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Usagi Yojimbo
Usagi Yojimbo, Book 1: The Ronin
Publication information
Publisher Dark Horse Comics
Thoughts and Images
Fantagraphics Books
Mirage Studios
Radio Comix
IDW Publishing
Format Ongoing series
Genre Historical
Action
Fantasy
Publication date 1984–present
Number of issues 165 (219 overall as of December 2016)
Creative team
Writer(s) Stan Sakai
Artist(s) Stan Sakai
Collected editions
The Ronin ISBN 0-930193-35-0

Usagi Yojimbo (兎用心棒 Usagi Yōjinbō, "rabbit bodyguard") is a comic book series created by Stan Sakai. It is set primarily at the beginning of the Edo period of Japanese history and features anthropomorphic animals replacing humans. The main character is a rabbit rōnin, Miyamoto Usagi, whom Sakai based partially on the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Usagi wanders the land on a musha shugyō (warrior's pilgrimage), occasionally selling his services as a bodyguard.

Usagi Yojimbo is heavily influenced by Japanese cinema; it has included references to the work of Akira Kurosawa (the title of the series is derived from Kurosawa's 1960 film Yojimbo), as well as 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 series follows the standard traditional Japanese naming-convention for all featured characters: their family names followed by their given names.

The books are primarily episodic, with underlying larger plots which create long extended storylines—though there are some novel-length narratives. 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 a 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. Those efforts have been successful enough for the series to be awarded a Parents' Choice Award in 1990 for its educational value through Sakai's "skillful weaving of facts and legends into his work".

Usagi Yojimbo first appeared in Albedo Anthropomorphics #2, published by Thoughts and Images in November 1984. Stan Sakai accepted an offer to move his warrior rabbit to Fantagraphics Books where he appeared in several issues of the new anthropomorphic anthology series Critters. Usagi's popularity influenced Fantagraphics to then release the Usagi Yojimbo Summer Special in October 1986 and then to give the ronin rabbit his own ongoing series with issue #1 being published in July 1987. Usagi was named the 31st-greatest comic book character by Empire magazine and was ranked 92nd in IGN's list of the top 100 comic book heroes. Rolling Stone named Usagi Yojimbo no. 43 in their '50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels'.

Appearances on television

Usagi first appeared in episodes 32 and 34 in the third season of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. He next appeared in episodes 23–26 in the second season of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series for an interdimensional tournament against the Turtles (along with Gen). He and Gen showed up again in episodes 1 and 22–23 of season 3 for a Christmas party and a continuation of the second-season storyline (which prominently featured his world and characters), respectively. Usagi again appeared in episode 13 of season 4 ("Samurai Tourist") for a confrontation with Leonardo, although the focus was mainly on Gen. Usagi and Gen also attended the wedding of April O'Neil and Casey Jones in episode 13 of season 7 (Back to the Sewer) titled "Wedding Bells and Bytes". He becomes one of their greatest inter-dimensional allies and especially closest to Leonardo.

In September 2016, an appearance of Usagi was also announced for the 2012 CGI series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He appears in the fifth season (which is titled Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) in the episodes "Yojimbo", "Osoroshi no Tabi", and "Kagayake! Kintaro", where the Turtles are hurled into his dimension, and teamed up to save a child he protects from ancient evil.

On February 8, 2018, it was announced that a CGI adaptation of the comics is in the works from Gaumont Animation. On July 15, 2020, Gaumont announced that the series will be released worldwide exclusively on Netflix under the title Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles, in partnership with Netflix Animation. Production companies Atomic Monster and Dark Horse Entertainment are also partnering with Gaumont, with Mumbai-based studio 88 Pictures handling the CGI animation. The series takes place in the far future and will center on rabbit teenager Yuichi, who is the descendant of Miyamoto Usagi. Doug and Candie Langdale will serve as show-runners on the series.

