Before reading this comic my only experience with Usagi Yojimbo was with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had a Playmates figure and saw his appearances on the cartoon. There was a comic book but there were also comics starring the Turtles and the Mutanimals and who knows who else. I never read them. Nothing against the Turtles empire but the comics just never had my interest.
Now I realize what a huge mistake that was. Stan Sakai is one of the most incredible artists I have ever seen and tells a story better than nearly all of what is published today.
Senso is the War of the Worlds invasion story set in feudal anthropomorphic Japan. Yeah. How’s that for your elevator pitch? When I read that on the opening pages of the graphic novel I knew I had never even thought of such an idea much less read it.
This story takes place 15 years after the events of the regular Usagi Yojimbo tales. During a fierce war both sides halt when a giant metal structure comes crashing down from space. The aliens emerge, the tripods are built, and everything they are familiar with is threatened by this new possibly unstoppable enemy. It is a very dark tale. Scores of characters die, including many familiar ones. End of the world confessions abound. Love and honor and duty grow in strength and importance as everything else crumbles around them. I cant remember the last time I read heroic deeds of this level. Every character is willing to make selfless sacrifices if it means one more minute of hope.
However the most revealing thing about this book is the revelation of Stan Sakai’s art. I feel like I have been pretending to be a comic book fan for years. Who else but a fake fan would have this glaring omission of Sakai? Like a music aficionado who has never listen to The Beatles. It is some of the most beautiful art I have ever seen. Every single page. There isn’t one moment of slacking. One page or panel where he takes it easy. The amount of detail in every bit of armor, every sword, and every building is beyond human. No one has the skill and patience to render these lines in such perfection. Yet, here it is before me. It seems a silly thing to say about a book with rabbits in armor and aliens but this comic has history leaping off the page. A suit of armor in a museum doesn’t display the reasons for where and why the pieces of armor are set up the way they are. However, seeing Usagi deflect a blade or climb on a horse gives life to the metal.
The whole reason for creating comics, or film or anything is to make a new world to escape into. So many fall flat. Rare is a fully formed world like Usagi Yojimbo. This should be the constant best selling title with all previous editions permanently on the top graphic novel lists.