In 1987, Stan Sakai added a new comic book hero to the world, and his presence would even be felt in the TMNT universe. The book Usagi Yojimbo introduced the world to Miyamoto Usagi, the anthropomorphic ronin rabbit for hire. Usagi lived in the early Edo period in Japan (around the beginning of the 17th century), in a world where animals replaced humans. The day-to-day goings on of the world saw animals acting as people would, and so Usagi was not a mutant or an outcast, but just another member of society. The comic drew heavily on Japanese culture and film, including the works of Akira Kurosawa and popular movies like Lone Cub and Godzilla. The entirety of the world’s architecture and designs came from the period in which it was set, giving Miyamoto Usagi a real place in history to draw upon.
Miyamoto Usagi lives his life as a traveling swordsman. When he was young, he was meant to be trained in the art of war, but after seeing a swordsman defeat a large group of bullies, Usagi decided to become a swordsman as well. After mastering the sword, Usagi met his Lord Mifune, and served in the man’s personal bodyguard for many years. However, when the evil Lord Hijiki had Mifune’s family killed, and Mifune fell in battle over revenge, Usagi left the court. He then traveled the land as a sword for hire. However, he never lost the pride and honor of a warrior, and serves those he meets faithfully until his work is completed.
Over the course of its publishing history, Usagi Yojimbo has been in print at three different publishers. Fantagraphics Books published the first volume in 38 issues; Mirage comics tackled the second in 16 issues; and Dark Horse comics still publishes the third, with over 100 issues in print. Along with specials, art books, and even a spinoff series that saw Usagi in space (with a descendant of the original taking up the sword when space mimicked Feudal Japan), the comic has had a long and successful run, thanks in no small part to its creator. Since Stan Sakai still owns all rights to his character, he was able to do what was best for the rabbit ronin. He could experiment with stories and artwork, and make Miyamoto Usagi everything he wanted, without outside influence or creative differences.
There were several times when Miyamoto Usagi made an appearance in the stories of other heroes, too. Most notably were his several appearances in the TMNT universe. When Mirage Comics was publishing the Usagi Yojimbo book, Stan Sakai wrote three crossover stories (and Peter Laird did a fourth). Crossing the comic dimensions involved some sort of portal bringing the two stories together. In the first, Leonardo travels across time and space before arriving in Usagi’s world. Later, Leo is zapped to the Usagi’s world again, and ultimately, magic brings all four turtles to the anthropomorphic animal Japan.
Usagi also appeared in the first two animated TMNT series, as well. In 1987, an accident with Donatello’ s interdimensional portal device brought the rabbit ronin to NYC, where he helped the turtles correct the source of the accident, as well as have his own adventures before he was able to return home. In 2003, Usagi was competing in the Battle Nexus tournament when he met Splinter, and then his sons years later. He eventually became a friend of the turtles, and would join them in New York for a while. True the comic story, Leonardo also made a trip to Usagi’s world, where he and his friend helped one another yet again.
Miyamoto Usagi has had a long and successful history, with plenty of adventures to show for it. Not only that, but he’s become an integral part of the TMNT universe as well, and his presence will be expected in the 2012 series (especially since interdimensional travel is most definitely a thing). His continued success is all but guaranteed for years to come.