"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
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
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
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
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.
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.