For this week’s review, we wander over into the Dark Horse realm of comic books to look in on a character I haven’t been in touch with personally since his appearances in the old days of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoon from the late 80s and early 90s.
Usagi Yojimbo #141 is a $3.50 comic published by Dark Horse Comics and it was originally released on November 2, 2011. This issue features writing, art, and a cover, all by the series’ and character’s creator, Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo #141 is also a special landmark, as it is the 200th issue, overall, for the floppy eared samurai’s self-titled series.
The plot of this 200th issue, titled “Two Hundred Jizo”, is a classic sort of samurai story, as well as a self-contained one, which starts and concludes with this issue. Miyamoto Usagi is a wandering ronin, or masterless samurai, walking the land on a musha shugyo, or warrior’s pilgrimage. Our story begins, as Usagi comes across a small unnamed village during a driving rain storm. He first encounters an old man, who is placing a stone Jizo statue near the village entrance, among MANY other stone Jizo, who flees when noticing Usagi. Once in town, Usagi comes across a young lady, Tomiko, being harassed by a thug. After intervening to save her, Tomiko takes Usagi to her home, where he learns she is the daughter of the man who fled from him at the entrance to the village, earlier. The man’s name is Masa, and he is an artisan who crafts stone statues of Jizo. Masa tells Usagi of an outlaw named Kaba and his gang, who have taken over the village and now hold the villagers in terror. Masa had a dream where the Buddha told him that if he wanted the Bandits to leave, he would have to set out 200 stone images of Jizo, hence the title of the story, and that he was setting out statue 199, when Usagi saw him at the village entrance. When suddenly, Kaba and his men arrive, to payback Usagi for helping Tomiko, earlier. They hold a family at sword point and force Usagi to surrender his katana and wakizashi, or daisho, at which point they give him a terrible beating and proceed to threaten and abuse Masa and Tomiko. Usagi recovers just in time to defeat Kaba and his men, with a little help from an unexpected source.
Now, time to discuss the art of Stan Sakai. Like many manga titles, the art in Usagi Yojimbo #141 is in black and white. Sakai’s art style is very cartoony and comicstrip-like, and his panel layouts are simple and straightforward in how they breakdown. The motion and action are all very solid, and his characters’ faces and expressions are fitting, for the story and his style. Sakai knows how to pack a panel, without crowding it and making it feel jumbled. Sakai also accurately depicts the Edo period of feudal Japan in his art, with everything from the manner of dress to the architecture and weapons.
I found Stan Sakai’s writing of this issue to be very good. For what the story may have lacked in nuance and depth, it made up for by being the perfect sort of story to inform the readers exactly who Miyamoto Usagi is and what he’s all about. This story is basically Usagi Yojimbo boiled down to his essence, and Sakai does a great job of crafting a one-shot story that so perfectly encapsulates all the best and most classic elements of his long eared protagonist.
All images are property of Stan Sakai and Dark Horse Comics.