The cover: Usagi Yojimbo fights several ninjas on a cliff in Nobuo’s mind as he sits happily reading an issue of the ronin’s comic book adventures. This cover illustrated by Danny Segura and colored by Tom Luth is a good front piece not only because it teases Segura’s tale within, but summarizes what this collection of tales are all about: how Usagi Yojimbo inspired each creator to make a story in the mold of their favorite ronin. This is the perfect cover for a work in tribute of Stan Sakai’s character. Overall grade: A
Introduction: Ed Moore Jr. explains on the inside front cover how Sakai’s works have inspired him, setting the tone for this collection. I found the last two paragraphs to be particularly strong.
Thirty Five Years: Stan Sakai himself contributed this page that gives an overview of the character and his exploits. I like how Sakai reminds the reader that Usagi hasn’t developed the wisdom that comes with experience. A good reminder to the reader and fans that the character is not infallible. There’s also a little sketch at the bottom of the page that leads directly into Roca’s tale.
“Maki Kun” by Ivan Roca is a nine page that has food with human characteristics acting out the story. This is a neat twist on Usagi’s anthropomorphic exploits and made me smile at each page’s visuals, especially during combat. I like how it’s not simply a tale of combat, but there’s a story within this story that has a very funny ending.
“One Hand Clapping” by Mark Morse and Zack Davisson is also a nine pager that has a pair of ronin, a frog and a fox, making their way through the forest with one of them considering a famous riddle and being attacked by a trio of terrors. The dialogue is fun during the fight and the conclusion of the battle, on the seventh page, is really cool — that was a big surprise and I found it extremely clever. The visuals are exceptional for “fan” art. The ending felt out of place, but I enjoyed this tale immensely.
“Whatever Works” by Conor Naylor is only eight pages and begins with young Kiku kidnapped by Nezumi and his two henchmen. The protagonist is Ushimaru, a bull, and he looks great. I liked his design and the fight that ensues, but Nezumi definitely deserves some focus for being such a frantic and frenzied looking foe. The ending action is an excellent justification of the title, with the conclusion bringing a smile to my face.
Also eight pages is “Wondrous” by Randy Clute which follows the format of It’s A Wonderful Life, with someone getting a wish that they’d never been born. The story is familiar, but Clute puts enough of a spin on it to make it very interesting, with a familiar cast of characters appearing. I really liked the character/device that Clute uses for the protagonist to get a wish. One of the joys of Sakai’s tales is learning a bit of folklore or history of Japan and Clute definitely does that here. I also have to add that the visuals are really, really good on this tale.
“Nobuo” by Danny Segura is an eight paged tale that features the origin of the title character who is inspired by a famous oryctolagus cuniculus. It’s impressive that Segura can cover much of his character’s life so quickly without it seeming rushed. I like how Nobuo doesn’t have it easy in attaining his goal, which is a good lesson for anyone of any age trying to achieve something.
“Of Sisters Mothers and Daughters” by Amy Lester is a fun seven page story with fan favorite characters. Usagi and Gen are accompanying Kiyoko to a shrine where Kitsune said she would meet her apprentice. Given the nature of Kiyoko and Kitsune, someone terrible has been offended and now wants payback. The solution to the conflict is smart and the closing panel’s dialogue seem a perfect match for a Sakai story. The visuals to this story are also very good, with the antagonist looking terrific.
“Felicitations” is a two page collection of thanks and well wishes to Stan on his achievement with Usagi. These are accompanied by two illustrations from fans that look fantastic.
“Ronin Rats” by Paul Montani is the final seven paged adventure, but this is not an adventure in the usual sense of the word. Harvey, Doug, and Carl — all rats — have gone back to Sakai’s version of feudal Japan to meet Usagi and spend a day of adventures with him. I like what they do with the hero, which was a surprise, and the dialogue is outstanding; the Jedi joke had me laugh out loud, having me wonder if someone has actually said this to Stan. This was a fun tale with a really funny conclusion.
Eight pages comprise “A Promise to the Moon” by Marcel Schmidt and this is probably the most emotional tale of the collection. Insects are the characters, putting another tweak into anthropomorphic outings with a young child in a horrible situation making a promise to someone important. Schmidt also packs a lot of line work into each panel making this a story to really take in the visuals.
“Hige” by Matt Nelson is the closest in visual style and execution to a Stan Sakai story. This six page story is quick, but packs a lot in it. The first page features a title that’s very similar to an Usagi tale and a full-paged splash that shows the setting. This story shows the repercussions of revenge, with the final page featuring a cameo by a fan favorite. This was terrific!
The final story is the eight pager “Kuma: The Sushi Samurai” by Roel and Kelsey Robles. Koguma asks his father Kuma how he got to be a such a good sushi maker. This father tells him as he prepares a meal for a traveler, but his words don’t exactly tell the full story that the visuals do. A clever story with very fun visuals. The cameo at the end is the perfect way to end this story and this collection of tales.
A pin-up by Matt Nelson comes next, featuring Sakai with two character’s from “Hige.” The expressions on all three characters’ faces makes me smile. Isn’t that how a reader should feel after reading this collection? This was the right pin-up to include, but this isn’t the final one, for there is also a pin-up by Danny Segura. This is done in the style of an iconic Norman Rockwell cover to The Saturday Evening Post from September of 1958. This is very clever and Sagura captures the warmth of the source painting with his reinterpretation.
The inside back cover: This is a watercolor, I believe, of a Usagi’s reflection in a stream. The character’s visage disappears the higher up the reflection goes on the character. This is a very loose piece, but a colorful one.
The back cover: This features the same top text as on the front, but the square where Segura’s illustration was is now blank, allowing the reader to get an original sketch or signatures from any of the book’s creators. I’ve never seen the back of a book utilized as the sketch cover and I think this is a fantastic way to do it. Very unique and very smart.
The final line: This is an outstanding collection of fan created tales featuring characters inspired by Stan Sakai’s iconic ronin. The thrills, adventure, and heart of each ronin comes through in each story. The visuals have something for everyone, to stories that imitate Sakai’s style to those charting their own path. This is a labor love that left me feeling so happy. I wish other books, by bigger publishers, could do the same more often. Simply wonderful. Overall grade: A
To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse