Usagi Yojimbo: The Ronin |
by Stan Sakai
(Fantagraphics, 1987; 2004)
Meet Miyamoto Usagi. Usagi is a ronin, or "masterless samurai," who lives in turn of the 17th-century Japan. On the tail of civil war, the samurai has become the ruling class throughout the land, living by the honor-code known as "bushido." Oh, did I also mention that Usagi is a ... well, a rabbit? Yes, a rabbit.
Now, before you totally disengage, let me say that this is NOT another "funny animal" book. Far from it. In fact, if there is any comic work that deserves notice by the community outside of the largely-disinclusive comic-reading public, it's Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo.
Because it contains all of the elements that make, not just a great comic book story, but a great story, period. Interesting characters set against intriguing backgrounds and locations, intelligent storytelling, action, suspense, humor, romance -- if one looks long enough at the volumes of this work that have been collected, all of the above can be found.
Sakai has mastered the art of telling a fine story, especially where depth of character is concerned.
Our hero was first introduced in The Ronin, now a decades-old collection comprising 10 stand-alone stories. Now, after several years of publication, Usagi Yojimbo has developed a rich supply of recurring characters, all of them captivating in their own right. But Usagi was every bit as enthralling at the beginning as it is now. There's nothing like witnessing a fine creator put his world together from the get-go.
The artwork, also handled by Sakai, is very clear and distinctive. It is rendered in a very light-hearted, cartoony style that, by some miracle of the pen, does not rob the book of one iota of its dramatic charm. When appropriate, it can serve comedic purpose, then set a dark, almost brooding tone on the next page.
How he does it isn't important; that it works is.