Written by Mike Richardson
Art by Stan Saki
Color by Lovern Kindzierski
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and Lois Buhalis
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: March 5, 2014
Cover Price: $19.99
I’m sure that many of you are already aware of this, but the comic I am writing about today is based upon true events from the eighteenth century. 47 Ronin is more than just a great story, it’s a tale of honor, loyalty, and revenge. As I was not there for the actual events, I cannot attest to the accuracy. But this story has been called a national legend and it’s my pleasure to be able to introduce this comic adaptation to you.
I’ll be honest here, I am going to avoid the use of too many Japanese words as I am likely to inadvertently misspell a few of them. There are many different versions to this story but the main theme remains clear in all of them. And thanks to writer Mike Richardson, we all get to read it! Stan Sakai‘s artwork is distinctive and feels just right for this comic, simple yet refined. Between them, they have given us a wonderful graphic novel filled with action and intrigue.
Our story begins with Lord Asano Naganori being called to the court of his shogun. He charges his retainer Oishi to watch over his family in his absence, as he must first learn the ways of the court by training under Kira Yoshinaka, a court official, before presenting himself to the shogun. Accidentally insulting the corrupt official by failing to give him a more lavish gift, Asano finds himself an enemy of Kira and his training suffers for it. One insult leads to another and Asano is finally unable to restrain himself any longer. Striking the deceitful Kira in the face, he finds himself a criminal for having drawn a sword in the palace, an offense punishable by death.
More corruption occurs, based upon the marriages and proximity that certain members of court had to the offended Kira. A less than fair accounting of the incident leads to Asano’s conviction and to his death. But during this time a courier is sent to his estate to warn his family and samurai. Working quickly, Oishi formulates a plan to avenge his lost lord and restore his honor. But it is through unconventional methods that he seeks to do this.
Seeing Kira for the snake that he is, the shogun and his immediate staff send him from court. Imposing himself on his son’s father-in-law, Kira is quick to surround himself with guards and sends spies to track Asano’s retainers, rightfully fearing them. All the while, these same men are considered ronin and find themselves new professions so as to blend into the populace. Oishi himself takes it even further by repeatedly humiliating himself in public. Dishonoring his name and eradicating any respect the public had for him, he creates the illusion of a man lost to drink and debauchery.
Hearing of this and many other tales, Kira finally feels he is safe. At roughly the same time, Oishi gathers the remaining men to him near Kira’s new home. Plotting the assault upon the estate and knowing that their fate is sealed either way, the continue forward honorbound to avenge the fallen Asano. The battle ensues and Kira is nowhere to be found. He is eventually discovered and is found to be the coward they knew him to be. Severing his head, the samurai take it to the resting place of Lord Asano and there they await the authorities for judgement so as to complete their task of restoring his honor.
There are more subplots to the story that really help the reader empathize with the characters and draw us deeper into the world of feudal Japan, but I don’t want to spoil everything for you.
I especially enjoyed the way Richardson gave us a glance into the family of Asano, it really helped me connect with him as a father. Throughout it all, I am still amazed at how much honor meant to these men and the lengths that they would go to just to seek revenge. But even more, how they knew what they did was wrong and that they would pay the ultimate price regardless.
This is a comic that will be read more than once, of that I have no doubt. While it seems like a simple story of revenge, there is heroism here as well. And while it’s certainly not for little ones, it speaks volumes to adults. I cannot find anything that I did not like or enjoy. The fact that it’s based on a historical event makes it even cooler. Give this one a go, I feel like there’s something here for everyone.