along the path until he is completely alone, and carefully sheathes his sword - Mizuki's father's sword. And I will let Kamijyo's own drawings and words tell the rest:




(Note that the name "Mizuki" is usually translated as "beautiful moon.")

That's it ... hope you enjoyed this preview of the series ... and are going to read the rest!

 

Comments

( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
meganbmoore
Mar. 30th, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
Hmm...you know, I never realized it, but young longhaired Yukimura kinda looks like long haired Kyoshiro(not intentional, I know)

I wish we had more Noboyuki, I rather like him. I think he actually got more attention in the anime(ditto for Saizo)

And I've been trying to remember what volumes that story was in.
chomiji
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:12 am (UTC)

Magan, which volumes which story was in? > very confused <

Nobuyuki makes me cross - he has a stick up his butt at least as badly as Shinrei does, and he doesn't have as much of an excuse (did it ever occur to you that "screwing with Shinrei's brain" is the Mibu National Sport? spoiler whited out: Even Yukimura takes it up when he "joins" ...). I'm noodling away at a fanfic about young Kosuke in their household, and he won't let her tag after him when Yukimura has to go to the Uesegi's.

(Hey, you were posting at vierran45's! I think I sort of know her from the DWJ mailing list, and I was recommending SDK to her the other week!)

meganbmoore
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:19 am (UTC)
Yukimura's backstory. Basically I went "hunh, which volume WAS that story about Yukimura in again?" a couple weeks ago(or not that long...when we talked about SDK fanfic, whenever I read it after your post.)

Noboyuki has potential, he just doesn't get a lot of development. I think he's the token proper, traditional samurai(though in his way, Yukimura is in a lot of ways, too)

I can completely get behind that theory about Mibu sports. Poor Shinrei, he's just so incredibly easy to pick on...

Oooo...I know her from doramas...what's DWJ?
chomiji
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:26 am (UTC)

DWJ = Diana Wynne Jones, very very fine YA/children's fantasy author. The topic of my two posts previous to this.

meganbmoore
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)
aaah, yes. I remember her posts on that now. And your. I've read her first wizard school book(unless I'm thinking the wrong author for the book)
chomiji
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:33 am (UTC)

Wizard school? Perhaps Witch Week (alternate universe where magic is illegal, and set in school for "witch orphans and other children with problems"), or Charmed Life (a young witch and her meek younger brother go to live & study at Chrestomanci Castle)? She didn't really write a "wizard school" book, per se ... (coincidentally, both of those pre-date Harry Potter ...)

meganbmoore
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:41 am (UTC)
Urm...2 kids find a book in a library and if you can read it, you have the potential to be a wizard...or something

There are a LOT of Harry Potter-esque books that far predate HP. Heck, in a lot of ways, HP is the all ages version of Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic. (None of this is meant to undermine HP-it's popular for a reason-just, you know...fans think she created the genre or something and she didn't-she's just the one that made it big. Rather like Rurouni Kenshin and samurai manga or Fushigi Yugi and "girl in another world" manga-it wasn't the first-or even most highly regarded- just the one to get the most attention and bring the genre to attention)
chomiji
Apr. 1st, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)

That book, I don't think it's by who you think it is ... certainly doesn't sound like any DWJ I know ... !

I think you're thinking of Diane Duane's So You Want To Be a Wizard, which oddly enough was just reviewed by Oyceter. Does that sound like it?

meganbmoore
Apr. 1st, 2007 03:31 am (UTC)
Ah yes, that's it.

Sometimes I think I love in the Hotaru-verse with my memory.
chomiji
Apr. 1st, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)

Sumbitch, apparently you can't link in replies? Heh - well, the URL of Oyceter's review of that book is

http://oyceter.livejournal.com/572164.html

meganbmoore
Mar. 31st, 2007 02:28 am (UTC)
back to SDK...
I was looking through vols 17-19-ish the other day because someone asked me about an event, and I realized that I HAVE met Tokito. I guess she just didn't register. Which really doesn't bode well for my supporting her and Akira, which I understand is what happens at the end. It's actually rather odd that she didn't register for me at all...even Shinrei and Mahiro-2 characters I didn't really care for at first(but now love) registered so that I recognized them instantly later on, but I've been seeing pictures of Tokito all over the place lately and didn't notice, and she was also part of a sequence I rather like(Bon and Akira underground is rather fun...actually, Bon being Bon and his overgrown softie self is just fun)

Thought of you when I realized that because I seem to remember you saying you didn't see how she'd be good for him-I'd have to agree from what I've seen. It seems to be more about him being good for her(which I guess I can see) but I'm more concerned about what's good for Akira(not exactly fair or openminded of me, I guess, but...)
chomiji
Apr. 1st, 2007 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: back to SDK...

