In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #148

The story and artwork are incredibly strong. Absolutely recommended.

The cover: Usagi is running forward to stop his new friend Mizuna Takashi from battling the man that cut off his hand years ago. It’s an excellent image that captures the issue’s climatic battle without giving away its outcome. I like how Takashi is the character first noticed by the reader, standing strong and ready, while Usagi is in the center, yelling in a fearful manner. And colored darky to accentuate his evil and keep him hidden from the reader is the book’s villain. There’s also a slick ensemble of characters behind the heroes who are watching the match, with some solid foliage behind them. Stan Sakai’s artwork is legendary and here he shows his skills handsomely. Also shinning is the coloring work of Tom Luth, who does a slick job contrasting the green of the forest and hills to the yellow skies, and superb work on the antagonist on the right. I also must give a shout out to the sword that leaves the cover image to cross into the book’s title. I love when books have this occur and it’s like the cherry on top for this cover. Overall grade: A+ 

The story: “The One-Armed Swordsman” written by Stan Sakai opens in the autumn with the title character making his way to a tavern. Once in, he passes a woman eating alone, a samurai eating alone, and a table with three men eating. He’s greeted by the owner and seated where he can see all five occupants. He sees the table of men eyeing the samurai, after the woman points at the lone man. Next he sees the samurai examine a piece of meat in his bowl. The man puts his chopsticks down and reveals he has a wooden right arm, which shocks Usagi. His reaction is not unseen by the samurai who is angered by ronin’s embarrassment, cauing him to leave. The next four pages have an action sequence which is followed by the two samurai walking together. Along the way Mizuna Takashi tells the story of how he lost his arm. The two part ways and the story moves to six months later where their paths cross at a crucial time. This is an excellent self-contained story, perfect for long time fans or those who’d like to give this title a try. The remaining pages focus on the action that the cover hints at, but Sakai doesn’t go the expected route. The final page left with my mouth agape, stunned by the last two panels’ dialogue. This reminded me of the power of this series when I first picked it up, years ago, and made me happy to be following it again. Overall grade: A+

The art: Stan Sakai also illustrates this series and his visuals are fantastic. Look at the detailed work in the setting in the first panel on Page 1: the building’s construction, the roofs, the linework in the wood, the two characters behind him, and the lizards that run below (SPOT!–Sorry, I had to…If you’re not a long time fan, you won’t get that. Find a copy of Issue #20 and read the first letter in the letter’s page, and look at the fan’s name). Look at the cinematic way Usagi enters the tavern on Page 2, with the new characters highlighted on the left of the panel, with the thugs at the bottom in close-up. The detail in the second panel on the third page foreshadows trouble. The nine panels on Page 4 contains no dialogue, only Usagi’s thought at seeing the wooden appendage. Sakai is such a master of his craft that his visuals can move the story forward in silence, complete with characterization and movement. I love the look of surprise on the lead’s face and the anger on Takashi’s in the seventh panel. The action sequence that soon follows is a masterful display by Sakai on staging and execution. It’s like watching a movie on a page as any reader can follow the action. The flashback sequence as Takashi tells the tale of how he lost his hand is a slight change up in Sakai’s style, with the line work becoming sketchy, as all memories do with time. This is a superb way to have the artwork illustrate the past without the use of coloring. Very cool! The design of the antagonist of this issue is great — he looks every inch the bully and a character that any reader would root to see fall. How the battle concludes is an outstanding visual surprise. Every panel and every page of this book is exceptional. Overall grade: A+

The letters: The man is a triple threat, as Stan Sakai also letters this book. He has created the story’s title, dialogue, yells, translations of certain Japanese words, and some terrific sounds during the battle. I’ve grown up reading Sakai’s lettering on this title and Sergio Aragones’ Groo books. When someone says “lettering”, my mental default is Sakai’s work. His lettering work is strong, with certain words of dialogue italicized so readers can better hear the stress in characters’ speech. However, for me the sounds are the real stand outs this issue, with those in the final battle phenomenal. Overall grade: A+

The final line: As I’ve been reviewing the latest Groo series, I’ve been instructing readers to pick up Usagi Yojimbo. I’m now heeding my own advice: after picking up this issue I’m having it added to my monthly pull list. Why did I ever stop reading this? The story and artwork are incredibly strong. Reading this book is like a trip in time. Absolutely recommended. Overall grade: A+

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.
    One Comment
  • David K
    11 October 2015 at 11:41 pm -

    What a great review! I read the story as well and it’s definitely worth the A+ rating. After a long hiatus, you would think Sakai would be a bit rusty, but this shatters that thought! Truly an amazing creator. It’s so exciting to see him back!

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