Who doesn’t love a good samurai story?
What type of things are you passionate about in your life?
- Health and fitness??
- Making art??
Now how long could you see yourself doing that one activity for? The saying goes that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. But I’m not sure I believe that. There are growing pains with just about anything we do. There will be days when you are absolutely in love with what you’re doing and can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.
Others days you hate the sight of it and get incredibly frustrated.
I fall short of being able to say that I’m a writer by profession, instead working within computer technology for my day job. But there are times where even I don’t look forward to putting up these posts after a long, dreadful day of work. But I push through it because it’s important to me.
But could you imagine putting thirty years into your craft? That brings me to Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, an incredibly engaging comic book series based in feudal Japan starring an anthropomorphic bunny samurai. Didn’t see that last part coming did you (unless you paid attention to the title image on the main page)?
Originally designed to be a human ronin living during the Edo period of Japanese history, Stan Sakai randomly drew him with rabbit ears and a more animal-like appearance. The aesthetic stuck and soon incorporated the entire world this story takes place in. Heavily influenced by the life of famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, and other classic Japanese literature and cinema such as Lone Wolf and Cub and Godzilla, the titular character, Miyamoto Usagi, wanders the countryside honing his skills and encountering a variety of different situations. Chronicling his expansive journey, the seemingly singular focus will eventually expand into something much more legendary.
Period pieces such as this, even with the fantasy element of anthropomorphic characters, are interesting to me because if done poorly they very quickly turn into caricatures. Almost a farce of something that was supposed to be revered. I didn’t encounter any of this in the first volume; and I highly doubt I will in further purchases of it (I definitely plan on buying more). This is everything you’d want in a classic samurai film: elements of bushido, feudal era political intrigue, unique and interesting characters, an even-tempered but subtly nuanced main character, and of course thrilling action. I haven’t felt vibes like this since watching Samurai Jack on television as a kid (if you haven’t seen any of that, I highly recommend it).
The art is emotive, yet not terribly complex. Being the first volume (which collects material that came out in 1987), I expected that. I don’t say that to mean that I’m disappointed at the visual depiction of Sakai’s vision of feudal Japan. Quite the opposite. I think it’s an apt representation. Life is precarious, yet quaint. Villagers are simple inhabitants that want to feed their families and take care of the people they love. However, when the action begins and Usagi finds himself at odds with others (especially skilled warriors on par with him), the conflicts come alive on the page and is quick and dangerous, just as you’d imagine battle to be.
The even crazier thing is that this is still an ongoing series! Starting back in 1987, it’s almost thirty years old (give or take a handful of years that Sakai took off from doing it). Quite literally making it the longest serialized story in existence. That type of dedication is mind-blowing to me. Especially for one idea. Not to say that he hasn’t done other things in the interim but how many people can lay claim to that? What type of development does your main character go through in that time period? What about the world around him? What kind of themes are verbalized and how does it affect the narrative being told? Does Sakai’s overall goal for his story morph during that time? To keep his audience, the narrative had to take plenty of unique twists and turns.
Usagi Yojimbo is a compelling first chapter in a Japanese legend that I plan on continuing. Even more so, it has me thinking of creative longevity and what exactly that means to me. Is it more important to generate an idea that is a major hit right away and impacts your readers presently? Or is a slow burn the way to gain dedicated fans who won’t forsake you?
Honestly, I think it can be done in both capacities depending on the story. In my opinion, I think it comes down to simply asking yourself what you want the reader to get out of this. With that answer in tow, you can only hope that they interpret it that way and run the literary race with you until you accomplish what you set out to do.
*I do not make claim to own any of these images. They have been graciously procured from http://www.usagiyojimbo.com/*