I remember it well – my first contact with the world of this long-eared rabbit ronin on his way through Japan – it was about ten years ago and I got my hands on one of those trades. It was the trade called “The Ronin” and collected the issues that were published in 1987 via Fantagraphics. I was completely hooked and tried to get my hands on the other ones and fortunately Dark Horse, and especially Stan Sakai have the right to publish all the issues, no matter who published it first. That’s the fine thing when the artist owns his own material.
Meanwhile I nearly got all of them and all of them contain great stories. Stan Sakai really kidnaps us into the world of feudal Japan, situated somewhere between the beginning of the 17th and the ending of the 19th century. He brings us into contact with culture, politics, ethic codes, economy, society, myths and much more. By reading his stories I learned many interesting things about the Japanese culture. Each story is built up with fine characters, storylines I don’t want to forget and love to read again, from time to time. It surely helps that Stan’s artwork and his way of telling the stories via his panels is without example, it is one of the best in the field nowadays. It works best in Black and White, the way the regular issues usually get published but it also works very good in colour. The later only happens to Mini-Series or One-Shots.
Recently the 150th issue got published via Dark Horse and it is one of those celebration points where others try to make a big issue with a lot of guest stars or the appearance of long-lost characters, heroes or evil villains. I still have the picture f a very humble Stan Sakai in my mind who didn’t give much thought about it and goes for a story about morale, ethics and a duel. This time a bit different.
This story is about a traveller from Europe who reached Japan. We see him duelling a man by using his rapier and winning due to the fact that he is a master swordsman, studied the Japanese sword-fight techniques and loves to confuse his opponent by fighting different. Not only is he curious about the Japanese way of fighting but also in their way of committing Hara-Kiri and wants to witness this act. He asks his host directly and being also quite ruthless he threatens to stop all connections in case he will not be able to see an act of Hara-Kiri, he even asks for one special person to commit, the local tea master. At the place of the tea master we see Usagi who visible enjoys being a guest and drinks tea when armed men arrive to pick the tea master up. From this point on things start to get dramatic and lead to a duel between the traveller from Europe and Usagi, the Ronin from Japan.
The story was a great read and Stan Sakais strength is still there, delivering a story that keeps you hooked, from panel to panel. I am looking forward to further 150 issues of Usagi’s story