Usagi Yojimbo, Book 1: The Ronin
|Publisher||Dark Horse Comics
Thoughts and Images
|Publication date||1984 — present|
|Number of issues||203|
|The Ronin||ISBN 0-930193-35-0|
Usagi Yojimbo (兎用心棒 Usagi Yōjinbō?, lit. "rabbit bodyguard") is a comic book series created by Stan Sakai. It is set primarily at the beginning of the Edo period of Japanese history and features anthropomorphic animals replacing humans. The main character is a rabbit ronin, Miyamoto Usagi, whom Sakai based partially on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Usagi wanders the land on a musha shugyo (warrior's pilgrimage), occasionally selling his services as a bodyguard.
Usagi Yojimbo is heavily influenced by Japanese cinema and has included references to the work of Akira Kurosawa (the title of the series is derived from Kurosawa's 1960 film Yojimbo) and to icons of popular Japanese cinema such as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi, and Godzilla. The series is also influenced somewhat by Groo the Wanderer by Sergio Aragonés (Sakai is the letterer for that series), but the overall tone of Usagi Yojimbo is more serious and reflective. The series follows the standard traditional Japanese naming-convention for all featured characters: their family names followed by their given names.
The books are primarily episodic, with underlying larger plots which create long extended story lines - though there are some novel-length narratives. The stories include many references to Japanese history and Japanese folklore, and sometimes include mythical creatures. The architecture, clothes, weapons, and other objects are drawn with a faithfulness to period style. There are often stories whose purpose is to illustrate various elements of Japanese arts and crafts, such as the fashioning of kites, swords, and pottery. Those efforts have been successful enough for the series to be awarded a Parents' Choice Award in 1990 for its educational value through Sakai's "skillful weaving of facts and legends into his work."
Usagi Yojimbo first appeared in Albedo Anthropomorphics #2, published by Thoughts and Images in November 1984. Stan Sakai accepted an offer to move his warrior rabbit to Fantagraphics Books where he appeared in several issues of the new anthropomorphic anthology series Critters. Usagi's popularity influenced Fantagraphics to then release the Usagi Yojimbo Summer Special in October 1986 and then to give the ronin rabbit his own on-going series with issue #1 being published in July 1987. Usagi was named the 31st greatest comic book character by Empire Magazine and was ranked 92nd in IGN's list of the top 100 comic book heroes.
Sakai originally planned for Usagi and other characters to be human in stories explicitly modeled after the life of Miyamoto Musashi. However, once as Sakai was idly doodling, he drew rabbit ears tied in a topknot on his proposed hero and was pleased by the distinctive image. Usagi was first conceived as a supporting character in The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, a brief series that predates Usagi Yojimbo. Sakai expanded on the idea of a rabbit samurai and his world took on an anthropomorphized cartoon nature, creating a fantasy setting which suited his dramatic needs with a unique look he thought could attract readers.
Usagi first appeared in the anthology Albedo Anthropomorphics in 1984, and later in the Fantagraphics Books anthropomorphic anthology Critters, before appearing in his own series in 1987. The Usagi Yojimbo series has been published by three different companies. The first publisher was Fantagraphics (volume one; 38 regular issues, plus one Summer Special and three Color Specials). The second was Mirage Comics (volume two; 16 issues). The third is Dark Horse Comics, by which Usagi Yojimbo is still being published (as volume three, over 140 issues), and who also released a fourth Color Special. A fourth publisher, Radio Comix, published two issues of The Art of Usagi Yojimbo which contained a selection of unpublished drawings, convention sketches, and other miscellaneous Usagi Yojimbo artwork. The first issue also included an original Usagi Yojimbo short story. In 2004, Dark Horse Comics published a Twentieth Anniversary hardcover volume also entitled The Art of Usagi Yojimbo.
Because Usagi Yojimbo is a creator-owned comic and Sakai has complete and sole ownership of the character, Miyamoto Usagi has been able to appear in occasional short stories published by companies other than the one currently publishing his series. Usagi has appeared in stories published by Cartoon Books, Oni Press, Sky Dog Press, Wizard Press, and most recently in the benefit book Drawing the Line, the proceeds of which went to Princess Margaret Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children, both in Toronto, for cancer research.
