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Grasscutter Chapter 8

Sanshobo

Grasscutter Chapter 7: Usagi and Jei <-- --> My Father's Swords

General Info
 

First Published: July, 1998 by Dark Horse Comics

Comics Which Contain This Story
 

USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 3, Number 22

USAGI YOJIMBO Book Twelve: Grasscutter
(Pages 223-246)

Characters in This Story
 
Story Notes
 

Grasscutter (Finis)

"Grasscutter" is the longest Usagi epic so far, and it took the longest time to write - about five years with research. Along the way, it underwent a lot of changes. These story notes reveal some of the alternative endings and plot elements that fell by the wayside as the story developed. Call this an essay on how a story changes and is refined as it matures.

Most historians agree that the sword, Grasscutter, was lost in the Dannoura straits during the battle of Shimonoseki, but a replica of it, created during the reign of Emperor Sujin, is kept at Atsuta Temple in Owari Province. However, there is a minority, including noted Japanophile Dr. Stephen Turnbull, that holds that it was the replica that was lost during the battle and the original is housed at the temple.

Now I, like many of you, am a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, though I thought the climax was weak. Come on, after all of Indiana Jones' trials and travails, force majeure, the hand of God, comes down and saves the day, destroying all the Nazis. He could have stayed home in his living room and the outcome would have been the same. But the denouement is an original one. Having the ark become a victim of bureaucracy, lost in plain sight, was a brilliant move.

My first impulse while plotting out "Grasscutter" was to have the sword lost once again, probably back at Dannoura, though there were other fates, such as falling into an earthquake fissure. But I remembered Raiders, and I wanted an ending like that, where it's lost but in plain sight. Besides, it reconciles the beliefs of both camps of historians. Technically, it's lost, but secretly it's on display.

Another story element that changed dramatically was the inheritor of Jei's "black soul." Originally, it was to have been his companion, Keiko, but I realized my mistake as soon as I completed the story that introduced her in 1995: I can't have a little girl wandering the country wantonly killing people because she hears directives from the gods. So, I kept her as a familiar, as a witch keeps a black cat for a companion. She would travel with Jei but not be directly involved in the slaughter, and her "innocence" would remain intact. But who would inherit the soul? My first impulse was Tomoe. I saw a great scene of her, demon-crazed, wandering the halls of the Geishu castle intent on slaying Noriyuki, only to have Usagi bar her way. It would be the ultimate showdown between them. Thinking it over, however, I knew that hordes of Tomoe fans (Todd Shogun among them) would hunt me down like a mad dog. Besides, I like Tomoe and have other plans for her. I still wanted a female to take over the soul, so in 1995 I introduced Inazuma in "A Meeting of Strangers" [UY Vol. 2, #16]. She was already an accomplished swordsman, but through natural ability rather than intense training, such as in Usagi's case. She was a killer hunted by outlaws, but with a sense of honor that made her a sympathetic character. She was perfect to inherit Jei's soul. She'll be back, though not in the immediate future.

My one regret in the story is that Usagi and Tomoe never met. There is a scene in the original draft in which Tomoe and the Geishu lord are trapped at the cliffs when the frail rope bridge, their last salvation, is destroyed. Suddenly, Usagi, Gen, and Chizu, like the cavalry in a John Wayne movie, come to the rescue! However, simple geography squashed that idea. Shimonoseki is south of the Geishu Province (present-day Hiroshima), which is south of Edo (present-day Tokyo). So, they would both be traveling north, and Usagi would not be able to catch up. I still wanted a rescuer, so General Ikeda was born. That he was an enemy of the Geishu lord with his intentions always in question gave the story further suspense. His introductory story in 1997 [UY Vol. 3, #10] had a finality to the ending - he was a one-shot character that had found his peace with his life. That made his reappearance all the more surprising and the character became dynamic as he underwent his own inner conflicts, as well as those with Tomoe.

Yes, in the previous paragraph, I had mentioned Chizu was to have been in "Grasscutter." Kitsuné was also to have played a part; so too Lord Hebi, the Komori Ninja, and those lovable woodcutters. The story became unwieldy with too many subplots to fit into 24-page installments, so they were cut. But the Chizu/Hebi/Neko Ninja/Komori story will be told further down the line.

One person who was not to have played a part ended up having a pivotal role, though. Priest Sanshobo was created for "The Wrath of the Tangled Skein" in 1996 [UY Vol. 3, #3] and for that story only. I received a lot of mail asking for his return - more letters than I had ever received for a new character, so I developed him a little further and he fit in perfectly.

So that's a quick overview of how I typically go about writing a story, albeit "Grasscutter" is not you typical Usagi story. New story lines are created just as old ones are resolved. But the story of Kusanagi-no-tsurugi, the sword of the Gods, has ended...or has it? After all, they've still got to take the sword to Atsuta Temple.

Synopsis
 

In the aftermath of Jei and Usagi's duel, a great pillar of light rises heavenwards; seen for a great distance in every direction, many fear it. Priest Sanshobo's temple is close to the eerie phenomenom and he sets out to investigate, but he and his escort come upon Usagi and Gen, wounded and unconscious, and the sword Grasscutter.

A priest, sent back to the temple returns half-mad, with word of terrible destruction and death, but upon their return with the pair of wounded ronin and the terrified priest, they discover that Inazuma is missing.

Meantime, Noriyuki and Tomoe, Ikeda and Motokazu have found safety, and rest from their ordeal.

Likewise, Keiko has found the object of her search, and the swordswoman Inazuma and Jei's little innocent continue their journey.

 
 
Grasscutter Chapter 7: Usagi and Jei <-- --> My Father's Swords


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