For those that know me from a few of the other places I frequent on the ‘net, you likely already know that I’m a huge Usagi Yojimbo (兎警護) fan, and it’s likely you’ve been on the receiving end of my many attempts to convert just one more person to the Usagi dojo. But I should apologize to the rest of you for not having had the chance to really bring up our lagomorphic friend just yet. I always want to make sure I devote a lot of time and energy into writing about some of my favorite characters and properties and I put it on hold in Usagi’s case until I had that extra time. Which just so happens to be the case now.
Anyhow, like so many others, I first stumbled upon the long-eared ronin thanks to Stan Sakai’s connection to Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird & The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It wasn’t everyday (at least, not then) that you happened upon samurai rabbits that could kick rump and take names right alongside the Turtles, and Usagi had that quiet honor that I respect so much in both real life and fiction so I took an immediate liking to the little fella. I snatched up the action figure at the time – with its intimidating grimace – and counted as one of my favorite action figures while I owned it (where these things have since gone, I’ll never know).
Anyhow, where the funny books are concerned, I jumped on ship a little later than I would have liked. I had picked up the random issue and TPB collection over the years thanks to those fond memories and was happy with everything I read but the money I allow for collecting is fairly limited so I merely settled for what I had and resigned myself to viewing the bulk of Sakai’s fantastic artwork from afar — until I could manage things a little better. Well, after changing some buying habits and cutting numerous titles that I just wasn’t enjoying much anymore from the Big-Two I was looking to add something else and Usagi sounded like the perfect candidate. I picked up one of the last remaining copies of UY #99 (as I anticipated the big issue #100 celebration) that my LCS had…and it turned out to be exactly the kind of story I was hoping for.
It took all of 4-panels on that first page of “Bridge of Tears” to remind me — again — just how great an artist/visual storyteller that Stan is. In those panels a thief makes his way through the crowd and the sheer detail in each of the townsfolk blew me away, as did the manner in which the actions slowly build to the climax in the first 4-pages. The story only becomes that move involving as the issue progresses and upon closing the book I was actually surprised at just how convincingly a good experience reading it was. I found that I had quickly become interested in Mayumi’s plight, for example, having known nothing about the character prior to cracking the issue. Perhaps it was the tragedy that befell her at the end of the book, and the sincerity in her actions throughout, but I was moved by her sheer enthusiasm to be with Usagi. It was heartwarming, if a little uncomfortable, and I was saddened to when her hopeful eyes were met with Usagi’s calculated pupils, and some harsh words that she had to leave his side. That’s pretty amazing considering that I have absolutely no background on what was happening that Stan Sakai was able to make me as sympathetic to her situation. I completely understood why Usagi made the decision that he did (to leave quietly for her safety and well being) and I’d reckon that there was some real wisdom in his doing so, but I was surprised that he actually did it, and concerned for Mayumi’s well being when Usagi’s friendly note turns out to be an apology for his departure, and his broken promise to stay. You can literally see the despair in her eyes as she realizes what’s she’s just read, as she denies it best she can, and makes her way to the place of their promised meeting, the bridge — only to find that Usagi was nowhere to be found. Here, Mayumi’s despair matches the look in her eyes that readers were given a glimpse of the night before when she had dreamed Usagi had left her, and it’s heartbreaking. As she drops to her knees it’s almost too much to be witness to, and only gets worse when Usagi turns around to go back to find her missing. What would happen next!?
(And, incidentally, the story in its entirety would become one of my first nominees for “storyline of the year,” it’s that good.)
Well, that marked my full-time entry to the Usagi Yojimbo series and I’ve spent the last year collecting and reading the TPB collections I’ve missed out on to this point. I had no idea just what was in store in the process and I can say with a certainty that there are precious few titles in the history of comics as impressive as this one is. And now I take every opportunity I can to ‘proclaim from the rooftops’ that everyone should be reading this book. Stan Sakai simply has a rightful place amongst the most revered & talented comic creators that have put a pen to the page…and when considering that he writes, illustrates and inks each issue, his talent is all the more evident.
I’ll be re-doubling my effort to fill you in on what’s up-and-coming for the long-eared ronin, as well as providing thoughts on the new issues as I can. Please consider giving the book a try in the meantime. You won’t be sorry you did.