While I occasionally delve into personal details about myself, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about my religious leanings. I only share them now because they have relevance to this review.
While I was raised in a fairly traditional White Anglo Saxon Protestant home, as I made my way out into the world, I frequently found myself at odds with many of the beliefs I was raised with. Over time, I began to seek out other ways of looking at the world, and man’s place in it, at which point I because more interested in the teachings of eastern spirituality.
While I would be slow to call myself a hardcore follower of any tradition or school of thought today, for a long time I practiced the teachings of the Buddha. There was a beautiful simplicity in his messages about life, and how we should approach it, and even now, many years later, I find a kind of peace in reading and reflecting on those teachings.
I mention all of this because reading this book this week filled me with the same kind of peaceful energy, even though this is a book of war and suffering. Perhaps it was the beautiful art, or the deceptive simplicity of the story, but Hitomi by HS Tak and Isabella Mazzanti and published by Image Comics really struck a chord with me, and I knew I needed to put it on people’s radars.
Hitomi is a book I have not seen a lot of hype for, and I hope I can help change some of that today. So let’s give it a look see and see if we can figure out what it is about this book that spoke to me so deeply.
Here’s the blurb: In Feudal Era Japan a drifter with no prospects begins training in secret under Yasuke a once-famous displaced disgraced warrior as she struggles to find her place in a society entrenched in discrimination and violence.
Combining the historical sweep and elegance of Kurosawa with the visceral action of Tarantino this saga follows the trials and tribulations of a young female warrior who travels the countryside unendingly as she works to gain the rank of Samurai-a title no man monster or myth can give to her but one that she will have to take for herself.
There’s a lot going on in this book, and I mean that in the best of possible ways. Our protagonist, Hitomi, is a young woman on the path of revenge. Her family was slaughtered when she way younger, by a mysterious black ronin. Hitomi has vowed to find him and avenge her family’s death, but it is quickly made obvious just how woefully unprepared she is for this task.
Meanwhile, as Hitomi attempts to hunt this man down, we see that his life has taken a turn for the worst. Reduced to a novelty act sumo challenger, he spends most of his days suffering, and praying for the means to return to his home. Those who know him speak ill of him, and it become very obvious that he will die in this life, never seeing the home he dreams of.
Hitomi is a book about broken people. They have dreams and goals, but there is no indication that they will ever achieve them, or could achieve them, or would even feel anything if they did achieve them. Hitomi is all fire and anger, but it is a fire without focus, and her aimless drifting, searching for revenge, has so consumed her that should she actually find the man she’s looking for, Yasuke, she wouldn’t have a chance of actually threatening him. Her desire is pure, but it burns so bright she is blinded by it completely.
Yasuke himself is also a tragic figure. A shell of his former self, he’s as damaged by his past as the people he harmed, but unlike them he has to shoulder the extra burden of living with the memories of what he has done, or at least that what it seems to be from this first issue. There is a lot of unexplored depth to this character, and I am excited to see where it goes.
Hitomi is a revenge story, but HS Tak tells it in little vignettes that follow our cast as they hurdle towards their eventual meeting. Individually they are almost all peaceful, and you can hear the quiet music playing in your head while you read it. That peacefulness makes the few moments of violence in the first issue hit that much harder, something that writers of slam bang action could learn a lesson from.
Of coursem, I have to mention Isabella Mazzanti’s gorgeous art in this book. She has perfectly captured the feeling of this time, with beautifully expressive characters and quiet, almost zen-like imagery. I was hooked on the first page and found myself going back to give each panel another look, just marveling at how well the images are rendered. Hitomi does not look like anything put out by the big two right now, and that’s a very, very good thing.
The first issue of Hitomi drops in October, so ask your local shop to add it to your pull. It’s a beautiful and surprisingly complex book, with a fresh take I think you’ll enjoy.
Until next time, stay safe.