It took me a bit to recover from the excitement of Otakon, but I'm back to deliver yet another Old School Month! Let's start with an obscure little treasure from my own personal collection.
REBEL SWORD (Kurd no Hoshi), by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. First published in 1985 and first published in North America in 1994.
Jiro is a half-Turkish, half-Japanese boy who hasn't seen his parents in years since they disappeared somewhere in Turkey. Out of the blue, he gets a letter from his mother urging him to come to Istanbul. What Jiro finds is a strange man and a strung-out belly dancer claiming to be his mother, but that's the least of his worries once the military show up.
Rebel Sword is a bit of challenge. Part of that is because I'm not reviewing an entire volume but instead the equivalent of the first chapter, which limits how much there is to talk about in the first place. The other part is that Rebel Sword is kind of unique for a Yoshikazu Yasuhiko manga. It's an unusually contemporary work (relatively speaking), being neither a historical tale nor a retelling of one of his better known works.
That's part of what makes Rebel Sword so interesting, though. Yasuhiko apparently has a fascination with Turkey; after visiting the country as part of research for his 1986 film Arion, he would create this manga and later on set a late battle unique to Gundam: The Origin at Cappadoca. It's also telling that he chose to focus this story on the Kurds and their ongoing struggle for independence. Most Americans only ever hear about them in relation to their battles with the Iraqi government (if they have heard of them at all), but their traditional homeland overlaps both Iraq and Turkey and at the time this manga came out Kurdish fighters were clashing with the Turkish army. It's a struggle that not only appeals to Yasuhiko's well-documented interest in politics and the struggles of underdogs against larger colonizing forces, but it's one that holds loads of potential for both intrigue and action.
At this early point, there's not much to say about Jiro. He's an earnest kid, but he's clearly in over his head from the moment he steps into Istanbul. It's hard to not feel for when he's told that his loving mother has supposedly turned into a sleezy junkie too out of it to notice her own son, and it's easy to share his growing suspicions that she (and Karim, the man who lured him out there in the first place) are not all that they seem. The rest of the chapter is one action set-piece after the next, as Jiro flees the military police, grab a ride from a passing motorcyclist, and ending with an explosive finale. Yasuhiko does a good job maintaining the sense of chaos without losing the clarity of Jiro's actions. This is mostly set-up, but there's enough of a hook here to draw readers in and keep them compelled.
Not shockingly, Yasuhiko's art here is just as good as any of the later works of his we've seen in English. In particular, his knack for drawing action shines in this issue. It's not just in the most obvious places like the multi-stage chase that ends the volume, but also in the fluidity of the belly dance that Jiro watches. I also found his page layouts very interesting. Most of the time it's very orderly and unremarkable beyond his unusual fondness for horizontal panels versus vertical. Once things get chaotic, though, this begins to shift. The sound effects, characters, and even the panels themselves start to burst out and tumble out of its rigid framework.
Like most manga releases from the early 1990s, this was released like an American-style comic book, with the images flipped and the SFX redrawn. Since this is an early Dark Horse release, that also means that the translation was done by the legendary team at Studio Proteus. Their touch-up work on the effects and lettering is masterful and the translation itself is natural and smooth (and unlike their work on Venus Wars, none of the names were Americanized).
This series was published by Dark Horse. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. 6 issues (equivalent to 1 volume) were released and are currently out of print.
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