As someone who has spent a patently absurd amount of time playing Legend Of The Five Rings, a role-playing game heavily inspired by Far Eastern cultures, it’s always fascinating to me to see how lacking my knowledge of Japan actually is. Books like this one gently correct my misperceptions, in the most interesting way possible.
Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of the Magical History Tour series which, while written for kids, is full of thought-provoking information for curious minds of all ages. This twelfth installment focuses specifically on Japan’s samurai: who they were; how they came about, came to power and declined, and the hold they continue to have on the world’s imagination. It’s a wholly absorbing book that presents its information clearly and without prejudice, and is honestly an essential primer for anyone who doesn’t know much — or who wants to know more — about this topic.
The seriousness of the subject matter is greatly leavened by the presence of Annie and Nico, our young present-day narrators. The story actually begins when Nico continually loses his cool while they’re playing a game of badminton. Annie suggests that staying calm will help him focus, much like the samurai believed. Nico, ofc, has no idea who they are, launching the two on their magical tour through history. Our narrative duo are perpetually charming, even if I, like Annie, feel that Nico maybe shouldn’t be trusted with sharp blades quite yet.
Sylvain Savoia’s art is the perfect accompaniment to Fabrice Erre’s thoughtful prose. Whether depicting the humor of Annie and Nico’s antics, the solemnity leading into a seppuku ritual or the chaos of mass combat, his clean, kinetic lines and meticulous attention to detail perfectly illustrate the subject matter, no matter the tone. He’s truly one of the most versatile comics artists working today.
I learned so much about samurai culture and historical context with this book, ably translated from the French by Nanette McGuinness. But the biggest surprise for me came at the end of the volume, with Jim Salicrup’s traditional letter from the editor. In it, he informed readers that Papercutz, the publisher of these great all-ages graphic novels, has been acquired by Mad Cave Studios. I don’t know how to feel about that, tbh, but I’m happy that the editorial team gets a rest before pursuing new endeavors. I wish them all the best, with my gratitude for all these wonderful books they’ve brought us so far.
Magical History Tour Vol. 12: The Samurai by Fabrice Erre & Sylvain Savoia was published yesterday April 18 2023 by Papercutz and is available from all good booksellers, including