A pair of riders make their way into the city while being pursued by a larger group. Unfortunately, the pair are tracked down and killed. Inspector Ishida and Usagi Yojimbo investigate the murder later. The inspector believes this is related to the arrival of a religious group called “Kirishitans” that have spread throughout the land.
This issue of Usagi Yojimbo, which opens the Hidden miniseries, is interesting in how historically driven it is, but it’s weighed down by a number of tonal issues, primarily related to the artistic depictions of death in the comic.
The opening starts off with a lot of energy and intrigue, with the mysterious riders being pursued by the violent group. The focus on Christianity’s spread throughout Japan and how it’s affected the people and the culture through Usagi Yojimbo’s perspective has a lot of promise. Even the subtle details, like Usagi being asked to stand upon a crucifix, offers a lot.
Stan Sakai’s artwork is as cartoonish and stylized as ever. More shading would be helpful in differentiating characters and objects in the scenes, but that’s not anything new to the comic series. The tonal problems arise with how cartoonish the depictions of death are. Usagi Yojimbo has often skewed for a younger audience, but the fact that the rider’s deaths look like slapstick out of a Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry cartoon undercuts the drama of the situation to a significant degree.
That doesn’t kill the book, though and there is a to enjoy in the premise and execution. Plus, when the art works, it tends to work well. Plus, Usagi’s visual design never ceases to appeal.
Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #1 poses an interesting start to this story, contextualizing the universe in terms of Christianity’s spread throughout Asia thanks to mercantilism and exploration. The art has its issues, but there is enough fun and good to make up for the problems. This one gets a recommendation, though I wouldn’t call it a must-buy.
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