The samurai hare with a knife
Released in 1989
I’ll be honest; I don’t know much about Usagi Yojimbo outside of the TMNT franchise. Seeing his debut in season three of the first animated series was an awesome, if not slightly heartbreaking, affair. Seeing as how Usagi was from an alternate reality where animals evolved instead of humans who became trapped in our world was something that I had never seen before. Add to that the fact that Usagi was not a mutant, and you have a character within the Turtles universe that is somewhat familiar to us, but at the same time, something completely unique from everyone else.
Considering how much of a standout character Usagi Yojimbo is, his figure stands out even more so considering his less-is-more design, which seems to be the theme of these early TMNT figures, and his samurai motif. Usagi looks very different from his comic book and animated counterparts with his clothing and facial sculpt. In every form of media that has featured Usagi, he is always dressed in a blue gi, and baggy pants. His simple design from the comics is in keeping with the comics, which take place during the Edo period in Japan. While his figure from ’89 is dressed in somewhat tradition samurai armor, it should be noted that he does keep the same color scheme as he does in the comics.
But enough about comics, we’re here to talk about figures. Usagi stands slightly taller than most of the figures in the line, thanks in no small part to his ears that have been tied into a top knot. His lean, fur-covered frame is protected at the chest, shoulders and thighs by blue armor with yellow accents. The armor plates at the shoulders and thighs are attached to the figure thanks to a peg system. So, while it can be tempting to adjust the armors pieces while posing/playing around with the rabbit bodyguard, I would highly suggest that you leave those alone. I messed mine up when I was a kid. I believe that I mentioned way back in my reviews of the four turtles that most figures have some dynamic poses applied to their feet. More often than not, these figures have a single foot arched as if they’re about to leap into battle. While Usagi has this feature as well, he plays his “unique action figure” card once again by having a dynamic pose with his feet, while wearing a pair of sandals. I know this sounds like high praise for such a small detail, but given the struggle I’ve had standing some of these figures, it’s a relief seeing a flat footed character.
Speaking of praise, it should be noted that the facial sculpt on this figure is probably the best we’ve seen on a Usagi figure since ’89, while being somewhat inaccurate to the source material. The appeal for me with the comics is the simplicity of the character designs. But, in an odd move on Playmates part, Usagi face sports almost humanlike features. Maybe it’s just me (it’s definitely just me), but I can see a real person in this piece of plastic. Given Usagi’s stoic and calm nature, this figure, with its barred teeth and aggressive brow, he’s expressing a rage-like quality that, while not uncommon to the character, he’s not exactly known for. But at the same time, the figure does sport Usagi’s defining scar above his left eyebrow that look less defined with this figure, more natural and well-healed.
The retro-rocketing rabbit
Released in 1991
Now, I know that I said I was going to write these reviews in chronological order but, considering the ties that bind these two figures, I thought that, just this once, I would leap forward in the line and talk about Space Usagi.
Now at first glance, you would be forgiven if you thought that Space Usagi was little more than a cash grabbing variant to pad out the figure line (or maybe you thought he was a rip off of Bucky O’Hare). But this intergalactic rabbit Ronin is actually a descendent of Usagi Yojimbo himself, from far, far into the future.
While the two figures share the same design and articulation, Space Usagi’s armor is 90’s, Technicolor sci-fi personified. His armor is a vibrant green with purple, gold and blue accents, and his armor pads at the shoulders and thighs are thankfully part of his mold, as opposed to being on a peg system. He also sports a grandiose, blue cape that is actually made out of cloth. While I do think that the cape fans out a bit too much for my liking, it is a nice way of distinguishing him from, not only his ancient ancestor, but the other figures in the line…for now (meow).
While the face sculpt is essentially the same between the two figures, Space Usagi changes things up by adding a red cybernetic eye implant that wraps around almost his entire head, adding that much more flair, personality, and potential lore implications as to how rough Space Usagi has had it in the far flung future.
Speaking of the sci-fi nature of Space Usagi, he actually has an interesting history, in terms of his action figure. I have no knowledge of the Space Usagi comic (and a limited knowledge of the Usagi Yojimbo comics, for that matter). But in terms of the figure for Space Usagi, from what I can tell, the figure was released to promote a potential Space Usagi animated series that was given a kind of proof of concept extended trailer. You can view it online, and it is nice look at what could have been. Plus, Jim Cummings voices Space Usagi, which is awesome. From what I understand, the reason the animated series never went forward was because of the animated series, and subsequent toy line, for Bucky O’Hare wasn’t popular with kids at the time.
On a final note, I know I don’t mention accessories much, but it is worth noting here because the accessories for both figures, really shows off the differences between each character, despite the similarities in the figures. While Usagi Yojimbo comes equipped with sword, spears and several bladed weapons, Space Usagi is brandishing a (laser) pistol and a rifle. It’s a nice character detail that shows off the major difference in the time, setting and possible beliefs of either character, with Usagi Yojimbo being a swordsman, and Space Usagi being a marksman.
Both of these figures are a great example of creative synergy at its best, given that Usagi Yojimbo was a creation of artist and writer Stan Sakai, and not Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. And while we would see this type of collaboration from the Playmates line later with Panda Khan, Usagi is definitely the most popular, non-turtles, character to be involved with the TMNT. Every time there is a new animated or comic series, fans are always waiting for Usagi Yojimbo to show up, and I believe that this is because, despite the inherent differences between the Turtles and Usagi, they complement each other so well that you’re honestly waiting/hoping for a crossover. Even after more than thirty years with each series, there is just something special about this pairing. And it shows with these figures.
Turtle Trivia: The Usagi Yojimbo comics are loosely based on the life of Miyamoto Musashi, a real life Ronin that was famous for his two sword fighting style, and the fact that he was never undefeated in sixty duels.
*author’s note: Usagi Yojimbo’s name in the comics is Miyamoto Usagi.