Writer: Stan Sakai
Director: Amy Draper
Composer: Joji Hirota
Reviewer: Cavelle Leigh
Usagi Yojimbo sells itself as the alternative Christmas family show, set in 17thcentury Japan. Contrary to a fat and jolly Santa shimmying down chimneys bearing gifts for young children, it tells the tale of mean, lean fighting machine Usagi Yojimbo, keen to follow in his late fathers footsteps by becoming the ultimate samurai warrior. It is based on an internationally acclaimed comic book series by Stan Sakai), very popular among its loyal and somewhat niche following.
From his humble roots, Usagi (Jonathan Raggett) who one may have neglected to mention is a rabbit, goes on to become a protégé to the older though not necessarily wiser Sensai (Dai Tabuchi). Not so much his mentee as his slave, Usagi comes to resent his master, so much so that one day, despite himself, he defeats him in battle.
We see Usagi and his childhood friends Mariko (Haruka Kuroda) and Kenichi (Siu Hun Li) as they evolve from playmates to playdates, from friends to foes. Anime is appreciated because unlike much 2-D animation, it isn’t afraid of addressing adult themes, nor consequently does it wrap children in cotton-wool for longer than it perhaps should. It is admirable and desirable to protect a child’s innocence but not for so long that they can no longer deal with the too often harsh realities of life. However perhaps it is a little lenient to classify this somewhat violent production, its Samurai theme in particular, as suitable for ages 7+.
One assumed with a running time of 90 minutes, it would have a half way interval. Perhaps because of its young audience it didn’t, because once they stopped paying attention, they wouldn’t return. After all it was overly script heavy and visually mediocre for a show expected to sustain an entire family for an hour and a halfwithout a respite.
For those children with the attention span to see it through, some longer than the adults, a fable emerged. It showed that old friendships die hard, and that for some, more than accolade or glory, they really are worth fighting for. The story, and the moral to be garnered from it, is worth its salt but certainly a much shorter running time and more varied visuals are necessary. To its credit, the music was authentic and non-obtrusive composed by Joji Hirota, a native of Japan.
Challenging it must have been to adapt such a comic book for the stage, but bravely the creative team gave it a shot. However, it may have been better executed outside of the festive season, with an older target audience, shorter running time and much more enticing set and costume design.
Runs until 4thJanuary 2015