Jei—a.k.a. Jei-san, The Blade of the Gods, The Black Soul, The Demon Spearman, and a number of other dark nicknames—is a character from the Usagi Yojimbo comics. Although Lord Hikiji is considered the main antagonist of the series, Jei is the closest thing to a true arch-nemesis of Miyamoto Usagi. Jei is a tall anthropomorphic wolf with long black hair, who wears a black kimono, and is armed with a yari (straight-edged spear) —Jei's main weapon which has a black blade—and a daisho (pair of swords).
Jei is a samurai who believes that he was chosen by the gods as an emissary to smite evil and execute sinners; the problem is, Jei has a completely alien point of view on what counts as sin. Consequently, Jei has a tendency of killing anyone who draws his attention. That's not to say Jei is a homicidal maniac, he has often passed right through crowds of people and villages without so much as flinching; but when he does, almost anyone in eyesight is marked for death. Because of his brutal rampages, most do not consider him an emissary of the gods, but under demonic possession or simply insane. Whether or not he still has his mental faculties, Jei does possess some supernatural power.
The most obvious of Jei's abilities is his immortality. Despite being "killed" numerous times, he has always come back. He was struck by lightning, fell off a cliff, and run through with a holy sword; but Jei has always returned in some form or another. Also, he has the ability to consecrate weapons, turning their blades black to match his soul; although the ancient sword, Kusanagi, resists this. In battle, he uses these blades to steal people's souls: minor injuries can greatly weaken opponents, leaving them helpless, while serious wounds can rip the soul right out of a person, killing them instantly. Finally, he seems to know things about people that he otherwise shouldn't, even though he doesn't always understand it either. In Circles, Jei kidnaps a young boy named Jotaro. At first, Jei isn't sure why the gods told him to do it, but he later found out that Jotaro is Usagi's son.
After Jei's "death" by being run through with the Kusanagi, his body was destroyed, but his spirit began possessing others to do his bidding. However, it's unknown if he can voluntarily switch bodies with the death of the current host occurring. The current "Blade of the Gods" can be identified by the following:
- Pupil-less eyes
- A hideous smile of sharp teeth
- A voice that sounds like it came from the grave
- A chill in the air (Jei and Keiko are the only ones who do not feel this)
- Weapons with metal parts are tainted black
There was originally very little known about Jei before he appeared in the comics, but in his debut appearance he talks to a band of samurai about how he used to be a samurai like them. One day, he succumbed to a serious fever, and when it broke, he could hear voices that were telling him to go out and smite evil. Jei believed that the gods had blessed him, and that if he does their work, he will eventually join them.
The full origin of Jei's possession was revealed in the story The Darkness and the Soul. Jei's first host body was originally a priest named Jizonobu, a former samurai who had become an esteemed monk and head of his temple, renowned for his compassion and masterful skill in medicine as well as in wielding the yari. When a desperate and vindictive daimyo, Lord Goyo, came to procure the priest's service to treat his daughter, who is gravely ill with an unknown disease, Jizonobu was unable to treat it. Unwilling to accept this grim reality, the daimyo threatened to disban Jizonobu's order in retaliation should his daughter die.
While out attending to his other patients, Jizonobu learned that a boy who was afflicted with the same disease was inexplicably cured. Jizonobu learned that the one responsible for this miracle was a sinister monk named Ibaraki whom he had strained dealings with (and whose face has the telltale signs of possession by evil spirits), and to the priest's shock, he apparently asked for nothing in return. Desperately inspired, Jizonobu decided to seek out this monk to cure the girl.
Unfortunately, Jizonobu learned that because the girl was the child of a lord, such a miracle requires a heavy price, namely himself. Desperate to save both the girl and his order, Jizonobu agrees to the bargain. As a result, the girl makes a miraculous recovery, but Jizonobu is later found just outside the temple gates with the girl's sickness.
