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Review for 47 Ronin

Caliburn24 here for a tale of samurais and honor.

The story of the 47 Ronin dates back to the Chushingura plays and is one of the central tales of Japan. It has been on many television productions and most well known as a film in 1941. Another film, starring Keanu Reeves, is set to open next year. Dark Horse Comics has produced the first issue of 47 Ronin with four more issues in this limited series. It is written by Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics, and features art by Stan Sakai who is well known for his comic book, Usagi Yojimbo. The famed writer of the Lone Wolf & Cub manga, Kazuo Koike, is noted as editorial consultant for the comic book. The cover features Lord Asano wielding a katana in a killing stroke that splatters blood across the top of the cover as almost ghostly figures appear in the background.

The frontpiece for the comic book is a page with a watercolor painting of a cherry blossom tree and the line, “To know this story is to know Japan.” The story begins in 1703 at the Sengaku-Ji Temple. The first chapter is entitled “Cherry Blossoms.” Sakai is very detailed in working the architectural details of the temple and grounds. He also gives a blend of Western cartoons with a hint of Japanese woodcuts. An elderly man walks over to some graves and burns incense at one of the graves. A priest comes up him and asks if he can help the man. The man says his name is Murakami Kiken and they walk to a bench. Kiken confides that he is trying to follow the ways of Bushido, the samurai code, and he eventually tells his story to the priest. It shifts to Asano Takumi-Naganori, a daimyo, a landholder of some respect, who is about to visit Emperor Higashiyama. The story is then told in flashback two years before with Asano leading his daughter Miko. He compares her to a seed that will grow to become strong like the cherry blossom trees.

Oishi, Asano’s chief retainer, is worried about his visit to the emperor. Cherry blossom petals float in the sky as Oishi warns Asano about the corruption in the palace. Asano’s riders leave behind Castle Ako and Miko decides to plant the seed for her father’s return. The next chapter, “Lack of Protocol”, has a full page spread of the Emperor’s palace. The scene opens to the room of a court official named Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka. He is upset that after giving Asano lessons in protocol for the emperor that Asano has not given a proper gift. Later, Kira flatters Asano and then hints that a gift must be given to show respect for the teacher. Kira becomes angry, but Asano refuses to give a bribe. The court official leaves saying the next day’s instruction will be at dawn. Asano’s accountant tries to persuade his daimyo to offer the bribe, but Asano turns him down and says that he will not tolerate anyone giving the bribe without his knowledge. Asano finds out the next day that Kira has changed the location of the teaching somewhere else to spite him. Still, he decides to tolerate the action and return home.

Chapter three, “The Incident at Edo” takes place two days later. Kira surprises him by saying that Asano must provide new tatami mats for the arriving dignitaries. Asano is angry, almost drawing his katana, but his servants say they work through the night to make the mats. The next morning, Kira announces to the dignitaries that Asano has produced inferior mats that can’t be used. He further insults Asano calling him a “stupid country farmer.” Asano draws his wakizashi, the short samurai blade, but apologizes and lays the sword down at Kira’s feet. Next, he commits the ultimate insult, kicking Asano in the face. Asano, in a rage, draws his wakizashi and slices Kira’s face. Asano is taken into custody for drawing a sword in the emperor’s palace. Asano’s servant, Yasobei, is sent back to Castle Ako. Richardson and Sakai have crafted a faithful adaptation of the Japanese tale that is leisurely, but the upcoming doom runs through much of the comic book.