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As a frequenter of comic cons and comic shops, the sight of Usagi Yojimbo books is not foreign to me, yet up until today, I have never cracked one open.
Title: Usagi Yojimbo
Author(s): Stan Sakai
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (2004)
Age Rating: 13+
About ten years ago, I had a student that was obsessed with samurai culture. He would read Hagakure’s Way of the Samurai constantly. When he graduated, he left the book in my room, and as a thank you, I would read his highlighted sections in an attempt to discover his obsession. I found it fascinating.
And with this background of the Way of the Samurai, I began Usagi Yojimbo. Miyamoto Usagi is a ronin, a samurai without a master, traveling across 17th century Japan, searching for purpose and direction at all times following the warrior’s code.
Through complex drawing and classic black and white, Stan Sakai brings us what feels like traditional samurai tales through the lens of a bad-ass rabbit. Seriously, don’t mess with this undersized ronin; you will not leave with your limbs intact. The violence in this book is surprisingly serious yet not very graphic. And while this looks like it might be a kids book, Usagi Yojimbo tells mature tales of love, loss, fear, and redemption. That’s one of its appeals. This book shows how tonally mature a comic can be without heading straight to the “M” for mature rating on the barcode. A host of ages have and will enjoy this series.
Book One is brilliantly broken up into ten chapters, and while they all connect, each tells the segment of the story that it needs to tell, wrapping up nicely in chapter nine when Usagi finds himself back in his home village, almost five years since the last time he has been there…chapter ten is a fun addition to the tales.
I understand why this is considered a classic. And originally from the mid-late 80s, I would expect it to feel dated, like comics of old often do, and yes, it’s old…1986 is 32 years ago. But this book does not feel old. The art reads as fresh, and the story, as set in 17th century Japan is quite timeless.
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