Sakai has experimented with formats for Usagi Yojimbo, as when he published the color story "Green Persimmon" first as twelve separate 2-page chapters serialized in Diamond Comic Distributor's monthly catalog "Previews." He has also serialized two short stories in a comic strip format in the tabloid size promotional publication Dark Horse Extra. With Usagi Yojimbo stories in single page "gag" stories as well as multi-issue epic adventures.
Usagi has also appeared several times in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the comic, two of the animated series, and their respective toy lines), and the Turtles have appeared in Usagi Yojimbo as well. In the 1987 series, "Usagi Yojimbo" is incorrectly used as his actual name, but in the 2003 series, which he appeared far more frequently in, he was referred to correctly as Miyamoto Usagi. He was even joined by Gen and other characters from his stories in his guest appearances in the 2003-2009 series. In his guest appearances, he is closest to Leonardo, both sharing the same ideals and code of ethics.
In addition, Sakai created a limited spin off series called Space Usagi featuring characters similar to those in the original series, including a descendant of Miyamoto Usagi, but set in a futuristic setting that also emulated Feudal Japan in political and stylistic ways. Three mini-series of three issues each and two short stories featuring the characters were produced. Sakai has tentative plans to produce a fourth Space Usagi miniseries, but nothing has been announced yet.
In the summer of 2014, Sakai, after a two-year hiatus, returned with a mini-series entitled Usagi Yojimbo Senso. Senso, Japanese for "war," refers to The War of the Worlds, the pioneering novel by H.G. Wells about an invasion of Earth by ruthless extraterrestrials. These aliens are believed to come from the planet Mars (although it has been speculated that they come from another solar system and they only used Mars as a way-station). The Japanese find themselves in dire straits facing merciless attacks from a high-technology civilization. Their courage and ingenuity are really put to the test.
Fortunately, Lord Noriyuki (an anthropomorphic panda who is Usagi's feudal superior) has the services of Takenoko Sensei. He is humble and unassuming ("Takenoko" means "bamboo shoot"), but his scientific and technological know-how is way ahead of that of anyone else in Japan (or anywhere else on Earth, for that matter) at the time. He devises weapons that can counter those of the invaders. Noriyuki, being a conservative Japanese, is reluctant at first to use these weapons, but he soon realizes that the alien invasion leaves him no choice but to do so.
The evil Lord Hikiji was for many years the nemesis of Lord Noriyuki and Usagi. When the aliens invaded, he offered to be their Quisling. Lord Hebi, a serpent, had served for a long time as Hikiji's faithful lieutenant, but when Hikiji boasted of his treachery, Hebi killed him.
In May 2015, Sakai returns to Usagi Yojimbo with the release of the 145th issue.
- 1996 Eisner Award for "Best Letterer" (Groo and Usagi Yojimbo)
- 1996 Eisner Award for "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" (Usagi Yojimbo)
- 1999 Eisner Award for "Best Serialized Story" (Usagi Yojimbo "Grasscutter")
- 2012 Eisner Award for "Best Lettering" (Usagi Yojimbo)
Usagi was rated #92 on IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.
Several of the characters in Usagi's world are inspired by or make reference to samurai movies. Usagi's former lord is named Mifune, which is a nod to Toshiro Mifune, an actor who starred in countless classic Samurai films. Gen, the rhino bounty hunter, was inspired by the characters made famous by Toshiro Mifune in the samurai films Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Zato-Ino, the Blind Swordspig, is a reference and tribute to the film character of Zatoichi. The story arc "Lone Goat and Kid" features an assassin who wanders with his son in a babycart, referring to the film/manga series, Lone Wolf and Cub. Most significantly, the main character's name, Miyamoto Usagi, is a play on "Miyamoto Musashi", Japan's most famous historical samurai and the author of The Book of Five Rings, and Usagi the Japanese language word for "rabbit" (The story notes for one volume also cite as an influence Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy, which features Miyamoto Musashi as a protagonist.) His friend Tomoe Ame, a feline samurai, is inspired by the female samurai Tomoe Gozen. The storyline "The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy" includes elements reminiscent of the classic Akira Kurosawa films The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress, particularly the way that Usagi collects various allies to raid an evil lord's fortress.
While Usagi Yojimbo draws most heavily upon samurai and chanbara films, it has also been influenced by Japanese films from other genres. For example, the three-part story "Sumi-E" (included in Vol. 18. Travels with Jotaro) features monsters resembling Godzilla (identified as "Zylla," who was first introduced in Vol. 2. Samurai), Gamera, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Daimajin.
