It’s been a while since I read Usagi Yojimbo. It always struck me as a kind of Groo-lite, just not as funny or inventive. And why buy Usagi when there was already Groo?
121 issues later it’s a different story. Groo is an occasional treat, possibly past its best, but Usagi seems on top of its game. This tale of a lupine samurai warrior is a smooth, accomplished book by a man who knows exactly what he’s doing and has years of experience doing just that.
Aside from the obvious stylistic and thematic nods to manga and samurai tales, there’s a stack of Sergio Aragones and Matt Howarth, with all the storytelling kudos they bring.
For example, right at the beginning as Usagi walk towards the scene of a massacre, as we flick between the carnage and his striding along, his backgrounds, his world, his details becomes more distinct with every step. And the scene itself is incredibly disturbing, a very cartoony and furry war crime in front of him. It’s as if the Sylvanian Familes had lived in Kosovo.
And it’s the detail that makes this book gorgeous to revisit. No template background walpaper here, we can happily watch the tales of background characters playing out across the panels.
I was very surprised by the way the book plays with the reader. I was pleased with myself figuring out the easy twist, smug wondering about those who hadn’t and also condescening to the writer for taking such a cliched route, when the twist was suddenly retwisted, putting me back in the stupid seats. I look back in the pages and the retwist is all there, spelled out, I just couldn’t see it. I love it when that happens.
If you’ve never read Usagi, or haven’tfor a while, this is a great issue to get into the swing of things. It certainly has for me.
Usagi Yojimbo #121 by Stan Sakai, published by Dark Horse Comics today.