Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Anthropomorphic Samurai

Usagi Yojimbo #163 (Dark Horse, November 2017, $3.99)
While this is #163 of the current series, the indicia indicates that this is #227 overall. Stan Sakai's long-running black-and-white anthropomorphic samurai comic is one of my absolute favorites, and every issue is a welcome continuation of the story, which features Japanese history and myth, samurai, ninjas, adventure, and mystery. It's like Lone Wolf and Cub meets Critters, or an issue of Comic Ran if populated by funny animals.

In this issue, part one of the storyline "Mouse Trap," Nezumi has robbed Hatamoto Asano's home. A Robin Hood-like thief, Nezumi rains money down on the citizens. "The townsfolk always side with me!" Usagi Yojimbo takes chase across the rooftops but loses his footing, allowing Nezumi to escape.

While assessing his spoils, which include a silver ingot with the shogunate crest and an interesting netsuki, Nezumi witnesses members of the Black Goblin gang harass down-on-his-luck Merchant Kubo. The gang members frame Nezumi for a crime he didn't commit. That leads to Inspector Ishida and Usagi learning even more through their investigation: Perhaps Nezumi isn't the only criminal!

This is such a wonderful comic. So much love and effort go into making each issue, and the series has been so consistently excellent. While I've felt that some issues in the past have been flat—foreground and background blending together—this issue has no such problem. On page one, panel one, Sakai uses thicker and thinner lines to delineate depth. He uses a similar technique on p. 20, panel one, even incorporating very limited shading to set off a secondary image in the foreground.

Beautifully cartoony and painstakingly done. Awesome.

Availability: You can buy this issue online. This issue will be collected in Usagi Yojimbo Volume 32, expected in July 2018. The most recent collection is Usagi Yojimbo Volume 31: The Hell Screen. We also recommend Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 1.

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