In Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #3

Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden is something you should find as soon as possible.

The cover: Stan Sakai and Tom Luth have created a cover in contrasts. Moving to the left are Usagi and Inspector Ishida, with the ronin reaching for one of his blades and the inspector holding his jitte’ high so all know that he is on the shogun’s business. Ishida looks to his left and spies a beautiful statue of woman in a flowing dress holding flowers. The statue is upon a pedestal and looks directly at the reader as if compelling him or her to understand a silent message. Usagi’s robe and Ishida’s skin stand out upon a light tan background, while the statue stands out in very light browns. When don’t these pair of artists deliver the goods? Overall grade: A+

The story: The third installment of this issue begins with a thief being questioned by Usagi and Ishida. He’s asked about the two samurai who were killed in the warehouse district the previous night. He feigns ingnorance, “My mind has been in a such a fog lately.” Reaching into his robe, the inspector produces two chits and places them on the table, which the thief immediately reaches for until Usagi puts his hand on them. “Information first!” The thief then reveals that shogunate officials are looking for a “small box of foreign make that one of them was carrying.” The two detectives leave the thief to his money, discussing the box. Stan Sakai’s mystery continues to be revealed by these sleuths with them journeying to a lead that Ishida is familiar with: Kin the Fence. What occurs there reveals this new character clearly to the reader and characters, moves the mystery along further, and shows another underworld entity in the city. Pages 14 and 15 have a very funny moment that creates a nice bit of clever action from the title character with a response from one character absolutely delightful. This moment of humor gives way to a return to the book’s antagonists who make some dark plans. The pair of protagonists go into an establishment in search of someone and a strong action sequence follows. Mystery, adventure, heroes, villains, and humor make this perfect storytelling. Overall grade: A+

The art: Stan Sakai, the artist, continues to be brilliant in every possible way. The issue begins with an intense close-up of the thief. He’s given a comical look of shock, but as the story progresses this individual is shown to have more than one face. The bottom panel on the first page introduces Usagi and Ishida to the reader, as well as the setting and their proximity to the thief. The linework that shows the wooden tables, the dirt floor, and the curtains is wonderful. The next two pages show the protagonists’ back and forth with this unsavory character. The slam on the table that ends the second page is a terrific reinforcement of one character’s mood that is restated at the top of the third page. And look at those first three panels on Page 3: Sakai gives some excellent animation to both characters. When Usagi and Ishida take to the streets the settings are amazing: believable structures as far as the eye can see and populated by a wide variety of characters that one would expect to see at this point in time. This book is absolutely set in a real world. I especially like the flute player on Page 5. The bottom of 6 and the top of 7 also have some wonderful movement, with on character vehement in what he wants, while another changes his tune upon recognizing someone. Pages 8 and 9 have a partial double-paged spread that makes Usagi go “Wow,” and it will make the reader do so as well! This is a gorgeously detailed setting that’s got something interesting in every corner. The individual that lives here is an intricately detailed outfit that is also worthy of a “Wow” or two. Special note should also be taken by Sakai fans of a tiny doll in the bottom right who is missing his companion. There’s an action sequence on 13 that’s very funny given a reaction by a character. Were the visuals not strong, this situation would have no humor. In fact, the final panel on the page is laugh out loud funny. The reaction by the character in the third panel on 15 made me smile; when this character laughs or smiles it’s contagious. Again, Sakai shows he can create fluid movement, now with tension, on Page 20. It’s impossible not to have that sound echo through one’s head given how the panels are illustrated. Pages 21- 24 are just flat out gorgeous for the amount of detail in the crowds, the setting, and the emotion from the characters. This book looks fantastic. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: Also the letterer of this book, Stan Sakai creates the story’s title, dialogue, sounds, and yells. One is always looking at an outstanding letterer’s work when one can hear the stress placed in the characters’ dialogue. Case in point: Kin the Fence has some of his words bolded to show where he’s putting his emphasis and this makes this speech sound so natural. The lettering of this book adds another layer to its believability. The sounds on this book are also tremendously fun. They match the actions that are occurring splendidly and are a hoot and half to read aloud. Overall grade: A+  

“Chibi Tomoe and Zo Ninja”: This one pager, on the inside back cover by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai, continues the plight of Chibi-Tome who has learned someone is in her house. It’s quick, it’s funny, and it’s as cute as the dickens. If these characters don’t get their own one-shot, or series, it would be an absolute shame. Overall grade: A+

The final line: The mystery thickens and a new antagonist is revealed, all told with beautiful visuals. You can never go wrong with a book by Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden is something you should find as soon as possible. Highest possible recommendation. 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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