However, the price Ji faces is still higher than he realized. Payment comes when he regains consciousness and, possessed by the black soul, Jizonobu immediately murders the fellow priest caring for him. With that deed done, a possessed Ji takes his yari and goes on the rampage; killing everyone in the temple, including Lord Goyo, while sparing only the daimyo's daughter and a lone monk, Hama, who he left seriously wounded. Thus Ji, who has dubbed himself Jei, inadvertently brought about the tragedy he sought to avert.
Presumably afterward, Jei begins his insane crusade.
Usagi vs. Jei-san
Jei first encounters Usagi in Blade of the Gods where Usagi is traveling on a rainy night, and stops at a hut, looking for shelter. The door opens to reveal Jei. Jei invites him in, but Usagi is very wary of the strange spearman, noting that his blade appeared black and there is a chill in the air. In the middle of the night, Jei is aroused and turns on Usagi, saying that the gods have shown him his sins, and will now kill him. Usagi defends himself against Jei's attacks, and manages to land a strike against the spearman; the blow should have been fatal, but Jei still stands. He now believes that his time has come, and that the gods sent Usagi to him as a final test. If he can defeat Usagi, it will be time for him to join the gods. The fight almost ends when a lightning bolt struck a tree, sending Usagi to the ground. Jei was about to kill him when another lightning bolt struck and disintegrated him, leaving only the charred remains of his spear.
He faces Usagi again in the latter's home village, after kidnapping Jotaro along with a group of brigands. Jei explained to Usagi that he, in fact, did die from the lightning strike, but alleged that he was brought back because his duty was not yet finished. During the fight, Jei's blade broke off from his spear, which Usagi used to impale him and send Jei over a nearby cliff.
Jei arrived at a home where brigands had just slain a girl's grandfather and had threatened to do the same to her. He claimed to have been summoned to this evil; as usual, the brigands thought he was crazy. In a short fight, Jei kills all the brigands, but inadvertently set the house on fire. He told the girl (named Keiko) to get out of the burning house and walks away. Keiko decided to follow him, which Jei had no problem with. The two, while looking for Miyamoto Usagi, crossed paths with "evil" individuals. In The Crossing, they come across a samurai who wanted to kill a peasant for bumping into him. Jei deemed his actions as "evil", to which the samurai took as an insult. He was promptly killed, but not before describing his injuries as if something was ripped from body.
In Grasscutter: Chapter 1, Jei and Keiko came face to face with a lord's procession and refused to bow to an "earthly" lord. Enraged by his lack of respect, the samurai escorting the lord engaged him in battle, only for the entire group to be slaughtered. Some time later, they came across an unconscious Inazuma and took her to a vacant house. At that moment, Jei began appearing in Inazuma's dreams and as hallucinations, particularly one where she was fighting the forces of yomi (hell); he stood on top of a rocky pillar continually laughing. Back in reality, as Inazuma developed a high fever, Keiko began to worry about her and told Jei that Inazuma was special and not evil. In a surprising act of charity, Jei agreed; both of them decided to take her to a nearby temple and then left to roam the land once again.
While travelling through a forest, Jei felt something calling for him and promptly ran to find whatever it was, leaving Keiko behind. He discovered a wild creature named Kitanamono holding the sword Kusanagi and the two briefly fought, with Jei becoming the victor. He held Kusanagi high and attempted to consecrate it; to his surprise, the sword did not change to black. Not long after, he wound up in the path of Miyamoto Usagi and Murakami Gennosuke, wanting the holy sword themselves. Before they battled, he stuck Kusanagi into the ground to act as a trophy for the victor, apparently creating a brief earthquake. Gen attempted to attack him from behind, but Jei saw through his tactic and rendered him unconscious by impaling Gen through his shoulder and apparently taking his soul. Using the open area around them to his advantage, Jei kept Usagi at a distance and landed an injury on his ear. He knocked Usagi's sword from his hand forcing the rabbit ronin to use Kusanagi as a brief replacement. As another tremor rocked the land, Jei proclaimed this was the perfect setting to die and soon impales Usagi's shoulder. Unfortunately for Jei, Keiko (who had just arrived) was pinned under a tree; he told her that he was coming to rescue her, but this created an opening for Usagi to run Kusanagi through his body, destroying and supposedly releasing a number of souls from it. Jei was not killed, however as he took possession of Inazuma's body and massacred every priest at the temple she was staying at. A short time after, he meets Keiko again and they wander off. However, possessing her body had one minor setback; Inazuma would on occasion briefly regain control of her body in short periods.
