Usagi Yojimbo, the story of a rabbit Samurai in an anthropomorphic feudal 17th century Japan created by Stan Sakai and told over almost 25 years, has been optioned by Gaumont to be an animated TV series.
First published in 1984, Usagi Yojimbo is to be co-produced by Gaumont, Sakai, James Wan's Atomic Monster, and Dark Horse Entertainment's Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg, who will serve as executive producers, with Chris Tongue as co-executive producer. The announcement was made today by Gaumont's President of Animation, Nicolas Atlan.
"Usagi Yojimbo has been much sought after for many years, and we are honored to work with Stan Sakai to translate his multi-generational stories into the first ever TV series," commented Atlan. "Usagi Yojimbo's blend of history and mythology, clever balance between action and comedy, and real-world touchpoints combined with the supernatural, together with the passionate fan base that Stan has already amassed, makes this an incredibly exciting property to develop with our partners Atomic Monster and Dark Horse Entertainment."
"We get fan mail from readers of all ages across the globe who have been asking to see Usagi Yojimbo in his own TV series," added Sakai. "With Gaumont, James Wan and his team at Atomic Monster, and Dark Horse Entertainment, we have the best creative talent on board to bring the adventures I have been creating for over 30 years to life."
"I've been an admirer of Stan's comic series for a long time and it's an honor to have the opportunity to bring this character and the rich world that Stan's created to life for a new generation," said James Wan.
"I've long admired Stan Sakai and his storytelling abilities," said Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Entertainment President. "Stan built an amazing world that Dark Horse has enjoyed exploring in comic book form. We're thrilled to be part of further exploration in a new, exciting medium."
Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo takes place amidst a rich fantasy setting in 17th century Japan and features a diverse world of anthropomorphic characters. Miyamoto Usagi, otherwise known as Usagi Yojimbo, is a ronin warrior with the heart of a hero. A skilled swordsrabbit, and one-time bodyguard for a Japanese War Lord, he's now masterless, and explores his world of immense castles and humble villages, encountering dinosaurs, Yokai (ghosts/monsters), cats, bats, bounty hunters, giant snakes, and even aliens, facing exciting adventures at every turn, always ready to help.
Usagi Yojimbo is no stranger to the TV screen, having appeared in all three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Usagi debuted in TMNT in 1987 and he most recently appeared in Nickelodeon's three-episode arc in the summer of 2017. A stage play starring the rabbit was also put on in London.
"It's a universe comprised of animals, which is a little bit different from other comic worlds," says Terry Kalagian, VP of creative for animation at Gaumont. "And that appeals to kids, especially when a lot of other superhero IPs focus on grownups. Every child can see themselves as a hero like these animals."
Kalagian says the CGI series will begin production in 2018, and Gaumont is currently seeking a broadcaster that will lend creative input to the toon's development process. "Our goal is to take the brand global," says Kalagian.
"This is something that I've had in the back of my mind for years. I've always wanted to have Usagi animated, but my concentration has always been on the comic books," says Sakai, adding that his comics are most popular in the US, France, Spain and Poland.
On the consumer products front, Hong Kong-based Playmates currently works with Sakai on a line of toys based on the Usagi comics. For example, Playmates' boxed collectible action figure of Usagi, featuring three interchangeable heads, sold out at last year's San Diego Comic-Con within minutes. The toy was then put online for a short while, but Sakai eventually took it off the market because he couldn't keep up with the demand. To that end, Gaumont is currently looking for a toy partner for the upcoming TV series that will be able to capture the feel of the brand and keep fan momentum alive.