Stan Sakai gets his wish with ‘Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles’

We chatted with the artist and creative team tasked with adapting the legendary ‘Usagi Yojimbo’ comic series.


By Brad Gullickson Published May 14, 2022

welcome to Saturday morning cartoons, our ongoing column where we continue the animation-focused ritual of yesteryear. We may no longer program our lives around small screen programming, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the necessary sanctuary of Saturday ‘toons’. In this post, we chat with the creative team at Samurai Rabbit about bringing Stan Sakai’s legendary comic book universe to television.

Love makes you stupid. After years, no, decades of pleas, pleas, and prayers, we finally have an animated series based on Stan Sakai‘s Usagi Yojimbo comic book. However, he doesn’t look or behave like we imagined he would. The creative adaptation creates anxiety and confusion for longtime fans, but if you take a moment to breathe and release your preconceived notions, you’ll discover a show brimming with imagination and infatuation with the source material.

samurai rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles Jump into the future of comics. showrunners candie langdale Y Doug Langdale Navigate Usagi’s legacy in an all-ages arena with fewer dead bodies than Miyamoto Usagi’s feudal Japan, but not entirely dead dead either. The Netflix show follows the reclusive ronin’s distant ancestor, Yuichi (darren barnett), struggling to honor their family history. Where Miyamoto was wise, kind, and resilient, Yuichi is ignorant, reckless, and reckless. He rushes into danger confident but inexperienced. The first ten episodes offer a hard and necessary lesson in mindfulness.

Miyamoto Usagi first appeared in the Anthropomorphic Albedo anthology in 1984 before finding a temporary home and a solo title with Fantagraphics. The character was a long-time resident of Dark Horse Comics before landing in his current home with IDW Publishing. Of course, you probably first met Usagi through his frequent guest appearances on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. He frequently crossed swords with Leonardo and was forever immortalized in plastic as a Playmates action figure.

usagi space, another animated take on the far future, nearly hit the small screen in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, the failure of the qualifications of bucky orThe war of the hare and the toad ruled out the possibility. Comic book fans have been waiting impatiently for the character to receive proper cartoon acceptance ever since. He took longer than most would have liked, including Stan Sakai, but Miyamoto’s world is finally streaming on Netflix.

Art director khang le he helped translate the characters and concepts from page to screen. He was tasked with placing a sci-fi veil over feudal Japan while inserting a recognizable modern animation aesthetic in the style of Stan Sakai. The result is somewhat crooked but not totally unfamiliar.

“Taking the focus off of my Miyamoto Usagi,” says Stan Sakai, “and putting it on the descendant, I thought that was a great move. I was a little hesitant, but it was Khang’s designs that really convinced me, ‘Oh, this is going to work.’ That first drawing he did of Neo Edo, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is great. It will look fantastic. And what Doug and Candie did with my character is great.”

All I needed Him to get back to work Usagi Yojimbo in samurai rabbit it was in Sakai’s favorite samurai movies and comics. She read and watched as much as he could. Later, he broke those designs into a contemporary reality. The juxtaposition gave birth to the whole vibe of the cartoon.

“You have a very traditional element,” explains Le, “of feudal Japan along with something that is very modern. For example, skyscrapers, vending machines, which are very popular in Japan, especially if you are walking around Tokyo. Every couple of steps, you can find a vending machine. We have a lot of signage, but it’s a good balance with the kind of architecture you usually see in samurai movies. We have this whole universe for Yuichi Usagi, and that’s like a mirror of what we’re doing now as well. Stan is Miyamoto, we are Yuichi.”

Filmmakers have a lot to live up to, and that comes with anxiety. As Yuichi is to Miyamoto, Doug and Candie Langdale are in awe of Stan Sakai. They were thrilled to be given the task, to bring the Sakai universe to television, but they were also nervous about messing it up.

Yuichi actually offered them a freedom that wouldn’t have come with Miyamoto. The teenage samurai wannabe is a completely new creation, and they could make him and his world bend to his will. His story could also reflect his discomfort, leaning on Yuichi’s desperate desire to honor his ancestor.

