Usagi Yojimbo: Book 1: The Ronin, Book 2: Samurai

Usagi Yojimbo: Book 1: The Ronin, Book 2: Samurai
Stan Sakai, 1987, 1989

Read Harder Challenge - A comic written and illustrated by the same person

I'm sure I first saw the samurai rabbit as an action figure that went with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the 80s. I knew it was a long-running series, I knew it was acclaimed, and heck, I bought these two books off a sale rack without hesitation, but somehow I never sat down to read any before.

After I caught a handful of excerpts online, though, it drifted up to the top of the to-read list.

First, the mixed. The first book is a collection of the character's earliest appearances, and it shows; the writing is a bit abrupt here and there. The art is great overall, but occasionally it seems caught between styles - the writing and events follow a more serious dramatic tone, while the expressions of minor (often dying) characters evoke a "funny animal comic" look. (This is separate from the minor sight gags with the little lizards that feature in the corners of many panels. Those guys are great.)

Once the series starts in earnest at the beginning of Book 2, the story takes off and everything clicks into place. The art is dynamic and complex, and the writing begins to expand the characters and the world.

In these particular issues, I found the little side notes that explain Japanese terms more obtrusive than helpful, but I'm certain there were fewer readers who were already familiar with them when these issues originally came out. I also understand that there is a great deal more about Japanese history and culture in later volumes.

By the end of the second book, I'd been through an array of brief adventures, a long dip into backstory, more than a few exciting battles in defense of the helpless, and one long-form pun. Usagi's world is one that I'll be happy to spend more time in. Considering it's still being published today, there's a lot more story to enjoy.

4 Stars - Very Good Books


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