Usagi Yojimbo #136
A new three-part storyline pits the samurai rabbit against the Red Scorpion Gang of thieves. The color covers (by Tom Luth) are so pretty that I sometimes wish the interior wasn’t black and white, although it does show off the skill of Stan Sakai’s storytelling. There’s something universally attractive about the story of a lone fighter, always traveling, who stands by his own code of what’s right. An early scene, where Usagi, defeated enemies splayed around him, faces off with an authority figure on horseback sums this up. The mounted man threatens Usagi to remain still, to which the samurai responds: “I will act only when you do.” It’s weird to see grim determination on a rabbit’s face, but there it is.
The plotting can sometimes be fundamental — the alert reader will anticipate the twist coming, for example — and the symbolism simple — if there’s a visible scar, they’re a bad guy — but the real appeal of this book is experiencing, however briefly, adventure in another place and time.
The dialog in the first scene is basic. A group of martial art students come upon Usagi on a road and jump to the conclusion he is one of the criminals they are seeking. This is conveyed as follows:
He looks suspicious.
He must be one of them!
Maybe “basic” is the wrong term. Maybe “elegantly pared down to only what’s needed” is a better description. Sakai’s been doing this a long time, after all, and he knows how to tell a story, with beautiful cartooning to boot. Plus, he draws swordfights. Several of them, as Usagi meets the man running the fighting school, has matches with the students, and battles the head teacher.
Usagi is also generous and wise, making a thoughtful choice that served me as a welcome lesson. I’m sure there’s much more to come in this storyline, but in the meantime, once the events of this issue are revealed, a re-read will shed new light on particular actions and words. A preview is available at the publisher’s website, and they provided an online review copy.