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Usagi Yojimbo has always had a large amount of positive female role models. You can choose to identify yourself with wily and serious Chizu the cat ninja; clever and funny Kitsuné the fox thief; Inazuma, the most naturally gifted swordsperson in the comics (acknowledged in-universe). Even Mariko, Usagi's perennial love lost, is not a damsel in distress, but a competent samurai in her own right who chose to marry and raise a family.

But they all take a backseat to Tomoe Ame, the cat samurai. She is his equal in fighting abilities, having fought him twice onscreen, with one win and a draw. She is a personal bodyguard and senior adviser to Lord Noriyuki, despite her young age. She is Usagi's friend and confidant. She can be sweet and caring when the need arises. She is also the one chance Usagi could have for true happiness. And she is important enough to be the cover and main focus of Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol. 5, a massive 588-page tome collecting 3 whole books.

This is her story as told in Book 22 of Usagi Yojimbo, appropriately titled "Tomoe's Story" (also included in vol. 5 of the Saga).

Ah, before that, I'd like to post a page from the cute short story "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Tournament", which is Usagi and Tomoe's first meeting in their universe:

"Just a girl????". Aaaand she beats him senseless.

Shame it's such a short story, so I can't post more than 2 pages here. But go check it out.

Back to Tomoe's story. After the ordeals of "The Mother of Mountains", which I plan to post in the future, Usagi and the cat samurai have a much-needed downtime, and they spar a bit to relax. It is a draw and they take a break. While they rest a bit, Tomoe tells Usagi her the story of how she became Lord Noriyuki's personal retainer.

Her father, Tatsutaro, was master of the Falling-Rain school of fencing, the official fencing school of the Geishu clan (the one Tomoe now serves).

Her father scolds her for gloating and tells her that her brother, Tajima, will take over the school. As for her, she will become a lady-in-waiting in their lord's court.

She was allowed to train in solitude the following years until word got around that the future head of the school was being constantly beaten by his sister. It was time to take her to Lord Mataichi. Her father, however, cautions her against Counselor Odo (not the same Odo featured in a recent Usagi story).

Turns out her father was right.

Tomoe does not fare well with "traditional women's roles", as she describes them. What she really wants is to fight.

One night, Counselor Odo allows Lord Hikiji's Neko ninjas in for an assassination attempt on Lord Mataichi and his family. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling cat.

Tomoe's good work is rewarded.

And there you have it!

Stan initially wrote "Tomoe's Story" for Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #1, back at Fantagraphics in 1989. He waited to reprint them in Book 22 of the Dark Horse collection because the story had finally caught up to that point. However, since he lost the original colour material, he redid the artwork in 2008. In Saga vol. 5 he posts the pages side-by-side for comparison. Here's an excerpt.

Talk about an artist honing his craft.

And finally, the illustration featured in the introduction for Book 22. Because kitty Tomoe is cutest kitty evah.

Tomoe Ame's name comes from a rice candy. Her historical inspiration is female samurai Tomoe Gozen.

Next up: Jotaro, Usagi's very own boy blunder!
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