Jei vs. Gen & Stray Dog
While travelling with Keiko, Jei found himself confronted by a group of bounty hunters after the bounty on Inazuma. Jei told them that it was a case of mistaken identity, however the bounty hunters remained hostile and attempted to kill him; unsurprisingly, he was able to slay most of the party. With one survivor in fright, the latter swore to Inazuma that he would never touch a sword again. Before killing him, the demon told the bounty hunter to refer to him as "Jei".
He and Keiko foresaw a storm approaching and they promptly went to look for suitable shelter. Though Keiko was able to locate a temple, Jei was not willing to enter. The two later stayed themselves in the woodcutters' home, where the two woodcutters arrived. The male woodcutter welcomed them to stay, but Jei proclaimed that he did not need their permission and that they were evil. Before they were about to be slain, Murakami Gennosuke and Stray Dog burst into the home to claim the bounty on Inazuma. Jei was seemingly confused as to why everyone was referring to him as "Inazuma" and announced that he was Jei, the Blade of the Gods, much to Gen's disbelief. Before escaping, Jei was able to momentarily incapacitate Gen with the same pain he inflicted on his shoulder during their previous battle. The two bounty hunters went outside to pursue, when Jei ambushed them out of the blue. As the storm began to rage, Gen disarmed Jei of his katana, leaving him only with his wakizashi. Unfortunately for the two bounty hunters, Jei had the upper hand; he inflicted the pain from Gen's previous shoulder wound, again incapacitating him for a brief period. Jei barraged Stray Dog with a furious amount of sword swings and knocked him unconscious into the mud. Afterward, Jei and Keiko left to roam the land once again.
In the comics, there are a few people he encountered that he deliberately did not kill: Keiko, Inazuma, and Hama.
In Black Soul, a young girl, Keiko, and her grandfather are sitting down for supper. They are poor, and her grandfather reveals that Keiko's parents died years ago. In the night, some brigands enter, demanding food and shelter; afterwards, they also demand any money or supplies that they have. But they are poor and have very little, so one of the rogues kills him for resisting; they then turn their attention to Keiko, hoping to force her to tell them where their money is, or she'll die like her grandfather. They are interrupted when Jei enters, rambling on about evil and such. The rogues think they can take the unarmed stranger, but Jei is far superior, and kills them all. When the battle is over, Jei takes the spear from one of the rogues and consecrates it as his own, and then turns to Keiko. He is about to do her in as well when he stops, saying that she is innocent, and spares her life. Keiko now has no family, and her house is burning down from a fire that spread out of control during the fight; with no one to turn to, she follows Jei into the night.
Keiko firmly believes that Jei is who he says he is—an emissary of the gods, calling him "Uncle", while he calls her "his innocent". In fact, her demeanor is naive to the point of being possibly either insane or is the victim of the spirit of Jei obstructing her emotional development. For instance, when she's separated from Jei at one point, Keiko sees the bodies of his victims and is delighted at the sight of this carnage simply to have a distinctive trail to her "Uncle". They stay together until the Grasscutter saga. There, they meet Inazuma, and Jei feels a calling to find the Kusanagi. Eventually, he finds it, and Usagi. They fight, but Jei is momentarily distracted by Keiko when a tree is about to fall on her, and Usagi uses the Kusanagi to kill Jei. Keiko disappears, but turns up when she finds the new Blade of the Gods who she immediately addresses "Aunty". (Note: in Japan the word "uncle" can also be a term of respect even for those unrelated to oneself.)
