Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Stan Sakai
Artist: Stan Sakai
Letters: Stan Sakai
Review by PeteR
Usagi Yojimbo is not a manga. I mention this only because I, personally am not the biggest fan of Manga. Don’t get me wrong. There have been some amazing manga series that I have enjoyed. Golgo 13 by Takao Saito, Sanctuary by written by Sho Fumimura, and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami and of course, Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike come instantly to mind. Other than those three series, in spite of my children’s best effort, I just don’t have the appreciation for manga that so many others share. That is one of the reasons it took me so long to finally read Usagi Yojimbo. The other reason is I am not a huge fan of “funny animal” comics. My attitude was once I had worked my way through Walt Kelly’s Pogo and Carl Bark’s various Disney Duck books there was not going to be much a “funny animal” book is going to offer.
Boy, was I wrong. Stan Sakai’s ongoing saga of the samurai rabbit is captivating. The characters are more three dimensional and (dare I say) human than those portrayed in the pages of the comic books published by the big two companies. One of the reasons for this is Usagi Yojimbo is completely Sakai’s baby. It’s his vision. His writing. His artwork and even his lettering. He does not have to answer to the whims of editorial edicts or the constraints of mandatory crossovers. The other big reason is he has been weaving these tales since 1984.
The basic concept is fairly simple. Usagi spends his life on the warrior’s pilgrimage, walking back and forth across Japan in the1600’s. Although he is technically a “ronin” because his master was killed years ago on the fields of battle, Usagi conducts himself by the Samurai code of Bushido. Along his journey he meets a variety of colorful, anthropomorphic characters. There is Gen, a rhino who make his living as a bounty hunter. Kitsune, the entertainer/thief who is a sort of cross between Catwoman and Tina Fey. Chizu, the ex-leader of the Neko Ninja Clan and an entire universe of other folk who he meets.
Stan Sakai’s artwork is deceptive. At first it appears to be standard funny book drawings but as you progress there is a lushness and complexity to is renderings that make the reader want to stop and just gaze at the layout of a particular page or panal.
Some of the stories are short while others are quite long. There are stories that will make you laugh out loud and other that will make you weep. There is political intrigue, various demons and monsters, sword fights and lots and lots of ninjas.
Stan Sakai researches the content for his stories very thoroughly. In one issue he explains how samurai swords were crafted. In another issue he describes how soy sauce is made (I had no idea how complicated a process it is). He even has pages at the end of issues outlining the origins of various Japanese cultural and historical events.
WHY SHOULD I READ THIS BOOK?
Usagi Yojimbo is a perfect example of the dual conflict of great comics. The stories are so intriguing that the reader want to plow through it but the artwork forces the reader to slow down and investigate the details, backgrounds, angles and layouts of the page. Don’t just take my word for it. Look at the list of luminaries who have written introductions to the trade paperbacks. You have Will Eisner, Stan Lee, James Robinson, George Takai, Frank Miller, Greg Rucka, Paul Dini, Max Allen Collins and a host of others.
Usagi Yojimbo the comic book is published monthly by Dark Horse Comics. I tend to wait for the trade paperbacks because I am greedy and want lots of new material in one sitting. The next collected edition (#31) is scheduled for sale on July 26, 2017