Usagi appeared in episodes 32 and 34 in the third season of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon and in episodes 23-26 in the second season of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon for an inter-dimensional tournament against the Turtles (along with Gen). Also in episodes 13 and 22-23 of season 3 for a Christmas party and a continuation of the season 2 storyline (which prominently featured his world and characters), respectively. Usagi again appeared in episode 13 of season 4 for a confrontation with Leonardo, although the focus was mainly on Gen. Usagi and Gen also attended the wedding of April O'Neil and Casey Jones in episode 13 of season 7 (Back to the Sewer) titled "Wedding Bells and Bytes".
Books 1–7 are published by Fantagraphics Books; Books 8+ are published by Dark Horse Comics. Hardcover versions of the Dark Horse collections often include exclusive extras; some of this material was included in the 2004 artbook, also published by Dark Horse.
- Space Usagi
(Collects the Space Usagi 3-issue miniseries "Warrior," "Death & Honor," and "White Star Rising," stories from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 47, and Usagi Color Special 3)
- The Art of Usagi Yojimbo: 20th Anniversary Edition, published 2004.
- Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai
(The first Usagi Yojimbo original graphic novel. A fully painted self-contained story released to celebrate Usagi Yojimbo's 25th anniversary.)
- Usagi Yojimbo: Senso
(Collecting all 6 issues of the Usagi Yojimbo: Senso miniseries in May 2015.)
- Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition
(Collects Usagi Yojimbo books 1 to 7, published by Fantagraphics in December 2010)
- The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 1
(Collects Usagi Yojimbo books 8 to 10, published in both limited hardcover and softcover omnibus editions by Dark Horse in October 2014)
- The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 2
(Collects Usagi Yojimbo books 11 to 13, published in both limited hardcover and softcover omnibus editions by Dark Horse in March 2015)
- The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 3
(Collects Usagi Yojimbo books 14 to 16, to be published in both limited hardcover and softcover omnibus editions by Dark Horse in May 2015)
- The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 4
(Collects Usagi Yojimbo books 17 to 19, to be published in both limited hardcover and softcover omnibus editions by Dark Horse in September 2015)
Space Usagi was one of the action figures produced under the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.
The comic is the basis of two video games: the 1988 game Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo and the 2013 game Usagi Yojimbo: Way of the Ronin. Both are side-scrolling hack-and-slash action games.
- "Stan Sakai Talks Usagi Yojimbo". UGO.com Comics. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- "Bcc: spotlight on stan sakai". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
- Solomon, Charles (2005-11-25). "Don't get between the rabbit and his sword". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- Solomon, Charles (1993-03-08). "Take one part Toshiro Mifune. Then add adventure and humor to get artist Stan Sakai's 'Usagi Yojimbo.'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- Dobashi, Mas (1997-02-24). "Stan Sakai Interview". usagiyojimbo.com (originally Tozai Times, Vol. 13 Issue 148. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
- Albedo Anthropomorphics #2 (Thoughts and Images, 1984)
- Usagi Yojimbo Summer Special (Fantagraphics Books 1986)
- Usagi Yojimbo #1 (Fantagraphics Books 1987)
- Empire | The 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters. Empireonline.com (2006-12-05). Retrieved on 2011-05-29.
- Usagi Yojimbo Dojo – FAQ: Questions about Usagi Yojimbo. Usagiyojimbo.com (2004-02-29). Retrieved on 2011-05-29.
- Usagi Yojimbo Dojo – FAQ: Questions about Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy. Usagiyojimbo.com (2004-02-29). Retrieved on 2011-05-29.
- "Wc: 25 years of usagi yojimbo". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- "25 years of "usagi yojimbo"". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- Coming Up in Usagi Yojimbo. Usagiyojimbo.com (2006-02-20). Retrieved on 2011-05-29.
- Usagi Yojimbo Dojo – FAQ: Questions about Space Usagi. Usagiyojimbo.com (2004-02-29). Retrieved on 2011-05-29.
- Official website
- Usagi Yojimbo at Dark Horse Comics
- Usagi Yojimbo Role-Playing Game (Gold Rush Games version)
- Usagi Yojimbo Role-Playing Game (Sanguine Productions version
- Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards
- Usagi Yojimbo Dojo Wiki
- Official website for the french edition (collection in progress)
- Various copies of the Usagi Yojimo series have been translated into Indonesian by the PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama publishing house.