I’ve been spending more time with Max Payne 3 (I’m in chapter 4, now) and that has me thinking vague and unfocused thoughts about the Ronin thing going on. One of the most interesting parts of the heroism portrayed is that Ronin are not good people. They prefer good people, of course… but they are not, in and of themselves, particularly Good. (Mentioning this thought to Maribou, she said to me “Just because you’re on the side of the angels doesn’t make you an angel.”)

I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you about how Ronin are Samurai who had lost their masters were supposed to commit ritual suicide. The ones who didn’t (as that’s a pretty tall order), became Ronin– Masterless warriors who rented their swords out to the highest bidder. Their honor was considered gone and they were not held in particularly high esteem. Well, on a general social level, anyway. A bodyguard is never held in higher esteem than when you need one (and there were a lot of lords who needed one). There’s a famous Ronin story in Japan about The 47 Ronin. These were 47 Samurai who found themselves masterless after their own master assaulted a corrupt court official and, failing, had to commit ritual suicide. These 47 Ronin waited about 2 years before getting revenge and killing the corrupt official, turning themselves into the police, and then committing ritual suicide themselves. Heavy. Anyway, this story is one that, however well documented, has become a Myth. It’s an idea about National Character, heroism, revenge, and honor that resonates even across cultures.

Well, for our culture, we generally have to change a few things. The masters of men are much more subtle. Sure, they have jobs and bosses… but I’m reminded of the old joke about the old West. An English Lord was riding through and he came across a cowboy or blacksmith or barber or something. “You! Where is your master?” “Ain’t been born yet.” So, when telling the story about a Ronin to an American audience, the Samurai’s family is usually killed. Indeed, in the original Max Payne, Max’s family is killed by a group of druggies high on a synthetic drug (and Max makes it his new mission to put an end to the drug ring). The game goes on to have Max avenge his family, no matter where the story took him (and it took him quite a few unsavory places… including the halls of power).

Well, in the 47 Ronin story, the Ronin forced an end to the story by committing hara-kiri. The American version of Ronin, however, don’t tend to do that. Max Payne 3 tells the followup story to Max Payne and, so far, it’s doing a much better job than Max Payne 2 did. (Don’t get me wrong, Max Payne 2’s gameplay was amazing and improved on the decidedly awesome gameplay of the first… it’s just that the story didn’t hold up quite so well.)

You’re a lot older, a lot greyer, a lot more cynical. You’re a bodyguard for a family of vapid rich folks who have made so many enemies that they can’t keep track. It’s just a job. You spend your nights (early mornings) after work getting drunk and taking painkillers and looking at a picture that, so far, the game hasn’t shown me.

Max is not a good person anymore… but he prefers good people.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com


  1. It’s important to remember that, in the fedual Japanese culture, Ronin were the bad guys. American mythology tends to make a hero out of the guy who chooses his own path, who decides to fight on against the impossible odds, but the Japanese (at least those of the fantasy samurai era) would consider that guy an idiot at best and more likely a faithless coward. Ronin, if translated to American society, would be more like the guy who knocked up his girlfriend and then ran off to join the Army instead of marrying her.

    • His lord would consider him a faithless coward.
      Who cared what the peasants thought?

    • And yet, the 47 Ronin is a story about how sometimes true honor requires a man to look like a faithless coward to his contemporaries, only to be seen as truly heroic after death. So it’s complicated, right? I bet most people thought cowboys were dangerous drunks at the time.

      • I always found Tsunetomo’s question about the roushi to be interesting. What if Kira had died of illness while they were making their preparations? How would we view them differently?

  2. It’s Seppuku, not “hari-kari” which is about as accurate as yelling “ching-chong” to speak to an asian person.

    • Or harakiri. Which, oddly enough, is seppuku spelled backwards.

    • I swear to goodness, I meant no offense.


      That webpage mentions the following, however:

      It is commonly pointed out that hara-kiri is a vulgarism, but this is a misunderstanding. Hara-kiri is a Japanese reading or Kun-yomi of the characters; as it became customary to prefer Chinese readings in official announcements, only the term seppuku was ever used in writing. So hara-kiri is a spoken term and seppuku a written term for the same act.

      • That’s harakiri. “Hari-kari” is just wrong.

      • I’m not really offended.

        And for whatever it’s worth, I’ve never heard it actually referred to “Hara-kiri” by actual Japanese people even in spoken conversation.

  3. Also the Ako Roushi are a great example of something Hollywood will butcher beyond recognition…

    Since they’ve gotten Keanu Reeves to play the lead role in their upcoming movie…

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