Usagi Yojimbo, v. 22: Tomoe's Story
Collects: Usagi Yojimbo #90-3, Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #1-3 (1989, 1991-2, 2006)
Released: July 2008 (Dark Horse)
Format: 182 pages / black and white / $15.95 / ISBN: 9781593079475
Some reviews are difficult. Some are easy. This is one of the latter.
Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo has been published for the last two decades, amassing about 170 issues, a few specials, and a spinoff (Space Usagi!) among three publishers (Fantagraphics, Mirage, and Dark Horse). Sakai’s story about a masterless samurai rabbit in a world of anthropomorphic animals has often been funny or moving, is consistently entertaining, and is always beautifully drawn.
Usagi Yojimbo, v. 22: Tomoe’s Story is no exception.
In the Usagi Yojimbo issues, Usagi visits the Geishu lands, the closest thing to a home the ronin has. He spends most of his time with Tomoe, the most trusted Geishu retainer and the woman Usagi probably loves but cannot express his feelings for, both because of his society’s and his own emotional reserve. Sakai takes readers from the supernatural to the mundane. There are ghosts, trickster foxes, and magic paint sets; to balance them, there are trade negotiations, the obligations and realities for female samurai in 16th-century Japan, and a truly moving issue featuring nothing more than a Japanese tea ceremony, with little dialogue or action.
If I had a complaint, it would be that there are three issues reprinted from the late ‘80s / early ‘90s. These are the color specials, and as you might guess, they lose more than a little when reprinted in black and white, as they are here. (Actually, Color Special #1 has been completely redrawn by Sakai for this volume.) I have all three of those issues and didn’t need them here, so in a sense, they were wasted on me, but I imagine I’m in a distinct minority. It is a bit jarring to see the older issues that weren’t redrawn — Sakai’s style almost two decades ago was not quite as rounded or sparse as it became, but I can’t deny that since they feature Tomoe prominently, they fit the rest of the issues well.
Sakai nudges relatively static characters forward in the new stories, giving long-time readers a payoff … of sorts. New readers will probably pick up on what I’m talking about, although they won’t be as emotionally involved. Still, an excellent volume for new and old readers.
Rating: (4 of 5)