An animated series based on legendary comic book creator Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo series was launched last week on Netflix, to what seems like not much fan far. Which is not that surprising in that Usagi Yojimbo has never been a huge seller but with a loyal fan base since Sakai created the character of Miyamoto Usagi in 1984 and continues to publish new stories with the character to this day now over at IDW Publishing. For me personally and I would say this goes for a lot of people I only knew of Miyamoto Usagi from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon (or the 2003 cartoon for you younger folk) and the awesome action figure. I would not learn of the comic Usagi Yojimbo and Stan Sakai for some time. I mean there is no denying that Miyamoto Usagi is one of the best designed characters of all time, as simple as it may be. That coupled with that he is a character that has been with the same creator for the past 38 years is something that should be praised and odd that he has never really hit “main stream” until now.
So this all leads us to the new animated Netflix Series Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles that premiered April 28. I honestly had not heard much about it and did not know it premiered until Stan Sakai’s Instagram post popped up in my feed. Twitter friend @UpToTASK (check out his comic book series Leaders of the Free World on comixology) posted about it, when I replied “I feel like more people should be talking about this” his simple reply of “I think we are showing our age” was all too appropriate. So, I decided to check the series out this weekend. I am a big Usagi Yojimbo fan so I was probably going to check it out anyways and anybody that has gotten to meet Stan Sakai at a convention can tell you what a wonderful person he is, so he deserves whatever clicks or press he can get.
First off if you watch the trailer this is not a series that follows the Usagi Yojimbo comic and Miyamoto Usagi. It is set in the future and follows his ancestor who wants to be a Samurai and leads to him meeting new friends and having original adventures of his own. I have glanced at some of the fan bases responses just from the trailer and that went just about as good as you would think. The Usagi Chronicles is obviously geared toward a much younger demographic than the normal Usagi Yojimbo comic fan base, honestly it is not geared toward someone like me or anyone probably reading this article. So, this is not really a review but a breakdown of my thoughts after watching the first four episodes so far. What I like and don’t and just what I think. Not that any of that matters, but here it is.
Our introduction to our title character Yuichi Usagi just shows that the character design for Miyamoto Usagi is great and the creators updated it well for this new character, paying homage, but making it all his own as well. I actually loved all the character designs throughout the show. Great variations of weapons, clothing, world design, and I am always a sucker for a good retro futuristic design which is all over The Usagi Chronicles. I am not a huge fan of the 3D animation style though, the characters look good, but the movements feel a little clunky and slow in most of the action scenes, which is a disappointment, the animation movements reminds me a lot of Beast Wars: Transformers from back in the day (that is not a compliment, though I did love me some Beast Wars). But, then kids might like it so who am I to say? For, me the animation shines in some varied cut scenes from either flashbacks or inside a characters imaginations. The animation style switches to a drawn 2D approach that is tremendously done and for an older adult looks great. The art work in those scenes are fabulous and my favorite parts of the show so far. They are kind of creepy and shockingly violent, a huge variation from the 3D styling and storytelling of the main story.
I personally can’t really judge the story for one I am not the target demographic and I do not have kids currently in those regards it’s hard to judge the story and a reaction to it. It seems fun and something like I would have watched on a Saturday morning (I also have no clue how kids consume entertainment anymore, I am pretty sure Saturday morning cartoons are not a thing). For an adult obviously a lot of story points are silly, but it has a lot of fun stuff and I honestly don’t hate watching it, it is something I could see sitting and watching with my future kids and enjoying along with them. Not something like a lot of kids entertainment that parents dread having to watch or hear in the background over and over. The first four episodes I have gotten through are sequential in that they follow up on each other and on one hand that does get us a good footing on the characters and everything, but I think more episodic adventures would serve the series better and I hope it gets to that. I am a bit biased as I like more stand-alone stories and something I wish the Marvel tv shows would do (that is a completely other discussion though).
This is the major through line I see with Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles is that it is not made for the fans of the comics. It has some wonderful nods to the comic, like when things “die” we get a delightful little skull like apparition popping up and some flashbacks to Miyamoto Usagi in that superbly done 2D style, but the story is geared toward a younger generation, which is what needs to be done in my opinion. I can see why fans of the comic will dis-like this; I mean Usagi Yojimbo in nature is an all ages sort of comic so why does it need this drastic change? Plus I mean, my first reaction to the show probably wasn’t the greatest until I started watching it and thought about it. Stan Sakai deserves to be as successful and as well-known as any comic book creator and for Usagi to reach a new market maybe it needs something drastically different like this? I mean the originally TMNT cartoon was far, far different than the original comic and made the characters immensely more popular than the original comic ever would have. It would take me years later to discover the comic book and fall back in love with TMNT. That 1987 cartoon allowed for the amazing (and not so amazing) TMNT content we have gotten through the years. Maybe that will happen with Usagi Yojimbo? My hope is the series is a huge success and kids watch it, buy all kinds of Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles toys, shirts, or whatever and Stan Sakai makes bank and then those kids grow up, discover the chronicles and chronicles of Usagi Yojimbo comics and fall back in love once more. I hope the character continues on and on, and people discover how truly great Stan Sakai is and his creation lives on for generations to come.
I would say if you have kids let them check it out, it is certainly kid friendly, well lots of fighting and weapon use, so whatever your thoughts on that is to your digression. But, even if you don’t have kid’s give it a chance. Just a theory but the more popular Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles is the more popular the character becomes and who knows in the future we might get a little more adult oriented series as well that will please the “hardcore fans”. But if not I am still happy to see Stan Sakai’s creation getting some much needed attention.