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A Rabbit, A Sword, and A Pen

Photo Courtesy: LindsayLime

I have a dare for you.

I want you to go to a Comic Book Convention and when you see a geek there, I want you to say “Have you heard of Stan the Man?”

Geeks are familiar with the name “Stan the Man.”

You say this title to a geek in a Comic Convention, most of them will start going into giddy convulsions because the name is associated with Stan Lee, creator of a majority of Marvel Comics Superheroes.

But have you heard of the other Stan the Man – Stan Sakai?

If you are familiar with his character Usagi Yojimbo, you would. If not, stick with me, H3ro.

Who is Stan Sakai?

Photo Courtesy: EternalWarrior68

I am going to give a brief bio on him from Wikipedia:

“Stan Sakai (スタン坂井born May 25, 1953) is a third-generation Japanese American comic book creator.

Born in Kyoto, Japan, Sakai grew up in Hawaii and studied fine arts at the University of Hawaii. He later attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He and his wife, Sharon, presently reside and work in Pasadena.

He began his career by lettering comic books (notably Groo the Wanderer by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier) and wrote and illustrated The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy; a comic series with a medieval setting, influenced by Sergio Aragones’s Groo the Wanderer. The characters first appeared in Albedo #1 in 1984, and were subsequently featured in issues of Critters, GrimJack, Amazing Heroes and Furrlough.

Sakai became famous with the creation of Usagi Yojimbo, the epic saga of Miyamoto Usagi, a samurai rabbit living in late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth-century Japan.”

Now before you start spiting out your green tea, you read that last sentence right. Stan has a story about a samurai rabbit.

Let me say that slow: Sam-u-rai Rab-bit.

Ludicrous?

Absurd you say?

Has Stan been smoking the ganja too much?

How about we look at a few items about this comic?

The comic has been in existence since 1987 and STILL going strong with a robust fan base. You can go to the website:Usagi Yojimbo.com to see the fervor there.

Stan has won many awards for the series (16 awards in total). Not a small task at all.

The series has won 4 Eisner award (The Eisner Award is equal to the Academy Awards in the comic book industry). A very prestigious honor.

Okay, now I’m curious. What is Usagi Yojimbo and why should I care?

I am the first to admit that I originally saw this series in the library and thought to myself, “Who in the world would want to read a story about a samurai rabbit?” I scoffed at this idea. The two doesn’t connect. The idea is like having dehydrated water. This couldn’t be possible.

I stuffed my skepticism into the closet of my mind, locked the door, and decided that as a writer I needed to open myself to new ideas and explore new stories. How else would I grow? If I don’t grow, I become stagnant.

I told the leap, H3roes, into the land of Usagi Yojimbo.

And I glad that I did.

Usagi Yojimbo is “…set primarily at the beginning of Edo period of Japan (early 17th century), with anthropomorphic animals replacing humans, it features a rabbit ronin, Miyamoto Usagi, who is partially based on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.[4] Usagi wanders the land on a musha shugyo (warrior’s pilgrimage) occasionally selling his services as a bodyguard. Usagi Yojimbo is heavily influenced by Japanese cinema and has included references to the work of Akira Kurosawa (the title of the series is derived from Kurosawa’s 1960 film Yojimbo) and to icons of popular Japanese cinema such as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi, and Godzilla. The series is also influenced somewhat by Groo the Wanderer by Sergio Aragonés (Sakai is the letterer for that series), but the overall tone of Usagi Yojimbo is more serious and reflective.

The books consist of novel-length narratives or short stories, with underlying larger plots which create long extended story lines. The stories include many references to Japanese history and Japanese folklore, and sometimes include mythical creatures. The architecture, clothes, weapons, and other objects are drawn with faithfulness to period style. There are often stories whose purpose is to illustrate various elements of Japanese arts and crafts, such as the fashioning of kites, swords, and pottery.” – Wikipedia

Although the comic looks unassuming, Stan Sakai happens to be a master storyteller. He has the ability to take the characters and breathe life into them. I found myself immersed into this world of the bushido code, sword fighting, and conflicts. To me, what makes a good story great is the depth of the conflict and Usagi does not disappoint.

Everything the hero goes through makes him that much stronger and much more skilled as a fighter. I found myself eager to turn the pages to find out what happens to him and how the fights would pan out. I did not feel let down at all at the last stages of each story arc (By the way, all of the series are now in graphic novel form).

Every arc created by Stan was methodically put together and the infusion of Japanese history and mythology carried the stories with gravity and electricity that spark emotions within you.

Stan also not only crafts the stories, he also illustrates the stories and has drawn them since 1987. Incredulously, the art carries the same emotional wave as the story he presents to offer a perfect blend of storytelling (Think Chinese Wuxia yet in a Japanese setting).

The only negative I can say about this series is there are times where the dialogue drags the story along in some story arcs. Afterwards, the plot begins to pick back up with blazing action and intriguing characterization.

I hope that you, like me, will be open-minded to find the books in your local library and become swept up into Stan Sakai’s imaginative world. Then maybe you too will believe that a samurai rabbit is not such a crazy idea after all. 

So what do you think? 

Would you be willing to read a book like Usagi Yojimbo?  What are some of your favorite anthropomorphic stories/characters?

Photo Courtesy: Usagi Yojimbo.com

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4 thoughts on “A Rabbit, A Sword, and A Pen

  1. Nice write-up!

    Just to clarify, while the first comic book published under the title of Usagi Yojimbo was released in 1987, Stan Sakai published stories featuring the character of Usagi Miyamoto in Albedo during 1984 and 1985, and in the pages of Critters and Doomsday Squad during 1986. Most, if not all, of the stories collected in Usagi Yojimbo Book 1 (Ronin) were all originally published before Usagi had his own comic book series.

    Incredulously, the art carries the same emotional wave as the story he presents to offer a perfect blend of storytelling (Think Chinese Wuxia yet in a Japanese setting).

    I personally prefer to compare Stan Sakai’s storytelling to Japanese chambara, the samurai film genre which he grew up watching in Hawaii and which greatly influenced him (see references to Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub, etc).

    – Steve

    • Hi Steve,

      Thank you so much for stopping by. I may need to look into the Japanese chambara films. Thank you for correcting me and feel free to stop by anytime. 🙂

  2. I will have to check it out. I love Feudal Japan as a setting for anything, and didn’t even bat an eye at the prospect of a ninja rabbit. I like my anime and manga to be metaphorically grounded on earth, that deep story arc being the key. Cowboy Bebop is as commonly named as ‘good anime’ as LOTR is named for ‘good fantasy’, but that was one that got it very very right. The rabbit sounds promising.

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