In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #164

More mysteries and more mayhem for Usagi Yojimbo to navigate safely!

The cover: A dead man lies on the ground, holding a silver ingot with the shogunate crest. Above him, Usagi Yojimbo tries to fend off four men from doing the same to him. Good action illustration by Stan Sakai. The men attacking the hero are just as detailed as the man they are trying to kill. I especially like how each foe has a unique pattern on their clothing; often in comics, men who fight together are clothed similarly, but not in Sakai’s book! The colors by Tom Luth are also good: the reader’s eyes are drawn to the bright colors of Usagi, but the individual colors of each man’s clothes draw attention as well. And check out the buildings behind the characters — they’re great! Sakai could have left the background blank to have Luth color brightly, but adding them in gives a stronger sense of reality to the image. Overall grade: A

The story: The second part of “Mouse Trap” begins with Usagi in the worst of situations. Last issue he was knocked out from behind by a little snitch who has now brought him before the Black Goblin Gang. Seeing Usagi with Inspector Ishida, the tiny terror bonked him and brought him to the gang so that Boss Hokose can question him. The boss is out and Nishi has been left in charge. Nishi has never seen the samurai before and thinks he’s a nobody. “Kill him and throw his corpse into the river.” Before he leaves he tells the short snitch not to bring another man to him. Before the thugs can kill the hero, the snitch threatens them. “You can’t kill him! He’s mine until you pay me!” The closest man smiles and pulls his sword and…something happens. Normally when I review a comic I go as far as the fourth page, but I’ll stop at the third to leave your reading with a good surprise. Pages 4 – 7 feature some terrific action as some other characters enter the fray. One character justifies his reason for entering the fight on Page 8 and it’s a perfectly logical reason for his joining in. Writer Stan Sakai then moves his story to Boss Hokose and his conversation with a mysterious individual; both characters reveal interesting aspects of their personalities. A conversation on Pages 15 – 17 is fun; it develops a character and plants a seed about a possible reveal. The mystery also progresses well and it becomes the focus when a large character interrupts on 18. The last four pages have the story go out with a bang as Usagi and Ishida race to save a stranger. I love the characters, I love the story, and I love the action. I love Usagi Yojimbo! Overall grade: A

The art: The details in artist Stan Sakai’s work are apparent on the first page with a full-paged splash showing Usagi struggling to stand while four ominous characters look down upon him. Three of the villains look tough, while the Snitch looks to be a twisted individual. Look at all the dots on Usagi’s robes, the rendering of the antagonists, and the building they are in. It’s only the first page and I’ve already got my money’s worth! With this book in black and white, the cross hatching on the building really makes the characters pop out against it. That’s extremely necessary for Pages 2 – 9 because there are a lot, no really — a lot, of characters on the page, and without the cross hatching the characters would blend in too easily with the backgrounds. The action on 4 – 7 is terrific. One thing I really like about Sakai’s artwork is that he doesn’t use speed lines or computer blurs to show a character in motion: each of his drawings is like a split second captured in time with characters’ movements frozen perfectly. The entrance of one character on 5 is great, but is outdone by the truly dramatic entrance in the first panel on 6. I have to give attention to the look on a fish’s face at the top of 10; it’s not essential to the story, only serving to show that this tale is set in a busy city, but I can’t help but smile every time I look at that poor fish. A conversation on 12 – 14 appears tricky, because one character isn’t seen. However, Sakai is able to communicate the strength of the hidden individual well from the reactions by Hokose. I appreciated the moment of levity on 15 and how much the characters are enjoying one another’s company, especially in that final panel. The visual high point of the book is a three panel sequence that starts in the middle of 23 and ends atop 24. Two characters are speeding to assist another and each panel shows their progression to their goal: this is occurring in seconds and the reader can feel the energy of every character in the scene. Simply amazing. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Because he can, Stan Sakai is also the letterer of this book. He has created the story’s title, dialogue, sounds, yells, notes on previous stories, and laughter. I love the look of the story’s title, which I spoke of in my review of the previous issue. It flows wonderfully, almost daring the reader to continue. The sounds that Sakai creates are tops, with the all the TANGs that appear in the book’s final pages my favorites. Even the lettering of this book is beautiful. Overall grade: A

Chibi Usagi and the Goblin of Adachi Plain, Part 4: Though it’s only one page long, this story crafted by Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai is fun. The treacherous General Toda sneaks in to where Chibi Usagi is sleeping for some devilry. However, he is surprised by the samurai. If one thinks the story too serious, the final panel will assuredly put a smile on the reader’s face. The story is fun and the art cute as can be. Overall grade: A

The final line: More mysteries and more mayhem for Usagi Yojimbo to navigate safely! The characters are as detailed as the art. This is perfect reading for all ages. Recommended. 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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