Usagi Yojimbo is a classic among comics, literally, this year celebrates the 30th year for writer and artist Stan Sakai. Despite the massive popularity and renown of these comics, I came into this comic as a new reader, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised, and of course, as a bit of a Japanophile and history buff I found it to be right up my alley.
The art of Usagi is very unique. The panels consist of pretty basic images, essentially line drawings, that are much more reminiscent of a manga series than a modern American comic. There is no intense shading, strange angles, or complicated backgrounds. In fact, the comics usually remain in black and white, though this edition is colored. I found the colors were bright and nice to look at, but not distracting. The overall effect is a very cartoon-y comic. I wasn’t sure I would like it at first, but I ended up really liking the relative simplicity. If you are a fan of martial arts, Japanese history and culture, you will love this comic. Yes, you are watching anthropomorphic rabbits, mice and other woodland creatures, but I found myself feeling totally transported to feudal Japan. The whole comic has a very zen feel to it.
The Usagi Yojimbo Color Special includes four short stories, as well as a preview of Senso, the upcoming series. Each story features Usagi traveling about the country side, basically being a bad-ass Ronin, and all-around super honorable awesome guy. Seriously, you will read these stories, and then feel slightly bad that you are not as awesome and chivalrous as a cartoon rabbit. In the first story Usagi encounters a samurai who is a little too egotistical for his own good. When polite discourse and most humble apology from Usagi fail to placate Mr. Bad Attitude, Usagi quickly shows him the error of his ways. (Which basically involves handing the bad guy his butt on a platter, followed by a quick shaming for being such a lousy person.)
The second story is a cute interaction between Usagi and his nephew as he teaches him the way of the warrior. Then, in the third story, Usagi finds an ancient battle ground and helps the spirits there find peace. See where I’m going with this? Why aren’t we this awesome? In the last story, Usagi helps to protect an artist who is under siege for trying to spread new teachings and ideas. So, if you didn’t get all that, Usagi Yojimbo is basically a super awesome warrior, who goes around saving the innocent and protecting weak, you know, hero stuff.
The stories were great, I could literally picture myself sitting on some grassy knoll being told these stories as lessons by some martial arts master. Each story was entertaining and enjoyable, but also seemed very grounded in the setting of feudal Japan. The stories as well complemented by the art style, and I ended up really liking the line drawing style and bright colors. I highly recommend this comic to old fans and new fans alike. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go mediate, or save some kittens from trees or something…
The Usagi Yojimbo Color Special is available from Dark Horse on July 9th 2014