In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #150

The price of honor is the focus of this memorable tale. Absolutely recommended.

The cover: Usagi Yojimbo draws his sword as he stares angrily at the Spaniard Rodriguez, who looks defiantly away from the ronin. Excellent moody illustration from Stan Sakai. This perfectly captures the tone of the story and the moods of the characters when they clash. I’ve not encountered a Spaniard before in my reading of Usagi Yojimbo, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Sakai has him do. The coloring by Tom Luth is also well done, with the rusty orange and yellow on Rodriguez making him stand apart from the familiar blues and greens of Japan. I must add that the cover is much brighter than the picture that accompanies this review, as I used my printer to scan the cover. This is outstanding. Overall grade: A

The story: This is a complete story and it’s one that will stick in a reader’s head after it has been read. “Death of a Tea Master” opens with Rodriguez zipping his thin blade before one of Lord Odo’s retainers. The man is confounded by the man’s deft swordplay, as is Odo and the other retainers. Screaming in rage at the Spaniard only brings a smile to the foreigner’s lips. “You think to intimidate me, do you?” With a swift blow, the challenger is disarmed and Rodriguez wants his reward. He wishes to witness hara-kiri. Such a request startles the Lord, but the victorious Spaniard explains, “Not a low-ranking samuari, though…it is to be Nobu, the Tea Master…(He) refused to perform the tea ceremony with me. He declared I was uncouth and undeserving to participate in the ritual. Such arrogance!” Odo is trapped: if he does not get the Tea Master to perform the act, Rodriguez will report his displeasure to the Shogun, and then it will be Odo who has to perform the ritual. “Either way, I will get to witness the act.” Not too far away, Usagi is completing said ritual with Nobu, and the two exchange pleasantries until the arrival of Odo’s men. In twenty-four pages Stan Sakai has captured the conundrum that following honor so precisely presented to respectable men of Japan. It’s difficult to imagine that such terrible things could happen, but when played out like this it seems almost understandable. Page 13 is absolutely brutal. The final seven pages have Usagi engage the Spaniard, and he is a foe the likes of which the ronin has never encountered. I actually got fearful as to what would happen to the hero, and the twist on 23 was unexpected. I can’t get this story out of my head. Overall grade: A+

The art: Incredible work from Stan Sakai on every page. The first page is a perfect introduction to Rodriguez who weaves his sword about so quickly, the response from the retainers and Lord Odo mirrors that of the reader. The second panel is the best of the page, showing all four men to have shocked eyes, and notice how Sakai puts a slightly bolded line around Lord Odo to make him stand out from his men. This is repeated in the final panel on Page 9 when one character is about to do something reprehensible. The smirk that graces Rodriguez’s face is probably the meanest grin I’ve seen on a character in years; it’s impossible not to want something horrible to happen to him — and that’s before he even makes his ghastly request of Odo. Rodriguez just exudes evil. He has five panels to himself on Page 3 and he is the definition of a character without a soul. The line that traces the path of Rodriquez’s sword is sweet and it returns at the end of the book. When Odo’s men come for the Tea Master the number of men in the room is incredible and each looks absolutely unique as he tries to take the man and beat down Usagi. Pages 14 and 15 contain only two panels of dialogue — because what can be said? — yet, Sakai packs them with a tremendous amount of emotion. Usagi’s battle with the Spaniard is riveting, with him fighting a foe that is much faster than he is. The character who is the last to speak looks amazing. And that sums up Sakai’s illustrations perfectly, amazing. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Triple threat Stan Sakai also provides all the lettering for this issue, which includes the story title, sound effects, dialogue, and yells. Given the nature of the sword fighting involved, there’s a lot of ZIPs and TANGs and each will echo long after the story’s end. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: The price of honor is the focus of this memorable tale. Stan Sakai continues to show why this book is deserving of all the praise it receives. Absolutely recommended. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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