Miyamoto Usagi, an anthropomorphic samurai rabbit, has spent more than 30 years trekking across the pages of Usagi Yojimbo comic books, battling various adversaries and solving mysteries. And now, the cast of fictional comic characters created by Stan Sakai is getting its own TV series, courtesy of France-based Gaumont, which acquired the property in October 2017 from Sakai.
The untitled upcoming action-comedy series targeting six- to 11-year-olds is produced by Gaumont’s US TV division alongside Dark Horse Comics, Sakai and Atomic Monster. The series follows Usagi and his pet dinosaur as the embark on adventures in 17th-century Japan.
“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. To date, the Usagi character has been featured in more than 230 of Sakai’s comic books (which are published almost monthly in 21 countries), and has made cameos in Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the brand has never had a TV series or movie of its own.
“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.