This manga consists of two stories, set to show the transition from war to peacetimes in Japan. I would rate the first story as a 7/10. I enjoyed seeing the discussions concerning castle/city planning, how topography played a vital role, and the various rationales for the different locations. I also appreciated Naizen's apathetic and yet pragmatic character, and feir interactions with Kajiwara in particular. It was a solid and entertaining story. However, I would rate the second story as a 2/10. It was basically just boring. It's a unromantic romance mixed with uninspiring sword training and culminating in an adequate battle scene. It's supposed to be telling the story of the early usage of the shinai style of practice sword (which I guess is what is used in kendo). And it's true that the shinai does play a part in the story, but it doesn't make for a very interesting origin story. Overall, I think a 5/10 is fair, since the second story did drag the entire experience down.
I'm a sucker for all things related to the samurai, but this manga left me with a decidedly "meh" impression.
You may have read that the samurai came to an end in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, but in truth they many 'deaths' and 'rebirths' before that. The samurai class served many different roles throughout Japanese history, ranging from tax collectors, to bureaucrats, to soldiers, to military aristocrats. These two stories deal with samurai caught in the culture shift as the Sengoku period became the Edo period.
The first 'Snow Ridge' is the more interesting of the two. It deals with a clan forced to relocate and build a new castle after losing the Battle of Sekigahara. The debate over the castle's location turns into an internal political struggle divided on generational lines. The older samurai raised in an age of constant warfare want to build the castle in a highly defensible but remote and impoverished location, while the younger samurai with more skill as civilian administrators than soldiers want to put it where there will be the most political and economic benefit. There is some interesting political maneuvering and a decent conclusion.
The second story 'Sword Dance' is rather generic samurai fare. A teenage girl seeks revenge against the samurai thugs who raped her and murdered her family, so she finds a famous swordsmanship instructor to teach her how to fight. The instructor uses a new type of training sword that will become important to the sport of kendo, which allows her to train effectively despite her more fragile body. This story is supposed to symbolize how samurai battlefield skills began to transition to ritualized martial arts, but it ends up being a mediocre samurai story anyone who's seen a few Kurosawa movies could have written.
The art for both of these stories is decent but nothing special, and the characters are basic archetypes. It's an OK read for fans of samurai stories.