I was a little sad when I cracked open this issue of 47 Ronin and saw how far the story had come along. It reminded me that this is only a five-issue series and we are officially halfway through it. That sucks. I love this series so much that I wish it were 12 issues, with enough time for Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai to really dive deep into the legend of the 47 Ronin. I know Usagi Yojimbo fans are probably clamoring for Sakai to get back to the adventures of everyone's favorite rabbit swordsman, but I could do with some more ronin.
Each issue of this series is better than the rest. And that's amazing, because the middle issue of a story arc is usually scene-setting — the bridging issue that builds from the introduction and sets you up for the climax. Writer Mike Richardson has paced the story with enough skill that each issue has solid points of impact. In a story like 47 Ronin, there is a lot of positioning of pieces, getting sure all of the players on where they need to be. In addition to that, Richardson brings in characters like the disgraced warrior Muramatsui Katasaki, whose story lasts about four pages but packs a powerful emotional punch.
I'm also impressed with Richardson's use of female characters in the story. 47 Ronin is very much a guy's tale, but he has made sure the wives and girlfriends left behind get their moment on the stage — as more than just props.
And Lord Kira — Richardson has gone out of his way to make sure we all hate this sucking leech. I don't know that I have ever seen a more loathsome Kira than in this version of 47 Ronin. I like the moral ambiguity of some versions of this story, but I have to admit it is a lot of fun to watch Kira scheme and cackle. It will make his comeuppance all the more sweet.
Do I need to mention how beautiful Stan Sakai's artwork is here? Because it is. He has made full use of ukiyo-e composition techniques, with glorious splash pages and scenes cut diagonally by a branch that shows the transition of the seasons. I love how Sakai is using Japanese art and Japanese conventions to tell this quintessential Japanese story. Some of these panels are so gorgeous that Sakai could be doing his own personal ukiyo-e series and I would buy it.
(Although is it just me, or do some of the characters look very … rabbitish every now and then? In one particular panel the fiancée of one of the young ronin was showing some serious buck teeth…)
Lovern Kindzierski's colors continue to be a highlight as well. All of that praise for Sakai's beautiful artwork goes to Kindzierski as well. He perfectly captures the seasonal colors of Japan, and the delicate hues of the kimonos and wooden buildings.
Only two more issues to go — and then a super-deluxe hardcover (fingers crossed). This series has been one of the standouts of the year, and something I am sure I will read and reread for years to come.
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.