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Kitsune (Usagi Yojimbo)

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Background

In the comic Usagi Yojimbo, Kitsune is a street performer by day, and master thief by night—or day as the case may be. An anthropomorphic fox, she is cunning, quick, agile, and if needed is handy with a sword, but is no master swordswoman and would likely lose in a fight with a real warrior. She considers herself a noble thief, and only steals from people who can afford it, or people who deserve it; she would never steal from the poor, and not just because they have nothing worth stealing, but because she was once poor herself.

Her motto: “A girl has to do what she can to get by, neh?”

Usagi first meets Kitsune in the story Kitsune where she is working as a street performer. He makes friends with her, but later finds out that she picked his pocket when he finds he can't pay for a meal, and is forced to wash dishes to pay his debt. When they meet the next time, Kitsune considers giving Usagi his purse back, only to find the ronin has already stolen it back. Since then, they have met many times, usually when Kitsune is plotting some scheme and Usagi helps out when things go wrong. She has also met Gen, who is initially smitten with the beauty, making him a perfect target. Despite that, the two become friends and temporary traveling companions in The Shrouded Moon, and at the end of the story Kitsune's Tale, is it hinted that there might be a romantic attraction between the thief and the bounty hunter. Aside from Usagi and Gen, Kitsune only had three friends in the world, each having a profound impact on her: Sachiko, Noodles, and Kiyoko.

Close Associates

Sachiko

Kitsune was the daughter of a wealthy fabric broker; although he was a spineless jellyfish of a man, it was her mother who was the brains of the outfit. When her mother died, her father remarried, hoping his new wife could continue the family business; but she had no business sense at all, and had little love for her new step-daughter. When the business started to fail, her step-mother convinced her father to sell Kitsune to an inn to make some money, and eliminate one extra mouth to feed. The innkeeper was tough on young Kitsune, but fair. It was possible that she'd spend the rest of her life there, but when she blossomed into a fine young woman, she caught the eye of the local brothel owner. When Kitsune overheard him buying her from the innkeeper, intent on making her a prostitute, she ran away.

Kitsune made her way to Edo, hoping that she could find work in the big city; but she found herself a street urchin, stealing what she needed to survive. She was a very poor excuse of a thief until she ran into a street performer named Sachiko. Sachiko saw promise in the young girl and helped her evade the police, then brought her home where she made Kitsune a proposition; she revealed that she was also a master thief, and would teach her everything she knew. Kitsune accepted, and with her new life, Sachiko gave her the name she is now known by—they also called each other “big (Sachiko) and little (Kitsune) sister”.

Kitsune learned fast and became a skilled street performer and thief, and the pair created a crime wave in the city. After a while, the police were clamping down, so they switched to pick-pocketing where Sachiko would steal someone's purse and pass it off to Kitsune before anyone would catch them; if Sachiko was caught, she would no longer have the purse and could not be charged. Although the plan was effective, Kitsune eventually suggested that they move to another city to avoid suspicion, Sachiko arrogantly dismissed the concern. She eventually paid for that basic mistake of underestimating her victims when she stole from a samurai; the samurai had seen them in action before and snatched Sachiko off the street. Even though she didn't have his purse, he didn't care, he knew she took it, and that was enough cause for him to execute her in a back alley as was his right of his social class. When Kitsune found Sachiko's body, she left Edo and never returned.

Noodles

Noodles was a soba (buckwheat noodles) dealer that Kitsune found; he was mentally handicapped, never spoke, and was huge, and also made the worst soba anywhere. Kitsune felt sorry for the poor childlike giant and took him under her wing; while she never teaches him how to be a thief, she does use him as a cover by hiding in his soba stand.

When Usagi finds them, there is a crime wave going on, and the magistrate is ordering his yoriki (police chief) to find the culprit; unfortunately, yoriki Masada has a gambling problem and is in over his head in debt to the local crooks. In a desperate move, he frames and arrests Noodles for the crimes, and has him sentenced to death. At his execution, Kitsune tries to save him by admitting that she's the thief, but her cries are drowned out by the crowds.

The gamblers start to pressure Masada, telling him that they need money; he initially refuses knowing that the magistrate will come down hard on him if the crimes don't subside for a while. Masada comes up with a plan to send the crooks after Usagi, hoping that he'll deal with them, stopping the crimes once and for all, and freeing himself of the debt he owes. They confront Usagi and Kitsune, thinking they have money, but Usagi quickly dispatches the lot; when the last gambler realizes that they were had, he tells Usagi that Masada set them up, as well as framing Noodles. With that information, Kitsune swears vengeance on yoriki Masada.

Kitsune starts her own crime wave, and puts Masada in even more trouble; one, for not stopping the crime wave, and two, for apparently executing the wrong man. Things get worse when the magistrate is robbed, and summons Masada to explain himself. On the way there, he runs into Kitsune and he nabs her, accusing her of being the thief; but she didn't pick his pocket, and is forced to let her go. When he meets with the magistrate, a purse drops from his coat; the purse is the magistrate's, and he figures out Masada's link to the crime spree and the dead gamblers found last week.

As a result, the yoriki is ordered to commit seppuku. Kitsune uses the rest of her money to have a gravestone erected for Noodles. As she never knew his real name, an image of a bowl of soba is etched upon it instead.

Kiyoko

While travelling with Gen, Kitsune had a run in with a small girl named Kiyoko; she was a run-away who was living off the street, stealing what she needed to survive, not unlike Kitsune herself at one point. Kiyoko was easily caught by Gen when she tried to steal his purse, but Kitsune asked him to let her go. After a while, Kitsune leaves to go find Kiyoko, intent on taking her in and making her an apprentice.

Later, Kitsune meets Usagi and Jotaro, while plotting a blackmail scheme against a local gangster; a price of 100 ryō (gold coins) for the return of his private records. In truth, she is the decoy, leaving a clue at the robbery to lure the crooks to her, while Kiyoko makes the switch unnoticed. When the gangster's men move in on Kitsune, it's Usagi and Jotaro who keep her safe and dispatch his men. When Kiyoko comes with the money, she immediately makes friends with Jotaro, much like Usagi and Kitsune. When they part ways, Jotaro finds that his purse is gone, and Usagi starts telling him about women, specifically women like Kitsune and Kiyoko.

Stories she appears in

  • Kitsune *The Return of Kitsune *Noodles *The Shrouded Moon *Kitsune's Tale *Komainu *After the Rat

Trivia

  • Kitsune's real name is never given. *The 2-part story Noodles was supposed to be in issues #17 and #18 of volume 2 (published by Mirage), but that run was cut off at #16. As a result, Noodles was the first story in volume 3 (published by Dark Horse). *'Kitsune' (きつね) is Japanese for 'fox' (狐}.

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