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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Arya and Lady Snowblood

A few days ago George R. R. Martin released an Arya chapter from the yet-unpublished "The Winds of Winter" (the date on the Web page is wrong). He claims that he had been doodling on this particular chapter off and on for over a decade.

The chapter itself is wonderful and eerie. A strong sense of familiarity plagued me from the first word to the last. First it seems like an imagined version of life in The Globe Theatre circa 1600. The last bit was familiar in a different way, a strand of memory I could not put my finger on.

After reading it last night I rushed to ask Mr. S: "Do you know of a genre, subgenre, or sub-subgenre in Japanese manga about girl assassins?" He shook his head, "I have just heard of one such series, but I've not read it so ..."

I said never mind, as the origin of that floating strand of memory surfaced at that moment.

Lady Snowblood.

In the early days of my Internet life, I found home among figure skating fans and geeks who dug Asian movies --- no, Asian cult cinema, which included old-school Hong Kong Kung Fu movies (where my own interest lay), Japanese anime, and various action and exploitation movies, and later Korean and Southeast Asian cinema.

Apparently women occupied an interesting place in Asian cult cinema. They are often the object of "the male gaze," but are sometimes also male oppressors' worst nightmare. The line between exploitation and empowerment is pretty blurred. However, above all it is primarily about spewing blood, lots and lots of it. The movie was paid homage to in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 1.

Lady Snowblood was first a series of manga and later made into popular movies. The heroine is a beautiful young woman on a deadly path of revenge for her family who had been slaughtered before she was born and her mother who died in a prison after giving birth to her. Like a lot of manga series, it featured some sex scenes along with the blood spattering and a variety of clever ways of killing people. 

Shakespeare and Japanese manga are not as dissimilar as you might think. Blood revenge, sometimes of such barbarity that makes modern readers uneasy, is a frequent theme in both. The tireless mix-and-masher GRRM has done it again, even instilling a whiff of the sexual elements with death from the manga. He is walking a fine line here with the Arya storyline.

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