47 Ronin continues to be one of my favorite comics on the stands. I can’t think of any other series I have read recently where ever single issue is perfect (OK, I lie. Hellboy in Hell was perfect too). Seriously. I can’t find a single flaw with this series. And I am a tough critic when it comes to something I know as well as samurai and the tales of old Japan, so that’s saying something.
This is the penultimate issue, and it is a doozy. I get the feeling a lot of people are tradewaiting on 47 Ronin, and I can understand that. I expect (and hope) that Dark Horse will put out a really cool hardcover for this series, and you would be a fool not to pick that up. But there is also something delicious about the tantalizing wait between issues, that feeling when you flip the last page and get to spend a month in anticipation of the showdown. I am looking forward to that fancy collected edition, but I’m glad I read these as monthly issues too.
If you know the story of the 47 Ronin, you know that this is the “Fall and Rise” segment. Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio has become the dregs of society—a useless drunk who sequesters himself in a brothel, thoughts of vengeance gone. He is shame heaped upon shame, a dog in the street who divorces his wife and disowns his children. So great is his downfall that another samurai takes his short sword—his badge of office as a samurai—and leaves him in the mud and gutters with a glob of spit on his face.
But of course, I am giving nothing away by saying it is all a ruse. Oishi and his fellow loyal retainers have all spread out across the country, abandoning their lives and making themselves worthless men in order to make Lord Kira relax his guard. A cunning and dangerous plan, and one that ultimately works.
I’ve have seen multiple versions of 47 Ronin, but I can’t think of any that captured Oishi’s downfall as well as Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai have here. When it is on film, usually some famous actor is playing Oishi so the character retains some dignity as a bohemian dilettante and pleasure-seeker. Not here. Richardson and Sakai have made me believe the ruse, and Oishi becomes an embarrassment to his clan. The key scene—where the unnamed samurai robs Oishi of his second sword—is played beautifully. Those that know the story will recognize the Samurai of Satsuma and the ultimate role he will play in the story (and has played already). Others will just have to wait and read.
Subtlety is a strong point of this issue. Sakai plays with facial expressions to tell the true story that words cannot unfold. There are a couple of powerful scenes: a workman silently weeping as he sends off his fiancé telling her to find another man; the look of regret on the face of Lady Asano as she sends Oishi away, refusing to let him burn incense at her husband’s memorial. And the best scene of all—the look of shock on the faces of the retainers when Okano reveals exactly how he got his hands on the plans for Kira’s new home, and the depths they have sunk to in order to achieve their goals.
This is a more human issue. We don’t get those dramatic ukiyo-e-inspired landscapes that Sakai has be presenting us with in other issues. That means colorist Lovern Kindzierski doesn’t get a chance to shine as much. But there was a lot of story to pack into this one issue, and everyone managed to pull it off spectacularly.
And now the long wait. 47 Ronin #5 is the final issue, the big pay off. It’s the dynamite explosion. I’ll be counting the days until then.