“Usagi Yojimbo” #144 is the final half of a two-part tale and as such is freed up to rocket through the story, giving you more than your money’s worth in entertainment. Usagi Yojimbo has strolled into a new town and is protecting a local soy producer from a rival. Usagi slices his way to justice in a thrilling and amazing exploration of comics’ high potential.
The opening scene builds tension as a night guard pokes about the soy factory with his spotlight. Everything mounts up until one panel finally breaks the tension and we are left to cut away without knowing how bad it’s going to be. Stan Sakai drops a few pages of chatty exposition, then draws the two elements together as Usagi and his new friend find the guard right before he dies. This story has stakes and they just got very high.
Usagi is angry and ready to make things right no matter what the cost, proving he’s the hero of the book. He goes to Officer Wada and some very funny moments occur which break up the harsh beats even while sharing panel borders with them. Wada hams it up in the background like a callow buffoon while Usagi slices throats open and sends his blade through the middle of a lady assassin’s skull. The violence might not be gratuitous or colorful but it’s still harsh in its unrelenting ability to verify the tenacity of our lead and the battles he faces.
Sakai’s cartooning skills are exemplary. His eponymous rabbit captures so much emotion and story in his simple face. The anger is pure and the exclamations are sublime. Whenever there is action (and this issue contains much) the dynamic flow of the blades and muscles make you feel invested in the operatic battles. You go back and forth with each steel swing, caring deeply about how Usagi will rectify the situation.
“Usagi Yojimbo” is the perennial all-ages book: a great entry level for kids and yet wholly engrossing for adults decades later in life. This issue gives us a true Ronin tale — in fact, most of the plot and dialogue could have easily been repurposed for a human crime tale. Sakai’s commitment to his rabbit leads only shows us the beauty of the long form possibilities seeing the wandering rabbit Ronin grow and continue to be a draw for fans of all demographics.