Ichi is a lone goze (blind woman singer) who has become separated from her traveling entertainment troupe. Wondering how she will find her place in life, she carries only a shamisen (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument) and a walking stick with a hidden blade inside. When necessary, she uses her exceptional sword skills to fight off yakuza and other villains.
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Rosy's scrawlings on Ichi
I almost squealed with delight when I realised this manga was a reworking of the Zatoichi legend, one I adore. I'd first run across this story in one of the Zatoichi movies that had been made, only realising that there'd been a tv series before that and that the series hadn't been the first incarnation of this story either. As soon as I realised that this story wasn't one of those set in stone I began treating it much as I do the Hitchhiker's stories by Douglas Adams. If you're familiar with these then you know that there's no version exactly like any other and that's just how Adams liked it. To approach any Zatoichi story you have to be prepared to adopt and adapt the next time you run across it. And that's something else I love about Zatoichi.
In this story, named Ichi (of which I've heard there's a related movie named Ichi too - yes, it will be watched) Zatoichi appears as a blind female skilled in the art of the sword as well as more traditional female arts (music etc) and gambling. Skill at gambling and swordsmanship are a must for any Zatoichi portrayal as is the blindness, the ronin status and the wandering that gradually leads the character into becoming the centre of all the chaos. In this case, Ichi wanders in search of a strength she actually has already but believes she doesn't. Her past is traumatic, to say the least, and to survive a life where many other blind women suffered terrible fates she learns the art of sword fighting, her blindness lending her unexpected abilities. This time Ichi has a travelling companion, one she has become quite attached to but he has no idea that she is. While they have separate missions, they travel together for each other's sake and together become embroiled in the political upheaval surrounding the Black Ships and the arrival of the British in Japan.
When reading this version of Zatoichi, I became as engrossed as ever in the story. Ichi is a brilliant version of the character and the political drama that becomes entwined in her tale interesting. The arrival of the Black Ships begins a chain of events that threatens the samurai way of life, a life she is connected to despite being a unusual ronin. Ichi is a figure who keeps herself as separate as possible from most goings on but those around her recognise her skill and the possibility of her becoming an essential figure in the political world. And in order to protect her friends and companions Ichi's life does become increasingly entwined with the politics of the day.
The art of Ichi is by Shinohara Hana is subtle and carefully drawn, giving of an air of quietness that matches Ichi's personality while occasionally breaking out to reveal the bloody truths of her world in the fight scenes, the aggression of others and the attacks she endures. The expressions are wide ranging, just as the faces are, telling of an attention to detail. The fight scenes flow without interruption and are blended perfectly with the rest of the story. Effort has been put in to produce realism tinged with fantasy and the result is quite beautiful.
I'd recommend this manga to: those who love samurai stories, blind protagonists, the Zatoichi legend and sword fighting.
Notes on manga reader sites
The quality of manga readers can vary. The uploads are often done cheaply or as a serious hobby by a collective. Be aware that sometimes licence hasn't been given but the sites noted above, Manga Fox in particular, are extremely careful about adding and pulling mangas according to license agreements. So you shouldn't have to worry too much about the material being pirated. There are also translated works and non-translated. Amongst the translated works you will find that the quality of translation may vary according to the skills of the translators. Usually the works are perfectly readable anyway, with only a few added or dropped words or a word in the incorrect tense or with/out plurals. But sometimes the text becomes gobbledygook. In which case, either seek another version or give up and buy an official copy once a printed translation comes out. The other issue of note is you may need to expand the screen to read the text easily as sometimes the scans are minimised a little.
I find that if a page doesn't download properly or some other issue occurs (too slow or someone ordered the pages incorrectly etc.) with one reader then skipping across to another reader and picking up where I was is quite easy and rarely annoying.
Otherwise, enjoy and watch out you don't get too addicted you forget about the necessary things in life.