Fans of Usagi Yujimbo by Stan Sakai are most likely thrilled that he’s fully crossed over to the animation medium in The Usagi Chronicles. His appearances in the past were scant and even though Miyamato is mostly a background character in this new Netflix series, it’s his ancestor, Yuichi Yujimbo, who is the star of Samurai Rabbit.
The emphasis is on the latter since it’s his story. This youngling’s goal to become a samurai. One day, he’ll be the leader of the team he’s friends with. The first episode sees him having difficulty gaining Gen the Rhino, Kitsune the Fox, and Chizu the Cat’s respect. This rabbit has much to learn, especially when making the rough and tumble streets of Neo-Tokyo his “home.”
Yuichi’s first mistake is to unleash yokai upon the city. He didn’t know what the magic crystal contained. For the rest of the series, it’s his job to locate where they’ve gone and to trap them back in that rock. It won’t be easy since he’s an unskilled warrior, and it’ll take time for him to deal with that and a kaiju-sized threat trying to claw its way into this universe!
I came in with expectations since I’m familiar with the comic books. There’s a lot more detail to Miyamato’s journey, and some of it is revealed when Yuichi looks back at all that his idol has done. Plus, it took time for both “heroes” to earn the respect of others. Yuichi is trying too hard to honour his ancestor. I think he should figure out why being a hero matters since he’s obviously stumbling along the way for much of the series.
When he finally gets it, he can soldier on. Thankfully, the ten episode series delivers a good balance between satisfying fans who want to see Miyamoto again and continuate the saga, hence the multifold title. Although the original is not animated, I’m okay with how he gets presented–through the eyes of Yuichi and the magnificence of Sakai’s art. The still images evoke more power than the animation. To see classical yokai in CGI looks gorgeous. The giant skeleton Gashadokuro looks just as menacing in the digital front and I was giddy to see more of these spirits come alive while watching this series.
It’s hard to say if The Usagi Chronicles will get another season though. Parts of the presentation feels rough and the story arcs have pacing issues. Not every series can find its sea legs right away but I’ll watch it through. I predict the teen will turn ronin when he figures where his future lays. After all, that’s how Miyamato’s adventures began in volume one of the series, also titled The Ronin.