“Our Usagi is almost the opposite of a conspiracy theorist,” says Doug Langdale. “He arrives in this new place and discovers that no one’s belief in history matches his belief. Yuichi turns out to be right and tries [his ancestor’s nobility] to everyone, but he comes to this place as the lone voice that says, ‘No, history isn’t what you think it is. This guy you see as a villain was a great hero.’”

early in samurai rabbit, when Yuichi arrives in Neo Edo, he discovers that most people believe that Miyamoto Usagi is a great traitor. His textbooks taught them that Miyamoto turned against the government and murdered the shogun in cold blood. The possibility ends Yuichi’s idolatry, causing a crisis in the young hero.

“Yuichi looks a lot like a young Miyamoto Usagi,” says Sakai. “He is impulsive, like all people of that age; they know everything, they can do everything, but then he discovers that his confidence is not where he should be. His abilities are not true to what he thinks. That’s a big revelation for him, ‘Hey, at first, I didn’t think I needed a sensei. Now I want a sensei, and I want the best.’ And he finds one. It changes throughout the entire series; You can see the development of it. I think it’s wonderful. This is a very character-focused show. The artwork is fantastic, but the focus is on the characters.”

Doug and Candie Langdale vividly recall how they approached Sakai regarding the historical tarnish. samurai rabbit places in Miyamoto Usagi. They understood that it was a great question, but they also knew that Sakai was a good game when it came to playing with this particular timeline. Once again, their surroundings allowed them to freak out a bit.

“That was a fun day,” says Candie Langdale, “very humbly addressing Stan, ‘Excuse me, sir. We can do something? Can we tarnish your character a bit? He was very generous with us. But there is this separation. These are not Stan’s characters; they are descendants. So he gave us freedom of action. He is protective of his property, but he is not overprotective. We kept Miyamoto safe, but we can also have fun with him here.”

samurai rabbit represents Stan Sakai’s largest creative partnership. He was delighted with the experience and was deeply appreciative of the showrunners who came to him with numerous modifications and suggestions. And we’re not just talking about tweaking character designs; we are talking about every little element that is on the screen. Stan Sakai gave his word.

“This is my biggest collaboration to date,” says Sakai. “We had a whole team of writers, artists, designers. I got approval notices for everything like broccoli or rocks; I had to approve things like that. Other things were these huge flying boats, and my first thought, ‘My God, I love it. I would love to have a toy of that or a playset. I would love to go beyond the animated series and do toys and comics and everything.”

In the nearly forty years since Usagi Yojimbo‘s, very few people have ventured into the world of Stan Sakai. Almost every issue featuring his character was drawn by him, written by him, and lettered by him. One would think that with such intense control over the character, Stan Sakai wouldn’t be interested in seeing others play Miyamoto Usagi. That is simply not true, and his joyous experience in samurai rabbit I might have uncorked something.

“I’ve always liked seeing interpretations of my Usagi by other artists,” says Sakai. “In fact, at one point I proposed a series called Usagi Yojimbo: Kagemusha, shadow warriors, in which other creators would write and draw Usagi stories, maybe an anthology series, five or six issues. That’s something I would still love to do.”

Hearing the sound of Stan Sakai rejuvenated after this project is incredible. He acts like a young creator with a shiny new object in front of an audience, not an icon who regularly puts out a monthly comic that magically never gets old or repetitive. samurai rabbit it could be the next phase in his already momentous career, drawing even more fans into his universe.

The ten episodes currently streaming on Netflix are just the beginning. The next ten episodes of Samurai Rabbit are almost done and on the way. Be like Stan; get excited

samurai rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles It is now streaming on Netflix. If you’d like to hear our conversation with the creative force behind the series, jump over to the Comic Book Couples Counseling podcast.

Related Topics: Saturday Morning Cartoons

Brad Gullickson is a weekly columnist for Film School Rejects and a senior curator for One Perfect Shot. When he’s not rambling about movies here, he’s rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Catch him on Twitter: @BocaDork. (he/he)

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