Tale of Ronin

Usagi Yojimbo: Stan Sakai’s Portrait of Life as a Ronin

Usagi Yojimbo, sometimes translated as Rabbit Bodyguard, is one of the longest-running comics to be written and drawn by a single person. Miyamoto Usagi is a ronin wandering through early Edo period Japan after the death of his lord. His journey leads him across the islands, where he meets—and fights—all manner of people. But wherever Usagi goes, he is always followed by his failures.

Usagi’s adventures are sometimes funny, sometimes grim, and filled with the uncertain mood of the times. He is also an anthropomorphic rabbit living in a world of anthropomorphic animals, but that matters far less than you’d think. The same goes for the many tiny dinosaurs that inhabit the world as fauna.

The comic’s creator, Stan Sakai, is a former commercial artist who won an Eisner Award for his lettering. He began working on Usagi Yojimbo in 1984 and has written, drawn, and lettered it ever since. Although Sakai worked on some of the earliest translated manga, Usagi Yojimbo draws more from samurai movies and period pieces. It uses the language of film and often retells folktales as well as original adventures.

The world of Usagi Yojimbo is unpredictable and cold, but the people who live there can be breathtakingly kind. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Many stories end unhappily, and Usagi’s driving motivation is vengeance on the man responsible for his lord’s death. However, the comic is also deeply philosophical, achingly heartfelt, and a thoroughly-researched portrait of life in the early Edo period. It explores the tenets that Usagi lives by while at the same questioning whether those beliefs are worth the pain they can cause him and others.

Over the course of roughly 40 years, Usagi Yojimbo has told many kinds of stories. This includes political thrillers, tragedies, and horror stories. But it also includes romances, explorations of traditional Japanese crafts, and stories of an estranged father and son trying to connect with each other. The result is a nuanced and gorgeous exploration of a difficult lifestyle in a difficult age.

Tale of Ronin also tells the story of wandering ronin, and the central plot gives these ronin a chance to avenge a deceased lord. While this tale goes in a different direction from Usagi’s adventures, the game also examines the uncertain early years of the Edo period, the righteousness of the samurai code, and how far a ronin may go for revenge. The result may be an ending just as poetic—and tragic—as a good Usagi Yojimbo story.