I will not pretend to be a scholar of Japanese culture. Sure, I have seen a few Kurosawa films and read an issue of Lone Wolf and Cub, but I have seen Kill Bill more often than any single samurai movie. What I am trying to say is that while I enjoy a good samurai tale, I am nothing like an expert. Still, this comic felt grounded in a way that I wasn’t expecting. The characters, setting, and stifling sense of honor and duty all felt real to me.
The story is one that has been told and retold in Japan over the last 300 years, and there are countless variations in tone and even plot. The basic version of the story goes like this: a noble lord travels to the Shogun’s court and winds up attacking a member of the court. Justified or not, he is sentenced to death by seppuku, his lands are forfeited, and his men are disbanded. Of his men, 47 become Ronin and plan to avenge their master. This version has more cut and dry characters, with good protagonists and a bad antagonist. This doesn’t flatten the characters, it just highlights the crushing pressure of the system of honor that these men found themselves caught up in. I won’t go into the end, or any more details at all, but this was a beautifully told story.
Mike Richardson’s story is great. The pacing, characters, and dialogue are all wonderfully realized. The story moves smoothly and confidently toward the exciting climax, and then it keeps moving. The aftermath of this story is as compelling as the math. I came in expecting a fun action story, but, instead, I got a beautifully complex story about the cost of, and need for, vengeance.
Stan Sakai’s art is perfect for this book. I try not to throw around words like perfect in my reviews, but, man, did he nail it. The characters are exaggerated without straying into caricature, the settings perfectly evoke feudal Japan, and the overall tone of the art flows perfectly with the story. The art is equally effective at capturing heartbreak, comedy, and action.
This is a great historical comic that does everything right. The writing, art, and story all come together to make this a wonderful, little comic. I don’t know exactly how I feel about the story itself, but I know for sure that I loved what Richardson and Sakai have done with it. This is one of those comics that everyone should read.
Five Disgraced and Relentless Ronin out of Five