Collections and graphic novels

Numbered volumes

  • Book 1: The Ronin (1987, Fantagraphics) – collects stories from Albedo Anthropomorphics #2, 3, and 4; Usagi Yojimbo: Summer Special #1; The Doomsday Squad #3; and Critters #1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 14
  • Book 2: Samurai (1989, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #1–6
  • Book 3: Wanderer's Road (1989, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #7–12 and a story from Turtle Soup (vol. 1) #1
  • Book 4: Dragon Bellow Conspiracy (1991, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #13–18
  • Book 5: Lone Goat and Kid (1992, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #19–24
  • Book 6: Circles (1994, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #25–31 and a story from Critters #50
  • Book 7: Gen's Story (1996, Fantagraphics) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 1) #32–38 and a story from Critters #38
  • Book 8: Shades of Death (1997, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #1–6 and stories from #7–8
  • Book 9: Daisho (1998, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #7–12 and 14
  • Book 10: The Brink of Life and Death (1998, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #13 and 15–16 and Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #1–6
  • Book 11: Seasons (1999, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #7–12 and Usagi Yojimbo Color Special: Green Persimmon #1, and stories from Usagi Yojimbo Roleplaying Game and The Art of Usagi Yojimbo #1
  • Book 12: Grasscutter (1999, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #13–22
  • Book 13: Grey Shadows (2000, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #23–30
  • Book 14: Demon Mask (2001, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #31–38 and stories from Dark Horse Presents (vol. 1) #140, Dark Horse Presents Annual #3, Wizard magazine #97, Oni Double Feature #11, and Dark Horse Extra #20–23
  • Book 15: Grasscutter II – Journey to Atsuta Shrine (2002, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #39–45
  • Book 16: The Shrouded Moon (2003, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #46–52
  • Book 17: Duel at Kitanoji (2003, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #53–60 and stories from Dark Horse Extra #45–48
  • Book 18: Travels with Jotaro (2004, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #61–68
  • Book 19: Fathers and Sons (2005, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #69–75
  • Book 20: Glimpses of Death (2006, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #76–82 and a story from Drawing the Line
  • Book 21: The Mother of Mountains (2007, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #83–89
  • Book 22: Tomoe's Story (2008, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #90–93 and stories from Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #1–3
  • Book 23: Bridge of Tears (2009, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #94–102
  • Book 24: Return of the Black Soul (2010, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #103–109 and a story from Free Comic Book Day: Star Wars / Dark Horse All Ages #1
  • Book 25: Fox Hunt (2011, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #110–116 and a story from MySpace Dark Horse Presents #18
  • Book 26: Traitors of the Earth (2012, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #117–123 and stories from Dark Horse Maverick 2001 #1 and MySpace Dark Horse Presents #35
  • Book 27: A Town Called Hell (2013, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #124–131
  • Book 28: Red Scorpion (2014, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #132–138
  • Book 29: Two Hundred Jizo (2015, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #139–144 and stories from Dark Horse Presents (vol. 2) #7 and 35–36
  • Book 30: Thieves and Spies (2016, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #145–151
  • Book 31: The Hell Screen (2017, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #152–158
  • Book 32: Mysteries (2018, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #159–165
  • Book 33: The Hidden (2019, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #1–7 (vol. 3, #166–172)
  • Book 34: Bunraku and Other Stories (2020, IDW) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 4) #1–7
  • Book 35: Homecoming (2021, IDW) – collects Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 4) #8–14

Omnibus collections

  • Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition (2009, Fantagraphics) – collects books #1–7
  • The Usagi Yojimbo Saga
    • Volume 1 (2014, Dark Horse) – collects books #8–10
    • Volume 2 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #11–13
    • Volume 3 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #14–16
    • Volume 4 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #17–19
    • Volume 5 (2015, Dark Horse) – collects books #20–22
    • Volume 6 (2016, Dark Horse) – collects books #23–25
    • Volume 7 (2016, Dark Horse) – collects books #26–28
    • Volume 8 (2019, Dark Horse) – collects books #29–31
    • Volume 9 (2021, Dark Horse) – collects books #32-33 and all TMNT crossovers
    • Legends (2017, Dark Horse) – collects Space Usagi, Yokai, and Senso and a story from CBLDF Liberty Annual 2014 #1

Other collections and graphic novels

  • Space Usagi (1998, Dark Horse) – collects Space Usagi (vol. 1) #1–3, Space Usagi (vol. 2) #1–3, and Space Usagi (vol. 3) #1–3, and stories from Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #3 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (vol. 1) #47
  • Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai (2009, Dark Horse) – original graphic novel
  • Usagi Yojimbo: Senso (2015, Dark Horse) – collects Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1–6
  • Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection (2018, Dark Horse) – collects stories from Turtle Soup #1, Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 3) #10, Shell Shock, Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 2) #1–3, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo, in the Saga trade dress

Art books

  • The Art of Usagi Yojimbo (2004, Dark Horse) – includes stories from Trilogy II Tour Book and the hardcover edition of Usagi Yojimbo Book Four
  • The Sakai Project: Artists Celebrate Thirty Years of Usagi Yojimbo (2014, Dark Horse)
  • Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Edition Volume 1: Samurai and Other Stories (2015, Dark Horse)
  • Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Edition Volume 2: The Artist and Other Stories (2016, Dark Horse)
  • Usagi Yojimbo: 35 Years of Covers (2019, Dark Horse)

Related works

A project for an animated television series, Space Usagi, was cancelled following the failure of Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars. However, Space Usagi was one of the action figures produced under the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line.

Two editions of an Usagi role-playing game have been made, a 1998 version, Usagi Yojimbo Roleplaying Game, from Gold Rush Games and a 2005 version from Sanguine Productions. A second edition of the 2005 version was successfully Kickstarted in 2019. A Hero Pack of Miyamoto Usagi, Gennosuke and Kitsune will be added to Arcadia Quest.

The comic is the basis of two video games: the 1988 game Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo and the 2013 game Usagi Yojimbo: Way of the Ronin. Both are side-scrolling hack-and-slash action games.

Awards

The series has been awarded 5 Eisner Awards and over 20 nominations.

  • 1996 Eisner Award for "Best Letterer" (Groo and Usagi Yojimbo)
  • 1996 Eisner Award for "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" (Usagi Yojimbo)
  • 1999 Eisner Award for "Best Serialized Story" (Usagi Yojimbo "Grasscutter")
  • 2012 Eisner Award for "Best Lettering" (Usagi Yojimbo)
  • 2015 Eisner Award for "Best Lettering" (Usagi Yojimbo)
  • 2018 Eisner Award for "Best Lettering" (Usagi Yojimbo and Groo: Slay of the Gods)

The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo presented an exhibit entitled "Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo from July 9 through October 30, 2011.

Usagi was rated No. 92 on IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.

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