Zilla and the Comics Junkies

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai (Book 2)

One of my fondest memories reading comics as a kid was my love for the samurai rabbit - Usagi Yojimbo. When i got back into reading comics a few months ago - i was so hype to hear that Stan Sakai was still writing/drawing Usagi after all these years - needless to say it's been one hell of a run with hopefully no end in sight (thankfully).

Considering it had been 15 years since i've read any UY, i definitely needed to go back and brush up (to say the least). I ordered a copy of Usagi Yojimbo: Samurai (Book 2) earlier in the week from Amazon and my order showed up this morning - setting the stage for some good 4th of July weekend reading. I started w/ Book 2 on the recommendation of Sakai himself (via a thread over at CBR which lists all of Sakai's UY works in one place). So with the backgournd out of the way... some thoughts:

It amazes me how mature Stan's UY story telling and art was even way back when the issues compiled into this trade came out. You can definitely notice some changes here and there but generally the writing and art are as on point back when UY started as they are today (and throughout). This TPB collects a number of short stories, the first of which (and probably most important) tells the tale of Usagi's come-uppance, training and his ultimate maturation into samurai.

The entire first short is told from memory by Usagi to a "friend" (Gen, a rhino samurai) after he has just killed an adversary (a warthog samurai named Gunichi) in a duel. Gen is curious as to why Usagi has killed Gunichi, and the setting for the telling of the tale is laid marterfully IMO by Sakai.

Usagi's recollection begins with Usagi's father (the magistrate of a small village) sending Usagi and his childhood playmate Kenichi to fencing school to learn the ways of the sword. On the way to the school, Usagi and Kenichi bump into an old sensei on the trail and after witnessing his deft disposal of a group of brigands, Usagi decides to forgo heading to the school as planned w/ Kenichi and instead seek training from this old man (Katsuichi). Prototypical (but always enjoyable) training of the young, brash, student by the old, wisened, and skilled sensei ensues. Usagi learns not only the arts of war, but other important facets of bushido (the samurai code) as well, strengthening not only body but mind and spirit. There is some serious coolness to Katsuichi's teachings, and some great moments in these pages (remember when he cuts the plum in half off of Usagi's nose?).

Usagi studies for 4 years w/ Katsuichi, then enters a local fencing contest (winner taking a Diashu or pair of sam swords). Usagi disposes of all of his opponents in the contest (the last of whom is his childhood friend Kenichi) and wins the swords and an opportunity serve a local lord (Lord Mifune) as a true samurai. There's a brief trip back to his childhood village to save the day and reunite w/ Kenichi (now a drunk shamed by defeat in the fencing contest), Usagi's father, and both Kenichi and Usagi's childhood love interest, the beautiful Muriko). After saving the village, Usagi sets out to begin his service w/ Lord Mifune, and we learn that Kenichi goes on to marry Muriko and have a son (Jotaro).

While serving Lord Mifune as one of two top bodyguards (the second being Gunichi, the warthog Usagi kills in the beginning of the book), Mifune's family is killed by ninjas sent by another local lord greeding for Mifune's holdings, and a great war breaks out. During the war's final battle, Usagi and Lord Mifune are abandoned by Gunichi, just as the battle begins to turn against Mifune's forces. Lord Mifune is killed and Usagi becomes the ronin (masterless samurai) we now know. The final piece falls into place explaining how Usagi became a ronin, and why Usagi challenged Gunichi to the duel, and ultimately killed him before the story began. Very, very cool. Couldn't have asked for a better history of one of my favorite comic book characters of all time.

It amazes me how simply drawn and written Sakai's UY is, yet how it just eeks coolness. There is so much there, disguised by so simple a front. You can tell that Sakai's writing is full of true historical reference (the guy must do tons of research for this title). I've always been obsessed (mildly i promise) with feudal Japan, samurai culture and bushido, so the more history he can cram into these books the better for me. Makes it all the cooler to read and enjoy IMO.

I can't get enough of the UY stories and am really looking forward to reading the rest of the trades and keeping up w/ the new floppies via sub... A+.

PS - This review is pretty lengthy - sorry about that - i just felt like i needed to give this title some love :)


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In no particular order:

Criminal, The Goon, Daredevil, Exterminators, Punisher, Hellboy/B.P.R.D (All), Powers, Godland, Usagi Yojimbo, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Conan, Ex Machina, DMZ, Desolation Jones, Fell, 100 Bullets, All-Star Superman, Ultimates 2, Loveless, and Fear Agent.

I'm recently back reading after a 15 year comics hiatus.

Zilla is not my real name.

I'm from Tejas living in VA. I'm married w/ 2 dogs. I'm an IT security consultant cranking the wheel for a big consulting firm in "real" life.

I watch the History Channel, Nat'l Geo, TLC, Mil Channel, ESPN and NFL Network, CourtTV (forensic files, etc.) and the Cartoon Network (love Genndy T's Samurai Jack and Clone Wars Adventures). My taste in movies: Gladiator, Last Samurai, Braveheart, Godfather, Tarantino (whatever), Kung-Fu (whatever), Westerns, Top Gun, Big Lebowski.

I love the outdoors and bs'ing around w/ my dogs.

In addition to being a comics junkie, i'm also a sports junkie especially when it comes to the Texas Longhorns and the Dallas Cowboys.

Blog contents copyright © 2005 Rod Wetsel