Rabbits, Rhinos, and Ronin. (Review).

Seriously, that title practically wrote itself.

So.  In keeping with the tradition I mentioned two weeks prior, I’m going to be posting up reviews of cool books/movies/comic books I’ve read.  This is partly because I’m not comfortable with putting my life on exhibition, partly because my life isn’t worth exhibiting.  About the only notable thing that happened this week was my finishing a story about building cars.  Oh, and a car accident I was in.  It also snowed.

So.  On to the important stuff.  Today’s work under examination is the American comic book series Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai.  (Yojimbo means bodyguard in Japanese.)  I could describe what the series is like, but… well, I think the image below sums it up pretty well.

So.  You get the idea.  Usagi Yojimbo is, roughly, about a masterless Samaurai (ronin) in Edo Japan.  He also happens to be a rabbit, and spends his time befriending bounty hunter rhinos, thief foxes, and ninja cats.  Also protecting a feudal lord who is a baby panda.

Yeah.  It’s a pretty awesome series.

Despite what you might think from a summary like that, the series is actually surprisingly deep, showing everything from common dilemnas to intense realistic political maneuvering.  It’s chock full of historical fact and mythology also, there’s one particularly juicy arc about the sword Kusanagi of the Japanese emperors, where he not only recounts the legends behind the sword, but the historical account of how the Heike dynasty threw it into the sea to keep the Yoshitsune clan from obtaining it.  It also recounts how the grandmother of the child emporer Heike Antoku got everyone on the boat to commit seppuku (look that one up) rather than be captured.

Again, despite the little bunny rabbits, this isn’t exactly a children’s comic, even if all the deaths in the comic end like this:

Original, eh?  It’s actually kinda funny, because each killed character get’s an individualized one of those, including any facial hair, scars, or eyepatches they have at the time of death.  At times it’s almost ridiculous.  But the fight scenes are so awesomely epic and gritty at once that you totally don’t mind.  There’s this one fight where a rhino and a dog are fighting a cat in a rainstorm… well, okay, maybe I better talk about the fight where the rhino is fighting a blind pig with a wooden nose in a rainstorm…

You know what, maybe we’d better get back to the realism of this comic.  Some comics are purely about some ancient aspect of Japanese culture, like gambling, kite-making, or falconry.  One whole comic book is actually devoted toward the highly ritualized tea ceremony of the day, and gives a play-by-play of what is involved.  And somehow, it keeps it interesting. 

Historical events are included too.  Not just the Kusanagi history I mentioned, but there’s one comic where Usagi comes across a group of persecuted Japanese Catholics.  He doesn’t know who he’s helping, and it’s only at the end of the comic that you find out the package he’s been carrying and fighting to protect is actually a simple crucifix.

It’s only fair to note that the series also includes trickster fox-spirits, goblin swordsmen, and giant spiders, at odd intervals.  Also one early comic that deals with a baby Godzilla.

Anyway, you get the idea, it’s an awesome series.  While it’s not quite as original or fascinating as the Sandman comic series (something we’ll talk about later), it is immensely more clean, and really on a whole level altogether.  I was trying to think of great quotes to post during work today, and there were such funny ones I kept breaking out in giggles.  The other workers were kinda looking at me funny, but they always do that, so I’m not worried.  The real problem is, there were so many good ones, I can’t pick them all, and this post is too long already.  So here are a few I chose at random.

Young Usagi with his teacher Katsuichi (a lion).

Katsuichi:  “You are in the first match, Cockroach.  Remember my teachings.”

Usagi:  “Yes sensei. The Samaurai follows the code of Bushido.  It is technique and spiritual stregth that counts!  Winning is UNIMPORTANT.”

 Katsuichi:  “Good!  And if you don’t win?”

 Usagi: (grins) “You’ll beat me into a pulp!”

Katsuichi:  “Ha!  Excellent.  You’ve learned well.”

Usagi with the bounty hunter Gennosuke (the rhino).

Usagi:  “Gen, if the fate of the world rested upon your knife’s edge, how would you react?”

Gen: “I dunno, what’s in it for me?

Usagi, Gennosuke, and the warrior priest Sanshobo 

Sanshobo: “Here it is… Kusanagi, Grasscutter.”

Usagi: “The imperial regalia.  The weapon of the gods.”

Gen: “I wonder how much we could sell it for.”

*The others look at him*

Gen:  “What?”

Like I said, awesome series.  Gennosuke is one of the more hilarious characters, though Usagi has his own moments, and Inspector Ishida has a quiet dry humor to him also.  Moments of win include Usagi and a lady samaurai breaking out of a slave camp, Usagi, Gen, Sanshobo, and a former general fighting off an army of ninjas, and Usagi fighting alongside an army of ninjas to take out a rogue feudal lord.  Also the two rainstorm swordfights I mentioned.  If you’re at all interested in Japan or Japanese history, or if you like good action sequences with good character development, or if you just like a good read, I would highly recommend this comic.

In conclusion:

 


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