Usagi Yojimbo Book 1: The Ronin
I’ve known of Usagi Yojimbo for years but only ever read a story here and there, so I figured I’d start from the beginning. Of course, it didn’t disappoint. How can you go wrong with a world full of anthropomorphic animals in the equivalent of a samurai movie? In the case of this series, it allows for a mix of funny and serious stories, some of which are straight-up samurai tales that happen to star walking, talking animals, while others rely on the animal nature of the characters. Think ninjas who can burrow through the earth, or a blind swordspig who is deadly with a sword thanks to his incredible sense of smell.
The titular character, Usagi Yojimbo (or rabbit bodyguard) is a masterless samurai, or ronin. (I half suspect anyone reading this knows all this already, but just in case.) His master, Lord Mifune (one of at least two nods to Toshiro Mifune) was killed in battle with Lord Hikiji due to being betrayed by one of his own generals. (Hikiji’s presence is felt throughout this first volume, as many dastardly deeds and personal tragedies can be traced back to his actions.)
Now wandering as a ronin, Usagi picks up jobs here and there as a bodyguard, but also stumbles into many situations where he sees fit to dispense justice on his own. For the most part, he is honorable and wise, although in at least one encounter I felt like he made a mistake and acted too harshly. I’m willing to forgive him this momentary lapse because it sets up a cool (and amusing) villain for later stories.
There are quite a few characters introduced in this first volume who I am sure will return for later stories, including two possible love interests (although one is married to Usagi’s childhood rival). One character that appears in two stories in this book is Gennosuke, a rhinoceros bounty hunter who, with the dark shadow of a beard on his jaw, is clearly meant to be a Toshiro Mifune look-alike. While he is not wholly good or bad, he and Usagi have a fun rivalry in this first volume. I gather from a quick Google search that he will be back for many more stories, which is a good thing.
All in all, these comics don’t suffer at all for being about 30 years old, perhaps due to the feudal setting already being timeless. For those like me who missed these comics the first time around, this collection is an excellent way to catch up, and I’ll be searching out the rest of them because I have quite a lot of catching up to do.
(This is my fourth entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)