It’s a story that has grown to define Japanese culture, and Columbia University has called it the country’s “national legend.” And now, it’s come to America.47 Ronin is the name of a four-issue miniseries that artist Stan Sakai and writer/publisher Mike Richardson are working on together, retelling an 18th century story about samurai and their code of honor. In it, a group of samurai seek out revenge after their lord, Asano Naganori, was forced to take his own life by a corrupt government official. So far three issues of 47 Ronin have been released, with the final issue scheduled for a May 1st release.
Although the story of the forty-seven ronin has been told and retold countless times since its debut in the early 18th century, there have been many dramatic differences between takes, making the truth to the story hard to discern. For Richardson, finding the most authentic approach to the story was the central tenant of his work.
“Many of the facts around the historical story are lost. We do know the basic events surrounding the incident,” said Richardson. “Influencing the tale were the plays that sprung up quickly recounting and dramatizing the event. There has always been controversy surrounding the true events and also in interpreting the motives of the ronin.”“I sorted through the history, the play, the books and movies and took the elements I felt made the story understandable and compelling to an American readership,” explains Richardson, who was also one of the earliest publishers of manga in America. “We've tried to keep an authentic feel to our version and judging from the reaction we are getting, we've succeeded.”
In Richardson and Sakai’s 47 Ronin, they center the tale primarily through the eyes of Oishi, the samurai who served as chief retainer to the dead Lord Asano.
“Oishi seemed the logical character to revolve the story around. He was close to Asano and responsible for organizing the revenge plot,” points out Richardson. “His character also seemed to go through the most trauma in carrying out the plan, having walked away from his home, his wife, and the respect so crucial in Japan during that era. In the end, his own son sacrificed his life as well. As we tell the story, all in the name of honor, faithful duty, and, of course, righteous revenge. I think his stoic character offers insight into traditional Japanese ideals.“47 Ronin is a story told and retold in Japanese culture for over 200 years in movies, plays and manga, and it’s something Richardson has been wanting to adapt for over two decades.
“I was made aware of the tale by Randy Stradley,” Richardson said, referring to his long-time friend and Dark horse editor. “We were both fans of Japanese culture, meaning films, comics, toys, and whatever. I began reading and watching the different versions of the legend and became fascinated with it. Early on in Dark Horse's history, creators such as Frank Miller had expressed interest, but for one reason or another, the project never got off the ground.”
The impetus to finally surge forward and adapt the book himself came from an unlikely place -- Lone Wolf and Cub writer Kazuo Koike.“Koike himself suggested that I go forward with the project,” Richardson explained. “I had shared the idea and he had comments and insights regarding the legend.”
With Koike on-hand as an editorial consultant, Richardson spent years trying to find the right artist to partner with to adapt this weighty tale. And as it turns out, his answer was right in front of him the whole time.
“I wanted to find an artist who would lend authenticity to the work. It seemed that whomever was involved as the artist would be under intense scrutiny,” the writer said of the adaptation. “I had never really thought about Stan because he was busy with Usagi Yojimbo and was not known for drawing humans. It was my own oversight. I was looking over an online collection of his art and saw a drawing he did and I immediately realized that he would be perfect for the project… while at the same time kicking myself for not having thought of Stan earlier.”