Yes, that's Tokito all right. But you're supposed to think she's a boy at this point. You'll notice Bon keeps saying "he" when he thinks about her. I think Kamijyo sort of spoiled that by putting her in that silly shorts outfit with the big obi with the cord and the fluffy bow in the back - IMO, if there was any obi, it should have been the little perky butterfly bow one like Hotaru and Benitora have. Theirs look girly to modern Western eyes but we've seen those two guys wearing them, so it wouldn't have confused things so much.

I like Bon, even if his personal habits are a little skuzzy. He's very sweet and mellow and terribly loyal. Tokito, on the other hand - well, vol. 22 should be coming out at the beginning of May. And there's at least one scene in there that lets Tokito show just what kind of critter s/he really is .... .

meganbmoore
Apr. 1st, 2007 03:39 am (UTC)
Re: back to SDK...
When I saw her, I remembered wondering at the time if Tokito was a boy or a girl, but thinking probably girl.

Bon is darling. In need to personal hygiene classes, but darling. I'm not sure it's possible to stay mad at him. Vol 22 doesn't come out until may...tokyopop hates me(not just for sdk)
ipperne
Apr. 1st, 2007 07:43 am (UTC)
*eats SDK cookie* A cookie with a very good taste I must say.

actualy this is the first time I've read an intruduction to SDK that does tell what it's all about and get around most of the characters but doesn't give all the good parts away at the same time.
chomiji
Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:32 pm (UTC)

Thanks for saying so! Now, if only we'd get some new readers who are tempted by this little taste ....

- Cho

ipperne
Apr. 3rd, 2007 02:00 pm (UTC)
Actually I wanted to ask you if I could place your post on my homepage? or link to it or something... (with credit to you of course) I always wanted have something about the actual series on the page, among all the weird stuff, but I couldn't write anything myself so it just never happened...
chomiji
Apr. 3rd, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC)

Sure! I'm flattered. As a webmaster-type person, I'd say "link to it." That way you don't have to use up your storage with the big scans.

- Cho

ipperne
Apr. 3rd, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
Wonderful!
Thanks.
I'll go right ahead and put the link up, though the scans wouldn't have been a problem, since my page's not based on how large the files is, but on how many there is.
wasabi_girl1
Apr. 17th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
Hurray for Yukimura! He rocks. So much. :D
chomiji
Apr. 19th, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC)

He really does! I get so sick of fanfics that turn him into a total slut ... it's a lot more complicated than that.

Take care!

- Cho

(Anonymous)
Aug. 23rd, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
Hello
I'm new here, just wanted to say hello and introduce myself.
chomiji
Aug. 23rd, 2008 02:29 am (UTC)
Re: Hello

Well, hello back! But you're not logged in to you LiveJournal account (if you have one), so I can't tell who you are ... .

rehd_fawx
Dec. 11th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm sold. hcolleen has been trying to get me to watch/read SDK for well over a year now. I feel like a tool for putting it off, seeing how much the characters develop and how nicely the story curves itself around. Much thanks!
chomiji
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)

Sorry I never answered this!

The anime doesn't compare to the manga - the artwork is much worse, and the convoluted main plot gets completely messed up. But ... if you've started the manga, the first few volumes are pretty bad! It starts tp pick up with Yukimura's entrance at the end of vol. 3 - See rachelmanjia's writeup of vols. 1-5 as well.



Edited at 2010-01-05 12:40 pm (UTC)
hcolleen
Jan. 10th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
I hope you don't mind terribly that I used this entry for backstory for a roleplay. *hides*

I've only run across a few series that was better animated than manga and that was because it was easier to keep track of who's who in the story (off the top of my head Ouran High School Host club and Junjou Romantica). I've read the first 7 volumes, but then moved out from where they were being collected and my budget was tight so I went with GetBackers as my 'long series' to collect (since I'd already started with it). I'd love to pick up SDK again...though, admittedly, I watched it first and only for Yukimura's Japanese seiyu.
chomiji
Jan. 17th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: "Dragon of the Blue Sky" write-up

Well, of course I don't mind that you used it for your role-play ... it's really Kamijyo-sensei's work, not mine!

The published SDK story is getting really intense now, because it's the and of the final arc. I have read these last chapters before, in my friend sanada's translations at hana-mi.net, but that's not the same as having a book in your hand (although I do like sanada's versions of some of the dialog better).

I just read Loveless for the first time recently and did a write-up for it - people have said some pretty interesting things in the discussion there.

hcolleen
Jan. 17th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
Re: &quot;Dragon of the Blue Sky&quot; write-up
Loveless is an odd ball. I'm waiting for it to be finished...and I just checked my shelf and amazon...I need to get volume 8.

Because it's a bad habit of mine...have you tried Cantarella? The art is lovely, the story complex. You might enjoy it. (I did read that you preferred manga...personally, it depends on what I'm doing which I prefer, though I do tend to watch a lot and read a lot, so you could say I like both, though it was anime that drew me into this wonderfully twisted little world :D )

Thank you and thank you for replying.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

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