The opening splash page of 47 Ronin #2 is a beautiful piece of art. I love the way Stan Sakai angles a single branch of a cherry blossom tree over the front of the castle. That is classical Japanese composition — an ukiyo-e print in comics form — and a clear sign that both Sakai and writer Mike Richardson are creating something special.
The second issue of 47 Ronin is even better than the first, and that is saying something because the first issue was already a masterpiece. Stan Sakai, Mike Richardson and Lovern Kindzierski are creating a perfect adaptation — one that builds from the source material, and uses the strengths of the comics medium to bring new life to a story hundreds of years old. I honestly don't have a single fault with this comic, and an avalanche full of praise.
The first issue laid out the necessary setting, as well as established what version of 47 Ronin they were planning to tell. The story can go many ways, with multiple interpretations, so the first issue was important in setting expectations. With that task done, we can relax into the story, and just enjoy Richardson and Sakai's twists and turns, additions and subtractions, intrigues and subplots, and the exploration of the depths of honor and human emotion.
I'm almost shocked at how well Mike Richardson gets this story right, at how fluent he is in Japanese-style storytelling (not so Stan Sakai; I expect it from him). The scenes of Lord Asano enduring his investigation and sentence without a word of reproach or defiance; The masks that Tamura Ukiyo wears once he realizes the role that is required of him; The Shogun's subtle revenge on Lord Kira, something he could not openly acknowledge but still delivers — I lived in Japan for a long time, and I have to say he handled these interactions perfectly. Too often I see American's writing Japanese characters as either stereotypes of a culture they don't really know, of as Americans in different costumes. Not here. Richardson nailed it.
Stan Sakai's art is equally perfect. He does wonderful things with facial expressions, and his handling of the seppuku scene is charged with emotion. Putting life into a bunch of stoic samurai can be a challenge, but Sakai counterpoints that by allowing the villainous Lord Kira to be expressive and dynamic — which works as a further sign of his weak nature, his inability to control his emotions.
Special props go to colorist Lovern Kindzierski, who has obvious spent time studying ukiyo-e prints; the faded pallet and subtle colors bring Sakai's art even more fully into a Japanese world. Kindzierski has managed to perfectly match that white/pink hue of the cherry blossom that is so vital to Japanese art — not to mention that middle-management blue of mid-rank samurai servants that is still worn in Japan. Flashy colors are reserved for the high and the low.
A fantastic series. I am looking forward to the next issue, and looking forward even more to the eventual prestige collection that this series deserves.
Posted: January 12, 2013
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.