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Usagi Yojimbo hits another milestone with issue #150, after celebrating its 30th anniversary just last year. For the first time, Miyamoto Usagi, the wandering ronin, comes in contact with a European traveler. The traveler becomes obsessed with the idea of witnessing seppuku, ritual suicide, after defeating every samurai put before him. His first requested victim is Usagi’s friend, and tea master, Nobu. Will Usagi be able to defeat the traveler before his friend is forced to commit suicide or, will the traveler prove to skilled, even for him?
A European traveler has come to study Japanese culture under the protection of the feudal Lord Odo. During his stay, he claims to be studying the samurai art of swordsmanship by challenging all of his warriors to duels. Each competitor, is quickly felled and the traveler becomes bored. He decides he needs to see a different part of Japanese culture and requests to see harakiri. His choice is a tea master named Nobu because, he refused to teach him the art of the tea ceremony.
During this time, Usagi Yojimbo is in the middle of the tea ceremony when Lord Odo’s men come and take away the tea master. Usagi is subdued and the soldiers take the tea master before Lord Odo. The lord orders him to commit suicide. He agrees but, only as a protest to what he perceives as an unreasonable request, only made to appease the traveler. After Nobu’s death, Usagi is let go and challenges the traveler for the honor of his friend and, to rid the lands of him.
Usagi Yojimbo is always at its best when it plays with larger ideals than what seems to be on the surface. In this case, this ideal is the culture clash between east and west trying to understand the other. The story does a phenomenal job of creating a sense of European superiority from the traveler. It is a apparent, he believes his ways are better. This can be seen in how little he values the life of the tea master and, how lowly he thinks of the samurai swordsmanship. It is not a one sided display though. The samurai warriors are also proud to a fault and willing to sacrifice themselves in order to prove they are better than the eastern traveler.
Beyond the larger ideas of cultural pride and superiority, rests a very emotional tale of a man losing his friend in a situation that is out of his control. It is heartbreaking watching Usagi try and fight to save his friend. There is a real sense of disappointment and dread as Usagi is trapped in waiting; unsure of what is happening to his companion. When he does come for revenge, it feels natural and powerful. Completing such a large scale of complex ideas and emotions in one issue shows how well of a grasp Stan Sakai has on short form story telling. Anyone looking for a place to start their journey into Usagi Yojimbo’s saga needs to look no further than issue #150.
The artwork is the same simple and clean style that the series has shown throughout its history. Action scenes are quick and impactful. Page layouts are simple yet effective in their display. There are some issues through, particularly early, where the backgrounds of pages seem empty and bland. This is not an issue throughout but does break the immersion at certain points. There is also the character models and expressions which are very hit or miss depending on personal preference. Facial expressions are often very over exaggerated but, for the type of world Usagi has created, it works.
After 150 issues, Usagi Yojimbo is as strong as ever and shows no signs of letting up in the future. There’s no better time to start the series than right now.
Kenny Coburn is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow on Twitter: @kennyacoburn
The milestone issue #150 of Usagi Yojimbo shows the Miyamoto Usagi meeting a western traveler for the first time. In a fantastic tale of loss and friendship, Stan Sakai creates another masterful example of short form storytelling.