Usagi Yojimbo #144
Concluding the two-part story about feuding soy sauce makers by Stan Sakai, this issue provides a simple look at justice.
SPOILERS follow. The rabbit samurai’s biggest challenge this issue isn’t the greedy rival merchant who’s escalated a business struggle into sabotage of the traditionalist’s warehouse sauce vats. Instead, it’s the fraidy-cat local lawman who refuses to get involved.
After a slow opening, which recaps the premise if you missed the previous issue, we pick up with Usagi determined to force the police officer to do his job in spite of his laziness and cowardice. This is a very two-dimensional portrayal, with the officer even uninterested in the dying words of a victim caught in the crossfire between the merchants. He believes the conflict will blow over if he waits it out. You would think murder would demonstrate that his strategy isn’t working, but he’s so self-centered that raised stakes won’t even convince him. He’s confident in his status as “the law in this town”, but he is quickly disabused of that protection.
His cowardice is so obvious that the reader roots for him to find out just how wrong he is and get the justice he deserves. When running away doesn’t work, he whimpers and begs for Usagi to protect him. Then he turns bloodthirsty, yelling for Usagi to kill the bad guys, once they’ve threatened him. This is a classic character type, the stuffed shirt authority figure who’s just begging to have his ego punctured.
However, it was awfully convenient that the bad guys created a trap to lure Usagi and the cop and then set upon them. It would have been smarter to have let things be, with the officer refusing to punish any lawbreaking and the visiting stranger suspected as instigating the trouble. If the villains hadn’t brought the fight to the police, there’s no reason to believe he would have ever changed his mind and gotten involved.
Why would they choose to escalate things? Well, so Stan Sakai can draw some sword battles, I guess, and to make it clear just how wrong and evil they are. But given Usagi’s skill, the end result is that they all end up dead, with no need for a trial or a debate over who’s right and wrong. There’s no subtlety in this story, making it resemble an old-fashioned parable about just desserts and getting what’s coming to you.
The dead guard (working for the good guy) leaves a dying statement, just so we know Usagi and the boss are sure of what happened and who needs to be punished. There’s no room for grey areas or uncertainty here. The story is somewhat old-fashioned in its determination to see the bad guys dead — the ultimate justice, if a bit exaggerated for their crime of poking a hole in a soy sauce barrel, but once they kill the guard, we know their lives aren’t going to be very long.
For the same reason, it’s also reassuring. Order is restored to this small town, the traditionalist is now safe to continue his business following the old ways, and Usagi continues his travels to find another encounter. It’s rather like an episode of the old Route 66 TV show, or any of a number of similarly structured series where the wandering hero brings justice before moving on. There’s a comfort in seeing justice provided in such broad, black-and-white strokes.
A preview is available at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)