Saturday, 22 August 2015

47 Ronin Review (Mike Richardson, Stan Sakai)


Set in feudal Japan, 1701, Lord Asano is sent to the court of the Shogun where he lets his temper get the better of him and draws his blade against Kira, an insidious court advisor - a forbidden act within the Shogun’s palace. Though clearly tricked by Kira, honour demands that Asano pay for his crime with his life. Learning of his lord’s death, Asano’s chief retainer, Oishi, leads a small group of loyal followers who make it their mission to see Kira dead - they are the 47 ronin. 

Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai’s adaptation of the 47 Ronin is a poor one. The script is clunky with dull scenes playing out too quickly and/or with little explanation and roughly drawn characters that were hard to care about. That might partly be because of the story’s age - older stories from centuries ago tend to be quite choppy and Richardson might just be being faithful to the style - but that doesn’t change how it reads. 

The characters are very simplistic and broad - Asano is the honourable one, Kira is the villain, Oishi is the hero - but I also didn’t find the story especially interesting in itself. It’s a straightforward revenge tale, albeit very Japanese. And speaking of Japan, there needed to be more explanation of this story’s elements. 

For example, my biggest question was what Asano was doing in the Shogun’s palace to begin with - why are the landowners obligated to attend the Shogun’s court every few years for a certain amount of time? And when they’re there, they’re just doing busywork like making tatami mats - why? Kira’s full name is Kira Yoshinaka, Kozuke-no-suke, but it’s not apparent that Kozuke-no-suke is a job title. No clue as to what that job is either - advisor, I guess? 

(I know there are extensive essays at the back of the book explaining it all but I shouldn’t have to read an essay afterwards to understand key plot points from the preceding comic.)

Certain scenes felt unnecessary like when Oishi spends a year (or however long) pretending to be a drunk to throw off Kira’s spies. Then he decides enough time has passed, kills the spies, and launches the assault on Kira’s house. Why wait a year keeping up the pretence - why not just go for it to start with seeing how easy it was to get rid of them? Other subplots like Some Guy breaking off his relationship with Some Girl and then later revealing they secretly married and had a kid were completely pointless. Considering how slowly the story moved anyway, these additions could’ve been cut. 

I’m a Usagi Yojimbo fan so I liked Stan Sakai’s artwork especially as it’s rarely coloured like it is here. Sakai’s period detail captures the era’s atmosphere well and, like his work on Usagi, he’s very restrained on the violence, keeping the blood and gore largely off-panel. 

Kazuo Koike, the Lone Wolf & Cub creator, is credited as an editorial consultant on this book though I’m not really sure what he brought to the table. Maybe he’s an expert on this story or something? Maybe Japanese audiences wouldn’t accept a version of their story written by a Westerner so Koike adds the requisite nationalism/credibility? 

Technically speaking, 47 Ronin is a decent comic. It does have some narrative weaknesses which might be down to Richardson as I’ve read a couple of his other comics before and didn’t care for them either. Perhaps if another writer (Sakai?) had taken on the script, it would’ve made for a better book but he’s also the Dark Horse publisher so it’s his call at the end of the day! It’s also a very dry, passionless retelling that I couldn’t get excited about - 47 Ronin just wasn’t for me. 

I might still check out the Keanu movie though which could be good for a laff! (“Woah - you killed my friend? NOT cool, bro! Like, I’m totally Japanese!”)

47 Ronin

1 comment:

  1. Could not disagree with you more, on every single issue you point out.

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