Usagi Yojimbo, Book 1: The Ronin
|Publisher||Dark Horse Comics
Thoughts and Images
|Publication date||1984 — present|
|Number of issues||160 (as of December 2016)|
|The Ronin||ISBN 0-930193-35-0|
Usagi Yojimbo (兎用心棒 Usagi Yōjinbō?, "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 rōnin, Miyamoto Usagi, whom Sakai based partially on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Usagi wanders the land on a musha shugyō (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 storylines — 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 ongoing 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. Rolling Stone named Usagi Yojimbo No. 43 in their 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels.
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, such 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. Usagi Yojimbo stories have also been created as both single page "gag" stories and 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. With desperate acts and making a lot of sacrifices, the alien invaders are gradually eradicated. Against the last of the invaders' walking machines, Usagi controls a giant metal fighter named Usagi Gundam. However, he is mortally wounded by the last surviving alien, and dies in the arms of Tomoe Ame and Jotaro, moments after finally learning that they had both known to be father and son all along. The final part bridges the plotline from feudal Japan to the setting of Space Usagi, where the future Usagi and his wife Mariko finish telling the invasion story to a group of enthralled children.
In May 2015, Sakai returned 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)
- 2015 Eisner Award for "Best Lettering" (Usagi Yojimbo)
Usagi was rated No. 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.
In the 2014 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, upon seeing the Turtles for the first time, Eric Sacks remarks that he couldn't believe they were "actually going to use rabbits. Can you imagine that?" [clarification needed]
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 interdimensional 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".
Collections and graphic novels
- Book 1: The Ronin (1987, Fantagraphics) – collects stories from Albedo Anthropomorphics #2, 3, and 4; Usagi Yojimbo: Summer Special #1; The Doomsday Squad #3; and Critters #1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 14
- Book 2: Samurai (1989, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #1–6
- Book 3: Wanderer's Road (1989, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #7–12 and a story from Turtle Soup (vol. 1) #1
- Book 4: Dragon Bellow Conspiracy (1991, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #13–18
- Book 5: Lone Goat and Kid (1992, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #19–24
- Book 6: Circles (1994, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #25–31 and a story from Critters #50
- Book 7: Gen's Story (1996, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #32–38 and a story from Critters #38
- Book 8: Shades of Death (1997, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #1–6 and stories from #7–8
- Book 9: Daisho (1998, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #7–12 and 14
- Book 10: The Brink of Life and Death (1998, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #13 and 15–16 and Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #1–6
- Book 11: Seasons (1999, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #7–12 and Usagi Yojimbo Color Special: Green Persimmon #1, and stories from Usagi Yojimbo Roleplaying Game and The Art of Usagi Yojimbo #1
- Book 12: Grasscutter (1999, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #13–22
- Book 13: Grey Shadows (2000, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #23–30
- Book 14: Demon Mask (2001, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #31–38 and stories from Dark Horse Presents (vol. 1) #140, Dark Horse Presents Annual #3, Wizard magazine #97, Oni Double Feature #11, and Dark Horse Extra #20–23
- Book 15: Grasscutter II – Journey to Atsuta Shrine (2002, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #39–45
- Book 16: The Shrouded Moon (2003, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #46–52
- Book 17: Duel at Kitanoji (2003, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #53–60
- Book 18: Travels with Jotaro (2004, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #61–68
- Book 19: Fathers and Sons (2005, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #69–75
- Book 20: Glimpses of Death (2006, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #76–82 and a story from Drawing the Line
- Book 21: The Mother of Mountains (2007, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #83–89
- Book 22: Tomoe's Story (2008, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #90–93 and stories from Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #1–3
- Book 23: Bridge of Tears (2009, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #94–102
- Book 24: Return of the Black Soul (2010, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #103–109 and a story from Free Comic Book Day: Star Wars / Dark Horse All Ages #1
- Book 25: Fox Hunt (2011, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #110–116 and a story from MySpace Dark Horse Presents #18
- Book 26: Traitors of the Earth (2012, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #117–123 and stories from Dark Horse Maverick 2001 #1 and MySpace Dark Horse Presents #35
- Book 27: A Town Called Hell (2013, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #124–131
- Book 28: Red Scorpion (2014, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #132–138
- Book 29: Two Hundred Jizo (2015, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #139–144 and stories from Dark Horse Presents (vol. 2) #7 and 35–36
- Book 30: Thieves and Spies (2016, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #145–151
- Book 31: The Hell Screen (2017, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #152–158
- Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition (2009, Fantagraphics) – collects books #1–7
- The Usagi Yojimbo Saga
- Volume 1 (2014, Dark Horse) – collects books #8–10
- Volume 2 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #11–13
- Volume 3 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #14–16
- Volume 4 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #17–19
- Volume 5 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #20–22
- Volume 6 (2016, Dark Horse) – collects books #23–25
- Volume 7 (2016, Dark Horse) – collects books #26–28
- Legends (2017, Dark Horse) – collects Space Usagi, Yokai, and Senso
Other collections and graphic novels
- Space Usagi (1998, Dark Horse) – collects Space Usagi (vol. 1) #1–3, Space Usagi (vol. 2) #1–3, and Space Usagi (vol. 3) #1–3, and stories from Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #3 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (vol. 1) #47
- Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai (2009, Dark Horse) – original graphic novel
- Usagi Yojimbo: Senso (2015, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1–6
- The Art of Usagi Yojimbo (2004, Dark Horse) – includes stories from Trilogy II Tour Book and the hardcover edition of Usagi Yojimbo Book Four
- The Sakai Project: Artists Celebrate Thirty Years of Usagi Yojimbo (2014, Dark Horse)
- Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Edition Volume 1: Samurai and Other Stories (2015, Dark Horse)
- Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Edition Volume 2: The Artist and Other Stories (2016, Dark Horse)
A project for an animated television series, Space Usagi, was cancelled following the failure of Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars. However, 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. http://web.archive.org/web/20150701092828/http://www.empireonline.com/50greatestcomiccharacters/default.asp?c=31(2006-12-05). Retrieved on 2015-07-30.
- 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.
- Justin W.: Stan Sakai Confirms Usagi Yojimbo Will Be In Nickelodeon’s TMNT. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.com (September 14, 2016). Retrieved on 2016-09-21.
- Usagi Yojimbo Dojo – FAQ: Questions about Space Usagi. Usagiyojimbo.com (2004-02-29). Retrieved on 2011-05-29.