Review - Ronin 47 #1

Japan is rife with history. A history steeped heavily in tradition and honor, best exemplified by the code of the samurai. It's that code which led to the legend of the 47 Ronin and their years-long mission to avenge their disgraced master. That tale will now see new light as a comic from Dark Horse Comics called 47 Ronin #1.

The issue is written by Mike Richardson, with art by Stan Sakai, colors by Lovern Kindzierski and letters by Tom Orzechowski and Louis Buhalis.

The story starts in the present, with Murakami Kiken of Satsuma lamenting a past. That past involves Asano Takumi-Naganori of Ako being summoned by Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Asano knows little in the way of court politics, prompting Oishi, his Chief Retainer, to express some concern for how Asano will fare. Asano isn't as worried, as he'll be instructed by Court Official Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka in proper etiquette.

Taking his servant Yasobei along with him, Asano sets out to learn the ways of etiquette from an admittedly corrupt man in Kira. Asano refuses to play, forcing Kira to constantly harass Asano and attempt to humiliate him in the Shogun's palace. Asano is pushed too far and draws his sword against Kira in the palace. Such an act is punishable by death, leaving Asano in an unenviable situation while Yasobei is tasked with fetching Oishi.

Whew. Richardson has crafted quite a first issue to start out the series. Everything you could possibly want from a samurai tale is here. Asano struggles with reconciling a desire to please the Shogun with Kira's obviously immoral approach to the training. Oishi is sufficiently worried for his master and the sparks are flying where everyone feels dishonored.

Asano as a main character is a little difficult to get a handle on. He vacillates between humble servant of the Shogun and short-tempered combatant. It's somewhat expected in light of what sets him off, but the changes seem a little too rash. Going to such extremes makes it hard to fully understand who Asano is, something that will likely be explored more fully in future issues.

Sakai's art is fitting. It lends a pulpy, newspaper comic feel to the book, offering very simple panels that elegantly tell a deeper story. The characters and environments are sufficiently presented, with Sakai focusing on body language to effectively convey emotion. His art is a perfect complement to Richardson's story, presenting an entire package.

If you're big on samurai stories, Ronin 47 #1 is for you. It really captures the conflict the samurai of the 1700s faced, fighting to assuage years of supremacy through combat with a changing world where they take it upon themselves to dictate morality. It's a great first issue that sets up the remainder of the series to be at least as great, if not better.

Ronin 47 #1 is available November 7 with interiors below.