Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Books 1 & 2

Today I am writing about two books that contain more than 600 pages of comics each following a creator-owned character that originated in 1984.
I have read the adventures of Usagi Yojimbo before, mostly because his creator Stan Sakai worked on a ton of Groo comic books I read when I was a kid. But it has been years since I have checked in on him. Luckily, Comixology Unlimited has the first two books of The Usagi Yojimbo Saga available to borrow, and I got to read a great many of these wonderful stories over the past few weeks.

The plot mainly follows Miyamoto Usagi, a samurai living in 17th century Japan (during the Edo Period) who has lost his master and now wanders the road alone. He has a code of ethics, and he seeks to help those in need and often finds himself embroiled in interesting situations. What I find most impressive about this series, it features "funny animals" but they are some of the most human and evocative comics I have ever read. Sakai is masterful at creating tense situations and full characterizations in very short order. His artwork is impressively detailed and smooth, and the economy of his storytelling is superlative. He can portray small scenes of poignancy equally as well as large scale battles. Just check out this preview:

The tales in these books range from one-page gags to multi-page episodes to one multi-chapter epic (called "The Grasscutter"). I was shocked and amazed to see how much material was incorporated from all these disparate episodes into one long narrative in Book Two. The scope and scale of the world-building here is nothing short of remarkable. I feel that these books are masterpieces of comics, and what is more they are accessible for readers of almost any age. And apparently I am not in the minority here, as "The Grasscutter" stories won one of Sakai's five Eisner Awards. If you read comics and have never read Usagi Yojimbo, you should make time to do so immediately.

You'll be glad you did.
The Usagi Yojimbo Saga was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more info about the series here.

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