I just randomly found, while doing historical research, a manga whose main character reminds me very strongly of David Gemmell’s Druss -- and if you know me, you know I think that resemblance is a good thing! I’m talking about Bokko, Hideki Mori’s adaptation of a novel by Ken’ichi Sakemi.
The manga follows the exploits of Kakuri, a man of the Bokk Clan of siege and strategy experts who saves a city from conquest during the close of China’s Warring States period. What’s so cool about this? The Bokk Clan is actually the school of Mozi, or Mo Tzu, known to the West as the Mohists. A bunch of philosophers turned siege engineers.
As with Gemmell’s novel, the story opens with Kakuri travelling to a fortress that is ill-prepared to resist an imminent and massive attack. Kakuri’s quickly established as one tough bastard, a quick-witted strategist and deadly fighter who’s almost always one step ahead of his enemy. He takes over leadership of the city of Ryo, demanding that even its king and court officials obey his every command, quickly creating enemies for himself. The enmity only gets worse as Kakuri’s training and organization of the defenders favors the peasants above the royalty and court officials.
Kakuri’s leadership and teaching are really needed, for their foe the General Koentchu is every bit as wily and ruthless as Kakuri himself. Koentchu assaults the city with every trick he knows, from tunneling under the walls to driving hungry wolves up the assault ramps, to slipping in assassins and commando teams to wreak havoc among the civilians, even to using catapult-launched paratroopers! Kakuri fights back with equal cunning, and one of the most delightfully ingenious moments in the manga is when he uses a very simple prearranged trick to expose infiltrators.
The manga is beautifully drawn by Mori, who apparently was also chosen by Kazuo Koike, creator of the epic Lone Wolf and Cub to illustrate the continuation of the series after Goseki Kojima died. Bokko has very much the same sensitive grittiness in its approach to violence and themes of humanity and heroism. Not surprisingly, it won the Shogakukan Manga Award, in 1995, and got a (Hong Kong) movie adaptation in 2006 as A Battle of Wits. You’ll also notice that the names seem overwhelmingly Japanese; I suspect it’s because the translators used the Japanese readings of the Kanji characters used in the manga.
This manga doesn’t seem to have any English edition out yet, so it’s only available to English speakers by online scanlation sites. I hope Dark Horse or some other publishing house remedies that soon.