Inazuma is a master swordswoman, her ferocity and skill are almost unmatched. She was the wife of a low-level samurai who had trouble getting work in the new age, and took to drinking and gambling. Eventually, he ran afoul of the local gamblers, and was killed. Inazuma sought revenge on the head of the local gamblers, and earned herself the ire of his father, Bakuchi, leader of the gamblers' association. Bakuchi put a reward on Inazuma's head, and she's been on the run ever since.
She was eventually confronted by Gen; they fought, and Inazuma clearly had the advantage, until she slipped on the mud and hit her head against a rock. Before Gen could claim Inazuma, a band of thugs tried to steal his reward. During the fight, Inazuma woke up and stumbled away, eventually collapsing on the road where she was found by Jei and Keiko. Keiko convinced Jei to help her, and they took Inazuma to a nearby temple, run by Sanshobo. Jei and Keiko leave, but Jei soon finds himself called away by the Kusanagi, leaving Keiko behind. After Jei is killed by Usagi, a strange change takes place in Inazuma, and she kills most of the priests at the temple, save for Sanshobo and two others who went out and found Usagi and Gen lying in the forest. Later, she runs into Keiko, who starts calling her "Auntie", as she has become the new Blade of the Gods. Inazuma continued Jei's quest to smite evil, and ultimately kill Usagi; her quest is helped by the price on her head that lures bounty hunters and thugs to her, but she also gained the attention of Sasuké, the demon queller while Sanshobo has also vowed to hunt the murderer of his brethren.
In Dreams and Nightmares, we see that Inazuma herself did not become the Blade of the Gods, but is now possessed by Jei's soul, and at times she regains control of her body. She tries to fight off Jei, but invariably loses control, and again becomes the Blade of the Gods. Stan Sakai has never explained exactly what Jei was—if he was some supernatural being, or simply possessed—so it is uncertain if Inazuma is possessed by Jei himself, or by whatever it was that possessed Jei in the first place. In The Demon Mask, Usagi sees a vision of a black shadow with empty eyes and a horrible smile; is this the true nature of the Blade of the Gods? In certain dialogues about Jei it is apparent that his soul may have the ability to possess corpses; therefore, he might have an ulterior motive in his mission to kill Usagi.
In issue 101, Usagi, unconscious from being struck with an envenomed dart from a Neko Ninja and being by treated by Chizu, has a nightmare of himself being possessed by the spirit of Jei and fighting Tomoe Ame to the death for the life of Lord Noriyuki.
As a result of the gangster raising the bounty to speed her death, the hunt for Inazuma let to Gen and another bounty hunter has confronting her, but were beaten off and inexplicably left conscious. Realizing their quarry is much more dangerous than they imagined with the obvious possession, they decide to find help to bring her down. To that end, Usagi, the monk Sanshobo and an egnmatic warrior named Isamu joined the hunters Later on, Inazuma is attacked by bounty hunters who manage to mortally wound her before being killed themselves. Although the black soul's managed to maintain her strength to some degree, its grip on her body weakened with her personality reasserting herself more often, although she could not understand the nature of her predicament.
Eventually, the hunters found her slumped in a temple, while a horde of competing bounty hunters surrounded the building. While the ronin held them off, Sanshobo exorcised Jei from the woman who then dies in the arms of Isamu, revealed to be her brother who had sought her out to bring her home to her forgiving father. However, while the swordswoman died free, the spirit of Jei escaped.
It turns out that the spirit had another lasting effect from Ji's massacre of his temple. Hama, the only adult survivor of that incident, was apparently affected by his wounding in a horrific fashion; it apparently subtly manipulated the priest's personality to become as fanatically murderous as Jei's other hosts were forced to be. When the spirit was forced out of Inazuma's body, it took possession of the prepared Hama, killed the sensitive companion of Sanshobo and reunited with Keiko to resume their pilgrimage.
It was revealed in the notes at the end of Grasscutter, that Stan Sakai had planned for Jei to die in the story back when he was planning it during his time with Mirage Comics, and also who his successor would be.
