Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Releases: 47 Ronin

From 47 Ronin written by Mike Richardson with art by Stan Sakai (page 7).
As is most often the case in recent weeks (given the endless reboots--both soft and hard) that take place in "mainstream" superhero comic books, this week I once again found myself plucking a previously unheard of miniseries from the recent releases table. Though familiar with the artists, Stan Sakai, from the very short period of time I collected his legendary Dark Horse comic book Usagi Yojimbo, I knew that at he very least the aesthetic appeal of his clean style would be worth the cover price, especially as the content was his forte': feudal Japan.

47 Ronin, written by Mike Richardson with artwork by the aforementioned Sakai, is a retelling of what is deemed among"the best-known tales in Japanese history." As the inside cover page declares, and the short selection at the end by Mike Richardson "The Road to The 47 Ronin" expands upon, the story begun herein in the first of a five issue miniseries, "To know this tale is to know Japan." A little quick research also revealed that this tale  "recounts the most famous case involving the samurai code of honor, bushidō." As a reader I know only of Japan what I have read, seen in movies, or picked up via conversations from others who have traveled there, so this seems an appropriate place to begin.

The subtitle, "The Tale of the Loyal Retainers," as well as the introduction early on of the character of Oishi, a retainer to the issues protagonist, Lord Asano, foreshadows the events to come. I suspect that the eventual murder of Lord Asano (which results in his vassals or retainers becoming leaderless, or ronin) strongly hinted in at issue's end, will set in motion the loyal retainer's revenge.

As one might expect given the story's content, the comic book's pace is very deliberate, allowing for the character's personality traits to be revealed through dialogue and action rather than the ultra-dynamic staccato pace of some "action/adventure" books. With Sakai's beautiful artwork, each page unrolls to move the story forward in a way that reverently sets the stage for the mayhem I am expecting to follow. Upon first glance the later pages can appear too wordy to the general reader, but the language and care taken in using the dialogue to further establish character and motivation allows to read very easily.

Dark Horse Comics mini-series 47 Ronin is a beautifully executed introduction to both feudal Japan and, for me, a reintroduction to Stan Sakai's wonderful storytelling skills. Unfortunately for my pocket book, I now have an inkling to go back seven years and re-begin reading Usagi Yojimbo!

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