Usagi Yojimbo #140
There aren’t enough mysteries in comics — I’m talking about actual whodunnits, not violent crime sprees or suspense thrillers — so it was a pleasure to stumble across this small gem.
“Murder at the Inn” is part two of two, revealing the killer of a traveling paper dealer knocked off at the end of #139, but it’s not essential to have read the previous issue to enjoy this one. You’re given the cast of characters at the beginning of this installment, and the last issue was mostly atmospheric, bringing the varied cast together at an inn during a rainstorm. The relationships and potential motives are reintroduced here, since author Stan Sakai knows how to make accessible (and enjoyable) comics.
The title samurai Usagi Yojimbo plays second fiddle this time around, backing up Inspector Ishida in his investigation and determination to see justice done. As is the case in any good historical mystery, there are those special people who think that their power or rank means the rules of society don’t apply to them, but Ishida (with the aid of Usagi’s blade) reminds them otherwise. What a thrilling reminder, one that gets at the heart of the appeal of reading mysteries. We like to be reminded that, regardless of what happens out here in the real world, in fiction, at least, people get what’s coming to them; mysteries are solved; and villainy is scorned and punished.
I’m always pleasantly surprised by how expressive Sakai’s simple character designs are, even though we’re looking at animals, and this story is no different. Just look at those first two of the Players, and note the supercilious self-importance of the Poet (a son of someone important) and the gruff acceptance of his bodyguard Benki. Meanwhile, Kami (the victim) and his child Ayano have similar expressions, although their face styles are different. (And now I’m wondering what Ayano’s mother looked like, given the difference in their ears.)
As events are retold and explained, the solution to the killing gradually becomes clear, and other crimes as well are involved and then solved. Given that this story is subtitled “An Inspector Ishida Mystery”, I wondered if there were other stories with this protector of the law, and the answer turns out to be yes! Unfortunately, a brief search didn’t turn up specific issue numbers to seek out to read more. Ideally, there’d be a themed collection with all his stories. What a great gift for a fan of historical mysteries that would be! (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)