TOGETHER IN STRENGTH
Ronin Island, Volume 1
written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Giannis Milonogiannis
Colored by Irma Kniivila
Boom Studios 12/10/2019
112 Pages Age 10 and up
Genre: Graphic Novels, Comics
Themes: Warlords, Asian Cultures
Hana and Kenichi are too young to remember the Great Wind, a catastrophic event that devastated China, Korea, and Japan. They were raised in the aftermath on Ronin Island where survivors found refuge in a place where differences were forgotten and a unified society was formed. But when the Shogunate comes back into power demanding a return to the ways of the past, Hana and Kenichi must prepare to defend their home and all that it represents from the warlord’s forces—and confront an even more deadly threat clawing out of the devastation of the Great Wind. (from back cover)
The island, East China Sea, one mile off the coast of Kyushu. Thirty-one years after the Great Wind.
“I can’t be late, Mother!”
“You’re not ready! Look . . .”
“What do you mean? I’ve been training my whole life—“
“. . . it was your father’s.”
Why I like this book
As the story begins, Hana and Kenichi compete for “first in class,” a treasured tradition of graduation and of Ronin Island. Kenichi shows up wearing his deceased father’s samurai armor and a big sense of self. Running neck and neck, the finish line—a bell one must ring first—is only a few feet away. Both leap for the bell and . . . tie! Unexpectedly, as the islanders are the only survivors of the Great Wind, the intruder alarm sounds.
Flaming arrows land near the islanders. Canons fire at the boat. An incoming tender carries the same sign as the larger; that of the shogun—but he, too, is dead. General Sato, claiming to be the new shogun’s envoy, wants the island. Almost on cue, zombie-like monsters (Byōnin), begin attacking farmers on the mainland. Those who can fight, race to defeat the monsters, including Sato and his army. Hana and Kenichi, being children, must stay behind and protect the others. Kenichi takes offense. “I’m the best shot in my class! Now let go,” he boasts, as he grabs a farmer’s gun from him.
Pak must have deliberately chosen ‘Ronin’ for its historical meaning. From The Oxford Dictionary, a Ronin is “(in feudal Japan) a wandering samurai who had no lord or master.”
Ronin Island is a secret island where diversity meets diversity. Survivors from China, Korea, and Japan live in a mashed up culture, and in equality under the motto, “Together in Strength.” Here, the two protagonists might be equal, but their lives seem diametrically opposed.
Hana is a poor farmer and an orphan, living in a “shack by the beach.” She wears tattered clothes that look like hand-me-down’s hand-me-downs with all the patched holes. But Hana is also quick, strong, self-supporting, and more skilled with a sword than anyone may have suspected (except Master Ito, her mentor and teacher). She also thinks before she acts, which will save Kenichi more than once.
Kenichi was born into nobility and money. On Ronin Island, he and his mother live in a nice home, wear nice clothes, and eat better food than Hana. Kenichi is entitlement. His mother says to him, “Today, you graduate and tomorrow you will lead the island.” Kenichi carries an underlying anger that gets in his way.
Ronin Island has people of all ages, backgrounds, and traditions. They have banded together in order to survive. Hana and Kenichi are the embodiment of all those people.
Milonogiannis’s illustrations are beautiful, striking, and layered. He can change the mood with his art. General Sato arrives with the sun at his back. Everything shines behind him, giving him a strong, important glow. Elder Jin seems old and fragile, but when monsters arrive to take her village (the Byōnin, not Sato and company), she wields a sword and her soldiers as if thirty years younger. The new shogun looks much too young and goofy to be so important, but by hatching on his face, Milonogiannis can change the shogun into its true self: pure evil.
Anyone who likes Asian history will find the Ronin Island series enjoyable. Together in Strength sets up the major story lines and clashes. Middle graders should be learning about this time in history, so a fun fiction graphic novel/comic series is perfect reading for them. Together in Strength will entertain kids, especially those who are interested in oriental traditions and life.
Boom Studios publishes some of the absolute best graphic novels released today. I never liked this genre until Boom forced me to read a few by sending them for review. Now, I enthusiastically open mail from Boom Studios as if it were Christmas Day. While writing this review, I needed the correct spelling of the Byōnin. A couple hours later, I finished reading the story for the second time. Together in Strength is that good.
There are several variations on the cover shown in full-page illustrations.
Available at Amazon or pre-order Ronin Island #2 (May 12, 2020)
Ronin Island #1: TOGETHER IN STRENGTH. Text Copyright © 2019 by Pak Man Productions Ltd. Published by PUB, New York, NY.
Copyright © 2019 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
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