Sunday, March 2, 2014

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai

Title: 47 Ronin
Author: Mike Richardson
Artist: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: March 4, 2014

“To know this story is to know Japan.” This statement is made on the title page of this book. According to the author Mike Richardson this is an old Japanese saying. The story of the 47 Ronin is certainly a compelling story. The true events behind the story took place in the feudal society of early eighteenth century Japan. The story itself is simple enough. A nobleman named Kira insulted a hotheaded nobleman named Asano. During the quarrel in the palace of the Shogun Asano drew his weapon on Kira. It was a crime punishable by death to draw a weapon in the house of the shogun. Lord Asano, was convicted and ordered to commit seppuko, a ritualistic suicide. Asano’s legacy was further disgraced when his family was stripped of its possessions and his samurai were cast adrift as ronin. Even though Kira should have been punished as well his influence allowed him to go free, even though he instigated the event.

After one year forty-seven of Asano’s samurai, led by his chief retainer Oishi Yoshio, banded together, attacked the residence of Kira. They killed his retainers and then killed Kira. Even though many admired them for avenging their lord they were convicted of murder and ordered to commit seppuko. They did so and have been honored by many as the embodiment of the Bushido code ever since. 

This story has spawned art, plays, books, operas, songs, poems, and film. Now it has come to the world of comic books. For Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse Comics,  this is a work of love. He has studied the story of the 47 Ronin for over 25 years. He finally decided to write the story. The book is well written. The pace is just right for the story. He doesn’t make the mistake of many writers and clutter up the story with a lot of historical background, rather he lets the story unfold for the reader. There are a lot a powerful moments in this book. Oishi knows that he and his men have to make everyone believe that they are broken and pose no threat. To this end they abandon loved ones, take menial jobs, pretend to be drunks.

Stan Sakai was the perfect artist to bring this story to life. Best known for his Usagi Yjimbo series, he has a wonderful grasp of the traditional look of the period. For this book he drew is inspiration from Ogata Gekko, a well known Japanese artist form the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gekko created a well known set of prints based on this story. Even though Sakai may have used Gekko as his inspiration, his style is all his own.

This is a moving and powerful story and deserves to be treated with respect. Richardson and Sakai have done just that with this outstanding book. I recommend that you pre-order this book now. 

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