Reverential 47 RONIN Is A Feast for the Eyes and the Soul
Jan 1, 2013
Some of the very best works across all forms of literature are labors of love. When writers and artists pour their heart and soul and mind into a project, it’s generally easy to see the affection directed toward the finished piece. Granted, the final product may not please everyone, but it’s still refreshing to see the outcome that’s fueled by devotion to it, and 47 RONIN is exactly the sort of toil comic book professionals should be delivering to their respective audiences. It’s an artistic vision honed surgically in on a highly cultural morality tale exploring the themes of Bushido code. The fact that it’s based on real people and real events is only icing on the proverbial cake.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I suggest you skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the comic book title page: “Among the best-known episodes in Japanese history, the tale of the 47 Ronin and their years-long mission to avenge their disgraced master epitomizes the samurai code of honor. Their story is often referred to as Japanese’s national legend.”
A humble warrior arrives in a distant temple with hopes to only honor the memory of a fallen samurai. Realizing that this new visitor has traveled far and appears weary, the temple priest tries to offer comfort by hearing his story. Initially, the warrior refuses, but, at the priest’s casual insistence, he finally succumbs, agreeing to share his tale. What unfolds turns out to be the stuff of legends.
There’s an afterward in the piece by its scribe – Mike Richardson – that puts the entire story within these pages and beyond in perfect historical context. I won’t belabor his points other than to say that the tale of Oishi, an unassuming retainer to Lord Osano and his family, has been near and dear to him for quite some time. Captivated by the story of respect, he studied whatever he could find on the tale, biding his time, waiting for his own inspiration to complete the right script and securing the creative personnel to bring it to life. He’s done so here, and, no doubt, he’s probably personally elated to share it with others.
As a fan of Bushido and samurai films, I can certainly understand and appreciate his fascination with Oishi, Osano, and the courts and politics of early Japan. I won’t try to convince anyone to explore the tale and its inspiration on whole generations of people in my brief review; however, I will say that even if Bushido stories aren’t necessarily your own cup of tea, this one might be worth the time, effort, and investment. Granted, this is only a first issue (of a five-installment limited series), but it’s pretty clear where this one is heading. Its messages and especially its themes are timeless. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to discover that the dynamics of evil surrounding politics and politicians go back centuries. What transcend these governmental affairs always is the people personally affected by them … and that’s the story Richardson is aptly skilled to tell.
Also, only to stress a stylistic note Richardson highlights in his afterward, this is NOT meant to be big and brash and bold in the way many comic book(ish) adventures strive to be. This isn’t the flashy stuff of action heroes and supermen. Rather, it’s muted and reserved and meant to honor an entire culture. Stan Sakai’s work is meant to call to mind the Japanese woodblock prints of Ogata Gekko. Naturally, it’s an inspired choice, and I applaud Richardson, his team, and Dark Horse for making it. For my tastes, it all looks as grand as it is reverential.
47 RONIN (Part 1 of 5) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story, based on facts and events, is written by Mike Richardson with editorial consultation from Kazuo Koike; the artwork is by Stan Sakai; the colors are by Lovern Kindzierski; and lettering is by Tom Orzechowski and Lois Buhalis. The issue bears a cover price of $3.99.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. “To know this story is to know Japan.” 47 RONIN is an artistic triumph, a rumination on the ages-old structure of a warrior class at a time when there were no more wars to fight. It’s about servitude and mastery. It’s about honor and integrity. Everyone – big and small, near and far, Bushido or not – should know this story.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance digital copy of 47 RONIN (Part 1 of 5) for the expressed purposes of completing this review.