Zato-Ino, the Blind Swordspig is an anthropomorphic pig who was blind since birth, and is a skilled swordsman. He is one of the earliest characters introduced, and he hasn't been seen since volume 1, published by Fantagraphics Books. The character is based on Zatoichi, a blind swordsman portrayed by Shintaro Katsu in a long-running series of samurai films (In 2003, Takeshi Kitano directed and starred in a new Zatoichi film).
Ino was born blind, but learned to get by using his superior sense of smell; limited by his blindness, he became a zato or "blind masseur", hence the name "Zato-Ino". He was often ridiculed because of his disability, so he learned how to use a sword, thinking that he could be more menacing and keep people from putting him down; but things only got worse. Although he gained the ability to defend himself, he eventually had to kill another in self defence, and was branded a murderer. Since then, he's been looking for a quiet out-of-the-way place where he can live in peace, but is constantly dogged by the bounty on his head.
One day, he encounters Usagi, and things start friendly at first, but Ino is soon accosted by a pair of bounty hunters after the reward. Ino kills them, but Usagi now knows who he is; Usagi feels sorry for Ino, but insists that Ino must be stopped. Zato-Ino refuses and duels Usagi. With one stroke, Usagi ends the duel by cutting off Ino's nose, leaving Ino completely "blind"; Usagi believes that Ino is now harmless, but the pig promises revenge on Usagi. He eventually gets a wood carver to make him a new nose out of wood, and Ino's sense of smell is restored, aside from everything now having a strange pine scent.
Spot, the Wonder LizardEdit
Ino gains a companion in the form of Spot, a small lizard (called a "tokage"), who warns him of an impending ambush by some rogues; with the advanced warning, Ino easily beats them. Ino thanks the small lizard for helping him, but it then runs away, leaving Ino alone. Soon after, Zato-Ino catches up to Usagi, and challenges him inside an abandoned temple; to even things out, Ino cuts the only candle in the room, leaving Usagi as blind as he, except for Ino's keen nose. Ino is about to kill Usagi when Spot reappears and gets in the way. Usagi reveals that Spot was his friend, and Ino tells him of how Spot saved his life; owing Spot his life, he lets Usagi live in exchange. Outside, Spot is torn between staying with Usagi or Ino, but Usagi realizes that Ino wants peace while his own path leads to trouble, so he lets Spot go to join Ino.
The Dragon Bellow ConspiracyEdit
During the Dragon Bellow Conspiracy—where Lord Tamakuro attempted to procure a large quantity of matchlocks (an early form of firearm) in order to wage war against other lords and the shogun—Zato-Ino found himself going up against Gen, who was after the bounty on Ino's head. When the two fought, Ino proved himself the superior of the two by cutting off Gen's horn; but before the fight could escalate any further, Usagi followed Spot to them and spotted their duel. Usagi convinces them to join him and the Neko Ninja to save Tomoe Ame and stop Lord Tamakuro. During the battle, Ino smells the gun powder of one of the weapons, and pushes Gen out of the way, getting shot himself; Gen gets revenge on the soldiers who shot Ino. In exchange for saving his life, Gen pulls Ino to a safe place in the castle, and tells everyone he was killed, the only way Ino would ever see any peace.
After Lord Tamakuro's palace was destroyed by Shingen, Zato-Ino wandered away, still looking for peace, but would not get far as a result of his injuries; eventually he collapsed on the road where he was found by a couple of farmers bringing supplies back to their village. Three days later, he wakes up in the hut of a girl named Fujiko, who had tended to his injuries. Ino is thankful, but they are interrupted when bandits arrive to rob the village. The villagers are unable to defend themselves, and Ino is not much use in his state; Spot, however, manages to bite the ear off one of the bandits before they leave the village. Later, the bandits figure out that the blind pig in the village is Zato-Ino, and return the next day to collect the bounty on his head. By now, Ino has had some time to recover, and fights against the bandits after his head; the bandits try to swarm Ino on horseback, but Fujiko rallies the villagers to try and help him. The bandits are no match for the combined might of Ino's sword and the angry villagers, but the bandit who lost his ear targets Fujiko for organizing the counterattack, and tries to kill her. Spot jumps in again, and the brigand grabs him by the throat, strangling him; in a last effort, Spot bites into his neck, cutting his jugular. The bandits are defeated, but Spot is injured, and dies in Ino's hands, leaving him alone. After burying Spot, Fujiko offers Ino the chance to live in their village; it is secluded and peaceful, exactly what Ino was looking for.
Zato-Ino later marries Fujiko, and are expecting their first born when he makes his last appearance in the series. The pair traveled to exchange for goods with a nearby town, but are ambushed by thieves and Ino is badly injured. Later, Usagi and Gen run into the same bandits and kill them, and soon come upon the wounded Ino. They spend the night in an abandoned house talking with Fujiko while desperately trying to save his life, staying with him until they are certain that he'll recover, but leave before he wakes up. After a few days, Ino and Fujiko return to their village, where he supposedly lives out the rest of his days.
Stories where he has appearedEdit
- Blind Swordspig
- Return of the Blind Swordspig
- The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy
- The Last Zato-Ino Story
- The Last Zato-Ino Story was also the last Fantagraphics issue.
- The foldover covers of volume 3, issues 46 and 47 make a large poster featuring every Usagi Yojimbo character to date; in it, we see Ino with Fujiko and Spot at his side, holding his newborn daughter.
- Zato-Ino is a reference to a popular Japanese Film and Television character named Zatoichi. Like Zato-Ino, Zatoichi is a blind masseur who carries a sword hidden in his cane.
- It was once stated by Stan Sakai himself that Zato-Ino is best swordsman in the Usagi Yojimbo Universe, an honour that now belongs to Inazuma, who died in Dark Horse Issue #108.