This spectacular design has been assigned two dates in the literature, each identifying the triptych as a mitate-e (lit., "view and compare," meaning an analogue print: 見立絵) for a production that never took place with these actors in these roles. The earlier date is given in Schwaab, Osaka Prints (see OSP reference below), which reports that Professor Matsudaira Susumu (1933-2000) interpreted this scene as a New Year's performance. Apparently at that time (prior to 1989), Prof. Matsudaira estimated the date to be 1/1830. More recent research by Dr. Kitagawa Hiroko (北川博子) in 2006 (see Kitagawa reference below) places the publication in 1/1832, again as a New Year's composition. We have decided to use Dr. Kitagawa's more recent research for the dating.
As Schwaab points out (undoubtedly aided by Prof. Matsudaira), the role names (we should add: or in two instances, their homonyms) signify auspicious things for the New Year. Miiri-yoshi, when written differently), could be taken to mean "bountiful income," Honzô means "treasure," and Iwaimasu (again, when written differently, 祝升) means "celebrate" or "congratulations."
The heroes in this scene are attacking a fire-breathing ryû (竜) or three-toed dragon (i.e., Japanese; Chinese dragons have five toes) as a malestrom of clouds swirls behind them. The plot is unknown to us, but action-packed single-sheet prints with mythical creatures, especially triptychs, were quite uncommon in kamigata-e.
The block cutting and printing are of the highest order, with the names of the artisans (Kumazô and Yasu, respectively) duly acknowledged by their seals on all three sheets. Rikan's costume is particularly over-the-top in its details, emblazoned with two fierce lions emblematic of Hozô Tarô's take-no-prisoners attitude. Miiri Yoshimaru stands ready with his bow while holding a flaming torch, and princess Iwaimasu displays her martial arts skills with the naginata (lance or halberd: 長刀 or 薙刀).
This impression is the very same that is illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints, no. 134. It was formerly in the Haber collection in New York — famous for the condition, quality, and rarity of the designs.
References: OSP, no. 134; ; MFAB, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Acc #11.36034a-c; KAN, p. 24. no. 27; Kitagawa, Hiroko: Bosuton bijutsukan shozô Kamigata-e mokuroku (List of Kamigata prints in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: ボストン美術館所蔵上方絵目録). Kansai Daigaku [Kansai University, 関西大学], Naniwa - Osaka bunka isan-gaku kenkyû sentâ (Naniwa - Osaka Cultural Heritage Research Center 2006 (なにわ•大阪文化遺産学研究センター 2006), reprint 2007, p. 99