(Warning. This review is from a long-time Usagi Yojimbo fan. He tried to keep a lid on it. He really did.)
Stan Sakai is back after a break from looking after his sick wife, with a superb Usagi Yojimbo story. We have come to expect over the 30 years (!) Stan has been crafting Usagi stories, particular styles of stories from the master. Not so much predictable or formulated, as a welcome dip into a familiar world carefully crafted with long term appeal. Senso (War) has introduced something we don’t get to see so much in the world of Usagi.
Something unexpected: an outright WTF!
Because the way the story was developing, as much sheer fun as it was to read, the question in the back of my mind was, This Changes Everything! And I mean in a B.P.R.D. monsters now rule the world kind of way! He’s gone down a path that is impossible to back out of, without turning it in to a hoax story of some kind.
Senso starts out with a battle scene between Lord Hijiki and an adult Lord Nobiyuki, so most of issue 1 reads like a welcome return to the world of Usagi after a long break. Then things get weird. Senso has read like a ‘Usagi: The End’ story, with familiar faces meeting their deaths in glorious battle. But this is all against the backdrop of the story being invaded by The War of the Worlds. Everyone in Usagi world now faces survival against the seemingly indestructible tripods of the alien invaders. Gen, Jei, Chizu, the Komori Ninja clan, all die. Even the evil Lord Hebi, faced with the depths of Lord Hijiki’s evil, dies a noble death. It looks like no-one is getting out of this story alive!
Amid the carnage, Usagi snatched a moment with Tomoe in a very Japanese exchange regarding what ‘could have been’, and the price of honour in the face of feelings for each other.
So, when faced with a larger-than-life threat to everything in Japan, even in anthropomorphic feudal Japan, there’s only one way to respond. Jump in to a giant robot suit and go toe-to-toe with the enemy. Enter…Usagi Gundam! It just keeps getting better – issue 6 is a glorious homage to every Japanese monster movie. It’s East vs West in a funny animal comic, and Usagi was enjoying every minute of it! Well, until everything crashed down after immense property damage to Edo, but that’s to be expected.
Oh, and Usagi dies. Did I mention that this wasn’t a hoax story? Or a dream? Or an imaginary story? Well, here’s the final twist. This isn’t a Usagi Yojimbo story. It’s a Space Usagi story! How does that work out? I won’t give everything away, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Needless to say, Stan Sakai has returned to Usagi Yojimbo in style. He has mixed everything we have come to expect with some thoroughly enjoyable liberties, and tied it all up with everything making perfect sense and all is well again in Usagi world.
I’m very much looking forward to the re-launch of Usagi Yojimbo, and maybe even a few more WTF moments too.