Sunday, June 22, 2014

Okko: The Cycle of Fire by Hub

I've been reading Okko for a while now. I've been waiting for this volume to come out for what seems like years. Part of the problem is that it's a translated comic so even when it looks like it's ready, it may not be. Okko follows the path of a samurai turned ronin who is actually a monster hunter that travels with a drunken monk, Noshin,  and a fellow warrior, Noburo, who is apparently half-oni or something of that nature. They have a bit of a follower, Tikku, with them who joined them in volume one. As each Cycle comes and goes, the cast ages. At this point, Okko has suffered the loss of a hand and is mighty gray haired.

The art by Hub continues to be highly visually engaging. He uses a lot of smooth lines and great use of colors to capture the mood and elements of the setting he's created. The story? For me it wasn't the best. A little too much is revealed after the fact. It all fits into the setting and the world as presented mind you but continues to push Pajan into chaos.

Just when I thought it was getting good, the Cycle ends with the promise of one final Cycle to come, ominously named the Cycle of Emptiness.

Would I suggest people buy and read this?

Yes.

While Samurai tales are easy to find and have a rich history in comics and film, having 'mythic' elements to them like the recent movie, 47 Ronin did, are more rare. Mind you I'm not saying you can't find a thousand movies based on Ancient China mind you where the magic and monsters are fast and furious, but for me, actual Samurai action that has supernatural elements to them that are assumed part of the landscape? Not so much.

In addition, the visual designs are simply nice to look at. Because in this book Okko is a guardsman at a wedding, and is part of a huge cast of guards, we see a lot of different characters and a lot of different stations. It's all well told visually and would make a fantastic movie.

For me, because I'm a fan of Legend of the Five Rings and am always looking for some 'Appendix N' style inspiration, this is a great volume. For me it doesn't hit the story high notes that previous volumes have, but that may just be the nature of it's place in the series and it could all be clearer when the Cycle of Emptiness comes out.

In terms of world building, I find it more enjoyable. For example, readers have come to know Okko through multiple volumes here. He's got a certain reputation among various clans and specific people, but to the common folk who may just be studying at a university or 'official' history? He essentially doesnt' exist. No matter how awesome his adventurers, he's just a 'lowly' ronin.

Another nice bit is the various ways magic interact. Okko needs some time to restore an old scroll that has been burned and needs the aid of a fire elemental, such a being is prohibited by others in the area and there is much talk and compromise reached. But that leads to other issues where other factions think that the fire caused by the elemental are committed by a third party. Conflict and misunderstandings are rife in this volume which provide more fuel for the action.

In terms of role playing? Yeah, Okko and his group of allies, as ronin, fit perfectly as player characters. There is a scene where Tikku is caught kissing the bride to be of a noble. That noble goes mad with rage and tries to kill him. Okko cuts him down with little thought or regard as to what will happen to the country at that point.

That's so player character I say.

Another think I like, and it fits in well with the timing, is that Okko and his allies are competent. Even with the whole of a nation after them, they're able to lay low for years. All too often it seems that 'murder mystery' style games are able to resolve issues without having access to the tools and science that we have today, but using the same methodology. Maddening. None of that nonsense here. Part of the problem with some of the higher magic settings is that it's just too easy to bring out the CSI Waterdeep without having to do any actual leg work.

There's also a nice symmetry in the haunting by the shade Okko killed. Being such a powerful swordsman, Okko cut his foe in half from head to crotch. The left side haunts the flirty bride while the right side haunts the father, urging him to slay Okko. It's a great visual that you might not catch the first time you read it.

Okko Cycle of Fire was a long wait and it'll be a long one till the next cycle. It's currently available from Amazon for under $15 bones.