One of the things I’ve always appreciated about “Usagi Yojimbo” is that it’s remarkably consistent. Issue in and issue out, you know that you’re getting a well-written and drawn comic. But while it’s consistent, that doesn’t mean it’s predictable. And in the latest issue of “Usagi Yojimbo,” we get that reminder that anything can happen, here.
While “Usagi Yojimbo” is actually part two of a story, Stan Sakai makes sure you can jump right in here. You get all the basics in the first two pages-the Magistrate’s son has been kidnapped, the townspeople believe the Red Scorpion Gang is behind it, the search is on-and from there the story keeps building. Over the years, Sakai has proven himself to be a firm believer in the idea that any issue is someone’s first, and it’s nice to see him keeping it accessible.
With that swift introduction over, though, Sakai immediately jumps into the story itself, showing us where the Magistrate’s son was taken, as well as what ransom the kidnappers will want in return for his release. It’s a traditional, by the book story up to a point… and then Sakai mixes things up a bit and provides a little surprise. It’s a good reminder that Sakai doesn’t normally take the easy way out, and what could have been easily wrapped up this issue instead gets more complicated and interesting. I like that Usagi’s ending up in a worse position than where he started this issue, and it keeps your attention firmly fixed on the comic and what’s going to happen next.
Unsurprisingly, Sakai’s art is as good as ever. From the strong character designs (Usagi’s topknot, the way the Magistrate looks down his snout at Usagi) to the little background details (the carefully drawn paper screens and doors, the bamboo roofs, the particularly dark woods), each page feels cohesive and works together as a single, attractive creation. I can’t even imagine how much time it must take Sakai to draw all the little dots on Usagi’s shirt, or the hundreds of little cross-hatches on every single beam of wood, but the attention to detail ends up making it all look that much more rich.
“Usagi Yojimbo” debuted in 1987 and has continued to run strongly since then. If you add in the issues published by Fantagraphics and Mirage, the comic should hit its 200th issue within the next year, and there’s a reason that a one-man comic has continued to be not only still published, but so popular at that. Check it out, you won’t regret it. “Usagi Yojimbo” is great stuff, month after month.