In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #163

This is a great starting point for those new to the character.

The cover: A solemn Usagi takes to one knee, though he has one of his swords out of its sheathe. Four Japanese cranes fly in the background as if eager to avoid the violence that is to occur. Looking closer, another animal can be seen on this frontpiece: there’s a tiny turtle on the far left and it’s sporting a mask! A nice homage to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As always, artist Stan Sakai and colorist Tom Luth have created a beautiful cover that captures this character’s spirit. Overall grade: A

The story: Inspector Ishida points to the sky where a black clad thief is running on roof tops. He yells, “There he is! There’s Nezumi!” He and his men on the ground follow their prey as closely as they can. Usagi runs with the inspector. The daring thief opens his bag of recently stolen loot and begins to throw it to the streets, where locals happily run out to gather the money, which hampers Ishida and his men’s pursuit. Usagi leaps over the crowd to continue the chase. Atop the buildings Ishida’s men are close to the criminal, but are knocked over by Nezumi throwing chits of money at them. When he makes it to the roof, Nezumi throws money at Usagi, but he neatly slices them in half. The pair continue the chase on the roofs, until one of them makes a mistake. This was an extremely exciting opening by Stan Sakai. Running atop the roofs is perilous for all the characters, even for the thief, and it’s a fantastic venue to have the reader enter this story at full blast. I enjoyed how Sakai centered this tale on the Robin Hood of this village, though the story takes an unexpected turn on Page 10. The actions that occur show Nezumi to be very different from what Usagi and Ishida think him to be. Pages 17 and 18 have a confrontation that will undoubtedly tweak the remainder of this story. I was happy to see the actions employed by one individual on 21 which show this character not to the old, weak man he might be mistaken for. The character introduced on 22 is wonderfully comedic and evil, as demonstrated by his actions on 24. Sakai has wonderful characters, old and new, that follow paths that surprise the reader. Overall grade: A

The art: The first page contains an excellent first panel of the men on the ground and on the roofs in pursuit of Nezumi. I like how artist Stan Sakai has put thicker lines around Ishida to give the impression that he’s in the foreground and make him stand out to the reader. Every panel of this book is packed with an amazing amount of detail. The emotions on all the characters are fantastic: the happy townspeople on Page 2, the strain on Usagi’s face on 7, the joy and shock on Nezumi on 9, and the smooth transition from calm to aggression on the character’s face on 21. Mention should also be given to the scampish little toady that appears on 22 -24, who is both comedic and horrible. The settings on this book are also incredible, with the roof tops given incredible details to make them realistic. The chase through the village on the roofs had me hearing the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as I read; the art is just as beautiful as that classic scene from that film. Page 10 starts an incredible scene on a street and it’s wonderful looking; Sakai could have left several panels background free, but by drawing the background he makes the actions seem more real. The first panel on 22 has an incredibly real setting, populated by familiar characters, but also by new individuals that show its citizens. Everything about Sakai’s art is a joy to look upon. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Lettering on this book is also by Sakai who crates yells, dialogue, the story’s title, sound effects, and a death rattle. The story’s title in the first panel is beautiful brushwork that will transport readers into the past before looking at the art. The sounds are also fun with all the WAPs and SWITs being tiny explosions on the page, while the massive BOP! is an excellent sound to end the issue. Mention should also be made of Sakai’s death rattles, which have a character emitting a skull to show that they have died. It’s a brilliant way to show a character as dying without making the passing more gruesome. Overall grade: A

Chibi Usagi and the Goblin of Adachi Plain, Part Three: Written and Illustrated by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai, this one pager continues the saga of Chibi Usagi. The origin of the Goblin is given, as well as a past encounter. The final panel shows trouble coming in quickly for the hero. The art and story are cute and fun. Overall grade: A

The final line: An excellent beginning to a three part story that introduces a criminal who shows himself to be more than just a thief. The art is gorgeous, with strong characters and to-die-for settings. This is a great starting point for those new to the character. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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