It has been one year since the first volume of Ronin Island was released. Written by Greg Pak and drawn by Giannis Milonogiannis, it centers on two young rivals living on the eponymous island where survivors of the Great Wind that devastated 19th century China, Korea and Japan, and found refuge in a place where difference is forgotten and a unified society is formed. Given its time period where there is a morally gray time of war, the book’s simple but effective storytelling is what made Ronin Island so universally appealing, and fortunately the long-awaited second volume continues that winning streak.
Upon discovering the source of the mysterious plague that turns people into monsters, which is being used to expand the Shogun’s army as he plans to conquer the world, the young islanders Hana and Kenichi have been separated, forced to find their own ways back home. As Kenichi is cast in exile and tries to survive against the many forces through the wilderness, Hana is among the Shogun’s company, alongside the refugees from his fortress, and is wondering what her next plan against the very people next to her.
It’s a familiar formula for the second act of an ongoing story: the main characters have to be split apart in their own solo adventures and hope they can survive to be reunited. While you have Kenichi going in headstrong as he removes the danger from Hana and the rest, only to be confronted by bandits, you have Hana struggling with her own agency and what is the best alliance to maintain peace throughout, not just her own home. Speaking of which, this volume explores more of Hana’s own relationship with the island, which has never fought for her, especially not from the prejudice expressed by Kenichi’s mother. Even though she admits its imperfection, Hana will always fight for it.
Although the book has established a clear villain in the Shogun, there are other conflicts thrown in. This continues one of the book’s strengths: how war can complicate the morality of everyone, such as antagonist General Sato. Even Kenichi makes a foolhardy decision that he thinks will protect the island, even if it backfires and continues his rivalry with Hana. Considering how big the stakes are, all of which are in the service of the central relationship, Greg Pak knows how to inject some fist-pump moments when Hana and Kenichi join forces.
Mixing the samurai genre with a bit of monster horror – at some points, I was getting The Last of Us vibes – Giannis Milonogiannis’ art isn’t richly detailed, but his simple and quirky character designs are expressive enough with plenty of kinetic action. The flashbacks are more simplified on an artistic level, which may look kiddie, but they get the emotion across, including a tearful moment with a young Hana.
Ronin Island continues to be loads of fun, with its strong themes and simple but effective storytelling.