Ogami Ittō, formidable warrior and a master of the suiō-ryū swordsmanship, serves as the Kogi Kaishakunin (the Shōgun's executioner), a position of high power in the Tokugawa Shogunate. Along with the oniwaban and the assassins, Ogami Ittō is responsible for enforcing the will of the Shogun over the daimyō (lesser domain lords). For those samurai and lords ordered to commit seppuku, the Kogi Kaishakunin assists their deaths by decapitating them to relieve the agony of disembowelment; in this role, he is entitled and empowered to wear the crest of the Shogunate, in effect acting in place of the Shogun.
After Ogami Ittō's wife Azami gives birth to their son, Daigorō, Ogami Ittō returns to find her and all of their household brutally murdered, with only the newborn Daigorō surviving. The supposed culprits are three former retainers of an abolished clan, avenging the execution of their lord by Ogami Ittō. However, the entire matter was planned by Ura-Yagyū (Shadow Yagyu) Yagyū Retsudō, leader of the Yagyū clan, in order to seize Ogami's post. During the initial incursion, an ihai (funeral tablet) with the shogun's crest on it was placed inside the Ogami family shrine, signifying a supposed wish for the shogun's death. When the tablet is "discovered" during the murder investigation, its presence condemns Ittō as a traitor and thus forfeits his post.
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