In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #165

How could one not enjoy a mystery involving gangsters, detectives, and samurai?

The cover: Outside a building at night, Usagi and Inspector Ishida have come upon a dead body. Using a lamp, the inspector looks at the corpse while Usagi stands watch. The samurai gets the feeling that something is not right and begins to slowly pull his sword from its sheath. If he’d only look behind him he would see the murderer looking down upon them, his sword already ominously out. I love covers that show the moment before action begins and the heroes are unaware of the threat. This visual form of dramatic irony clearly shows the issue’s two protagonists, that the plot will focus on solving a murder, and the secretive nature of the killer. The colors on this are also well done, with the setting being dark enough to communicate the hour to the reader, but no so dark as to obscure the visual. Stan Sakai and Tom Luth have created another winning cover. Overall grade: A

The story: The final chapter of Stan Sakai’s “Mouse Trap” opens with Usagi and Ishida, and several other men, around the body of Hatamoto Asano. The inspector hoped that the man could be arrested for stealing silver from the mint, but his mystery killer dealt with him before he could be revealed. The four additional bodies on the ground are recognized as members of the Black Goblin Gang. Ishida and Usagi surmise that the group’s unidentified leader may be responsible for the other cases they’re recently closed, “though never solved to our satisfaction.” Chief Inspector Ito arrives on horseback, expressing his displeasure at Ishida continuing to involve himself in the murders instead of trying to capture the thief Nezumi. Ishida explains he had no choice but to involve himself as he and Usagi happened upon the latest attack by chance. Ito leaves upset, but not before directing a comment at the ronin. The page ends with Usagi asking a question that has Ishida making a fantastic response. There’s a lot of drama in this issue with gangsters making power plays or trying to maintain power and the pair of protagonists trying to discover where some stolen silver is located. Two recurring characters return on page 10 and they’re fantastic: both progress the plot and bring some levity to this tale. The final action begins on 16 and runs through 20. It’s very exciting and has a surprising save for one person. Just as the story seems to have wrapped up neatly, Sakai has one final surprise on the final page, leaving me hopeful reappearance of another character soon. How could one not enjoy a mystery involving gangsters, detectives, and samurai? Overall grade: A

The art: If you’ve never checked out the visual work of Stan Sakai, you’re really missing out. Not only are his characters amazing to look upon, his settings are amazingly detailed. Take a look at the first panel of the first page at the point of view he uses to introduce the reader to the situation: Usagi is clearly seen, a detailed wall is beside him, Ishida is also clearly shown, as are the bodies and the guards. Look how Sakai creates distance between characters in the second and third panels on the same page: those in the foreground have dark lines outlining them, those a bit farther back have thin lines to shows distance, but those even farther back have thinner lines. The characters on this page, and all that follow, really pop out on the page due to the highly detailed backgrounds. Since the book is in black and white, Sakai uses cross hatching to show the woodwork used to construct the buildings. This also darkens the backgrounds, leaving the characters to be more easily seen by the reader. Look at the third and fourth panels on Page 2 to see this technique being used. Enough technical praise, let’s look at the neat visual elements of this issue! The smile on Ishida’s face at the bottom of Page 4 had me laugh at loud, as it is the cherry on top of the dialogue he speaks. The conversation between the two characters on the three pages that follow are really strong. I really like the shock on the higher man’s face and the fury he unleashes. The lower man shoots a deliciously dark look as he exits on 7 that definitely foreshadows trouble to come. I love when comic books use circular panels to put focus on a character and Sakai employs that technique fabulously on Page 10. The characters’ reaction are of shock, but also comical, which are great visual lead-ins to who is about to appear. Ishida has another fantastic visual reaction at the bottom of 11. The setting that first appears on 14 is incredibly detailed with its woodwork. Complicating the work done on this setting are all the characters that are present and the actions that occurs there. The details are amazing. The final page is made up of nine equal sized panels and they wonderfully show a character who encounters a surprise and a final panel that teases future tales. It, like this book, is picture perfect. Overall grade: A

The letters: Stan Sakai also creates this book’s text which includes the story’s title, dialogue, yells, screams, sounds, and laughter. The dialogue is crisp and very easy to read. When characters place emphasis on a word or phrase, Sakai bolds the text making it sound much more like natural speech to the reader. There are several screams and yells in this issue and they are done in many different ways, allowing the reader to hear different variations in the characters’ utterances. The sounds in the final battle are really cool, resulting in my never thinking of the word TANG! in the same way again. Overall grade: A

“Chibi Usagi and the Goblin of Adachi Plain”: The final installment of this ultra cute story by Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai shows the battle between the hero and the villain and it made me laugh aloud. The visuals are cute, as they should be since it’s a chibi story, but the chibi tokage is too sweet for words. The ending is quick, as it’s only one page, but it is the perfect way to end this story. Overall grade: A

The final line: One of the finer things in life is Usagi Yojimbo. Each issue always contains highly entertaining stories with wonderful characters and exceptional artwork. Do yourself a favor and pick up an issue. This one would be the perfect place to start. 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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