Sometimes the classic tales are the best tales. Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai have latched on to one of the all-time classics and manage to make it as fresh and compelling as it was the first time it was told hundreds of years ago.
Among the best-known tales in Japanese history, the legend of the 47 Ronin and their epic mission to avenge their disgraced master epitomizes the samurai code of honor. It has been said, “To know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know Japan.” Retold through the ages, the legend at last comes to comics in a meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated miniseries from Mike Richardson, Stan Sakai, and editorial consultant Kazuo Koike! Recounting this sweeping tale of honor and violence in all its grandeur, chapter one details the tragic incident that would seal the fate of Lord Asano and set forty-seven of his vassals on a years-long path of vengeance!
Richardson opens the story with a man visiting Sengaku-ji Temple to burn incense at the grave of a fallen comrade. Richardson understands the power of this scens as he, himself, has made this same trip and burned incense at the same grave. That personal connection speaks to the emotion Richardson is injecting into the script. Despite the fact there is very little action in this first issue, the dialogue drives the story forward rapidly. Before you know it, a fight breaks out and everything comes crashing down around the main character’s chonmage.
The script did its job and the reader can’t help feeling frustration on behalf of the main character. What could have been a sleeper of a period drama is a great character piece that transcends the age. The reality of getting screwed by a co-worker is just as painful today as it was in the Edo period. The only difference is nowadays you don’t literally lose your head for figuratively losing your head.
As good as Richardson’s script is, Sakai’s art is better. He was the perfect choice for artist. His characters are cartoony which permits them to be far more emotive than a more “realistic” artist would allow. However, just because the characters are cartoony does not mean that the book is light in tone. Sakai’s attention to detail brings the setting alive, transporting the reader seamlessly back to feudal Japan. And then there’s the action! Sakai has 25 years of experience drawing sword fights and martial arts action. I cannot imagine anyone doing a beter job on this book than him!
My only complaint about the book is that it ended. I would have preferred an original, full-length graphic novel to the monthly release floppy book. There is too much good stuff happening in this book to have to wait six months for the entire story to be revealed. So, hurry up already and bring on the next installment!
47 Ronin #1 is available now.
Click here for a six page preview.