Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Usagi is injured while saving peasants from bandits. In gratitude, they take him to see Priest Hiroshi. Hiroshi is a hero to the local villages; heís driven out bandits and heals the sick. Usagi recognizes Hiroshi as one who used to be a samurai. Hiroshi explains the crimes he committed in his former life and why he chose the priesthood. Koyama Matabei, a samurai of Usagiís acquaintance, comes looking for Hiroshi. He seeks to avenge his father, murdered by Hiroshi and his former gang. Usagi pleads with Koyama to spare Hiroshi, lest the villages lose their protector.
I wonít spoil the ending. Suffice to say, I was expecting a happy ending from the generally light and G-rated tone of the story. I mean, we donít even see blood when a character is wounded. Even the decapitation looks kid-safe. This is the least violent and least intense samurai story Iíve ever read.
The story isnít very original. When the villagers talk about Hiroshi in glowing terms, you immediately think heís someone trying to escape his past. When Koyama arrives, you know heís there to kill Hiroshi for something done in his previous life. Nothing very surprising. But the story is written well, and the characters' reflexes are honest. That is, they speak and act according to their lives.
Sakaiís style reminds me of Sergio Aragones. Not surprising, since Sakai worked as the colorist on Aragonesí Groo comics. But Sakaiís art is a visual contrast between the detailed and the sloppy. Great care was taken in rendering the buildings, landscapes, and even clothing. But the characters themselves look like they were drawn quickly and with little effort. Many times they look flat and awkward. On the other hand, Sakai draws the flashback scene in a looser style. Itís a neat way to present a different point in time, and shows Sakaiís mastery of his craft. Frankly, I wish the entire story was drawn that way.
Ultimately, I am disappointed in Usagi Yojimbo. This was the first Usagi comic I ever read, and I was expecting more. I know Usagi has had a strong following since the 1980s, and is regarded in some circles as a modern classic. Iím going to give Sakai the benefit of a doubt and write this issue off as not being his typical work. This feels like a fill-in issue; a short break between longer story arcs.
And before I get a lot of angry e-mails, Iíll look for older Usagi TPBs and read more issues before dismissing the series entirely.
What did you think of this book?
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