Sky Hawk review – Western comics manga style

It’s time once again to delve into the rich back catalogue of the late acclaimed mangaka Jiro Taniguchi. His previous work has garnered him acclaim all over the world, with accolades including the Japan Cartoonists Association Awards’ Excellence Award, the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prizes’ top honour, an Ignatz Award nomination, several Eisner Award nominations and being knighted as a chevalier in France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2011. This latest English language edition sees him tackle the western genre.

Two defeated samurai are exiled from Japan during the Boshin War of 1868 as the new Meiji government took hold. Ending up in Crow Territory in North America, they encounter Crazy Horse, chief of the Oglalas, and soon form a profound friendship and respect for each other’s cultures. This respect was felt so deeply that the two Japanese travellers end up fighting alongside the Oglalas at the infamous encounter at Little Bighorn.

As stated by the late European comics legend Jean “Moebius” Giraud in his introduction to this edition, Band Dessinee (French comics) is where the western genre took shelter and flourished in the world of comics – Moebius’ classic Blueberry series being a prime example of this. But as Moebius also describes, Taniguchi jumped into this genre and made it his own. Whilst the samurai and western genres have some strong differences, there is some overlap with certain themes that makes Taniguchi well qualified for this style of story.

The travelling loners is one such theme, so it’s not surprising that Hikosaburo and Manzoare are able to drop so seamlessly into the western setting. Additionally, Taniguchi gets to play against the traditional white saviour narrative by keeping his samurai protagonists’ identity in tact rather than fully integrating them into Native American culture. Likewise, there is no attempt to assimilate Japanese culture onto the Native American tribe they join with. Rather, there is a mutual respect between both cultures that gives Taniguchi the opportunity to explore both. It isn’t often you see this level of care and research go into a western comic which adds further to its authenticity.

Much like his previous work, Taniguchi has a far more understated style than what you would see in most mainstream manga. There are no exaggerated facial expressions or body features to be found here. Instead we get a cleaner traditional style that is a perfect fit for this more grounded and serious style of storytelling. As to be expected, he excels at both the dramatic and quieter moments, but also demonstrates a great level of care in how he portrays both his Japanese Samurai and Native American characters, with both coming across as authentic without having to resort to stereotypes.

This is another enthralling entry in Taniguchi’s back catalogue. A must read for any fans of his work and anyone looking for an interesting take on US/Native American history.

Sky Hawk is out 25 July from Fanfare

9781912097340 – H/B – £18.99

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