In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #151

Another recommended read from Stan Sakai.

The cover: Guarding the recently friended Haruko, Usagi tries to protect the woman from nine samurai who wish to do her harm. Nice high point of view shot in the forest with the hero up against an overwhelming number of enemies. The stance of each character gives them a unique personality, even this distant from the reader. An excellent cover from artist Stan Sakai and colorist Tom Luth. Overall grade: A

The story: “The Bride” has Usagi trying to reach a nearby town before a storm catches him. He makes his way through the forest and comes upon a startling scene: a palanquin surrounded by several dead men, made up of porters, samurai, and bandits. He checks inside the transport to see if the occupant was killed in the fray and is surprised to find a frightened woman beginning for mercy. She gets out after he tells her they might be more bandits and he leads her away. She says her name is Haruko, the daughter of the sake brewer in the town Usagi was going to. She has been promised in marriage to the son of a brewer in an adjacent town. Haruko is to marry Eiji once she arrives in Tansu. Usagi volunteers to escort the young woman to her destination. Having a young woman be the target of criminals instantly places the character in the reader’s sympathies and makes Usagi look like the strong hero that he is. Stan Sakai builds his story well, with the thugs realizing that Usagi is now accompanying the girl, but not believing he will be much of a threat. The action scene with the villains is good and just as it seems as though the story is coming to an end, Sakai puts an excellent spin on the proceedings that will have readers wondering if Usagi can save the day. The resolution is good, but the final two pages — the epilogue — are outstanding. I’ve not encountered Sakai putting an epilogue into one of his tales and this is the perfect caper to this excellent thriller. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: I’ve heaped praises on Stan Sakai’s artwork in previous works, but his forest setting must be seen to be believed. The issue opens with a vertical panel that covers the span of the page setting up the weather, the setting, and the character. This is followed by a detailed background composed of a distant forest and clouds. With the turn of a page the setting goes epic, as the title character looks down into a valley where the carnage lies. Images are shown to support Usagi’s conclusion of how the trap was laid and three individuals who have just been killed. The crosshatching Sakai uses for the forest provides a good sense of depth to the artwork, and it’s also used to show a change of texture on the construction of the palanquin. Usagi and Haruko’s reactions to the violence are great, with both emoting strongly on Page 3. Page 6 introduces the villains of the piece and they look fantastic. They receive no names in the story, but the visuals are clear enough to endow them with distinct personalities, with my favorite being the character with the tall and skinny head chewing on a piece of grass. A bamboo forest is entered on Page 8 and it’s amazing. Again, Sakai employs crosshatching, this time to create ominous shadows, implying that danger could be around any corner. The fight sequence that occurs is great, again with each character giving great emotions. There is a terrific character transformation between Pages 16 and 17, culminating in a completely insane visual at the bottom of Page 20. The epilogue ends in a seemingly simple graphic, but gives a welcome happy ending to one of the ronin’s tales. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: The opening title, dialogue, yells, and screams are also created by Stan Sakai. His font style is iconic, earning him several Eisner Awards, and it’s on perfect display here. It’s stylized, clean, and just flat out pleasing to look and to read. It doesn’t get much better than this. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Another recommended read from Stan Sakai. This is a complete story, requiring no previous issues to understand. It’s got action, drama, and some incredible visuals. 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.
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