From the beginning, Stan wanted the new Blade of the Gods to be a woman, and his first choice was to be Jei's companion, Keiko; but Keiko was a young girl and it wouldn't make much sense to turn her from "innocent" into a vicious killer. He then thought about Tomoe Ame; it would seem perfect because it would create a severe threat to Usagi and Lord Noriyuki, and because Tomoe Ame was often portrayed as a potential love interest for Usagi. But that was quashed as well because Stan liked Tomoe too much to do that to her. Eventually, he created a new character, Inazuma and made her into a heartless killer, but one that had a code of honor and was a victim more than a villain, a sympathetic character who would be a perfect host for Jei's soul.
Even before the being known as Jei came to exist, his first host, Jizonobu, was already a highly skilled spearfighter and former samurai. As a master of the spear, Jei wields his weapon with dexterous speed and precision, and instantly has the advantage over almost any opponent he faces. With the spear's long reach, he's able to keep his opponents at a distance and use the power of the spear's thrust to skewer his enemies. With the Age of Warring States over, most warriors no longer carry spears and have no experience in fighting against them, which furthers Jei's strong advantage.
Aside from his masterful skill with his weapon, Jei also has other abilities which makes him extremely deadly. When he first met Keiko, he killed a group of armed bandits with just his bare hands. One of his most dangerous supernatural powers is the ability to drain the life out of the victims he kills with his black spear. Jei has also proven to be just as dangerous with his sword when, in his second encounter with Usagi, his spear was broken, and he was able to not just match the long-eared ronin, but overwhelm and disarm him. Jei would have killed Usagi if the rabbit hadn't impaled him with his own broken spear head at the last moment.
Jei's spearmanship does have a weakness. While he has the advantage in an open area, his skill is diminished in close quarters where his spear's reach is negated.
Stories where he has appeared
- Blade of the Gods
- Nature of the Viper
- Black Soul
- Noodles—appears in the background
- The Crossing
- Three Seasons—appears as the possessed Inazuma
- Dreams and Nightmares
- The Darkness and the Soul- The Origin of Jei
- Sparrows- appears as the possessed Inazuma, and later, the possessed Hama
- In many ways he is a perfect nemesis for Usagi, both similar and opposite in many ways.
- Both of them are ronin, masterless samurai.
- Both of them have unusual opinions of Japan's caste structure; Usagi treats everyone with respect regardless of class, while Jei also ignores class, thinking that sinners are sinners regardless of their role in life.
- Both have a sense of justice; though they are very different in their opinions of guilt and punishment.
- Usagi's techniques have a weakness against spearmen, like Jei.
- Jei is a wolf while Usagi is a rabbit; a natural predator-prey relationship in our world.
- Jei has appeared in the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series in the episode "Yojimbo" as the main antagonist.
- Jei was supposed to be a one shot character, dying in his debut appearance when he was struck by lightning; but Stan Sakai brought him back again, and again.
- Jei's name is a pun. A samurai would normally have the suffix -san appended to his name, so his name is Jei-san, which sounds like the English name "Jason". This is a reference to the movie monster Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series, a character who, much like Jei, dies repeatedly only to be revived soon after.
- Jei appears on several Usagi Yojimbo book covers, but book #3 has two different covers; one of which has Jei on it, the other doesn't.
- Jei—now accompanied by Keiko—makes an appearance in the story "Kitsune", they are in the background of the scene where Yoriki Masada is on his horse, heading to the gamblers' hut. He has a spear and one sword; in his last appearance he only has the spear, and in his next he has the spear and two swords.
- In the Usagi Yojimbo: Senso miniseries, after he is incinerated by a Martian heat ray, in a crowd of evacuees, he appeared to be using Keiko as a vessel.
- Jei's weapon style is known as "Yarijutsu" or "Sojutsu", the Japanese art of the spear.
- Just as Jei is the antithesis to Usagi, his weapon, the spear, was considered the antithesis to the samurai class. Japanese spears were designed specifically to pierce armor and their reach allowed even peasant foot soldiers to kill samurai warriors. It's been said that a man with a sword must be three times better than a man with a spear in order to have any hope for victory.