By Stan Sakai
24 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse
In the world of monthly comics, there are a handful of creators who really should reign supreme. At the top of the list? Stan Sakai and his long-running title Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi Yojimbo chronicles the adventures of Usagi, a ronin (masterless samurai) who wanders Japan during the early 17th century. In the latest Usagi Yojimbo, we’ve got everything you can want in an issue; action, intrigue, bad guys, and soy sauce recipes. No, really.
One of the things that is so great about Usagi Yojimbo is how well Sakai is able to mix adventure with a bit of a Japanese history lesson (don’t worry, there’s no quiz and it’s interesting to boot). In "Shoyu" Part 1, Usagi gets caught up in the middle of a dispute between the owners of two soy sauce manufacturers in a small town, as a young spoiled heir tries to sabotage the property of the long-established rival. After saving Mitsui’s warehouse, Usagi is taken on a tour of the facilities, and we learn how soy sauce is made. What could have been boring is instead somewhat fascinating; it feels very conversational instead of being lectured at, and it also helps explain why the young Hata’s soy sauce business is faltering. It’s not simply a matter of, "His isn’t good enough" but rather, "He refused to listen to good advice and made poor decisions."
It’s that lack of respect that is an ongoing theme in Usagi Yojimbo, which has always placed a high value on listening to those with wisdom and applying it appropriately. It’s not simply a matter of, "Old is best" but rather, "Use all your resources and then make decisions wisely." But then again, that’s to some extent Usagi Yojimbo in a nutshell. Sure, the protagonist is a rabbit, but at the same time it also looks backward and learns from both great samurai literature as well as the comic book greats. Sakai’s stories mix just the right amounts of influence from its predecessors while still not being afraid to move forward and come up with brand-new, original ideas.
As always, Usagi Yojimbo #143 looks great, too. The backgrounds are always full of detail, with varied building styles creating the town, different designs on people’s clothing, and even making sure to draw all the vats of fermenting soy beans in the processing plant. Usagi himself is quite expressive too; I love how Sakai can shift him from inquisitive to alarmed in the blink of an eye. Usagi’s energy—from flinging a rock on top of a torii arch to helping put out a fire—is always fluid and lively. Sakai handles a lot those details well, like how the rock bouncing across the torii is broken up with panel borders so that we get that extra passage of time as we see it skip and move.
Usagi Yojimbo is consistently one of the great monthly comics being published, and if you aren’t reading it yet, you owe it to yourself to try. Sakai’s always good about making sure each new story is a good introduction, and this one is no exception. Or if you’d rather just buy a collected edition? I can guarantee you’ll find it just as easy to step into. Usagi Yojimbo is always welcoming new readers, and as one of the top monthly books being published, I suspect you’ll like it once you try it.