In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #152

The rain is the least of Usagi's worries in this outstanding offering. Recommended.

The cover: During a ferocious downpour, Usagi does battle with five men. One man already lies dead in the mud, while another pair have just received a killing blow from the yojimbo. Behind the men is a blasting splash of water, implying that they are near a cliff or raging river. A powerful cover from illustrator Stan Sakai. The coloring from Tom Luth helps capture the fury of the moment by creating a fantastic background the heightens the falling rain and putting the focus on Usagi with his bright colors. I do have an odd question about the date on the cover, which states 2011. Wow! How long has Sakai had this image/story in mind? And how far ahead does he work? Again, “Wow!” Overall grade: A+

The story: The men work as quickly as they can to shovel dirt into buckets and place it near the banks of a river to prevent its floodwaters from destroying their village. The rain coming down is almost torrential and the river is rising. Usagi yells at the men, “Hurry! We need more rocks, more mud!” The men complain there aren’t enough of them to complete the task, while one man says it’s always the peasants who suffer. Usagi will have none of this. “As long as you are alive, there is hope!” The men are spurred on to continue but a cry for help stops them. The village’s food supplies have been raided by thieves; now there is not enough for the village to make it through the year. Realizing he can find the men, Usagi volunteers to find the thieves, while the men must continue to build a wall. So begins “The Rising River” by Stan Sakai. The entire issue is set during this downpour and it hampers every character’s movement. When Usagi finds the thieves, and that’s no spoiler — any reader would know this has to happen, their reasoning for their actions is surprising. This leads to a very unexpected resolution, and an incredibly satisfying ending. The final page doesn’t feature the title character, and it doesn’t need to, because it’s the perfect coda for this story. Overall grade: A+

The art: I’ve never seen Usagi look like this before. By having the book set during a continuous storm, Stan Sakai draws him much skinnier, as if the water has made the character’s fluff become pushed down by the rain. This is what would happen to a rabbit, so why shouldn’t it happen to the title character? Usagi looks tired, with more lines on this face and dots denoting where the rain has fallen. He’s drenched, it’s that simple. The opening page is a series of eight tight close-ups of the men working to create the barrier, ending with Usagi urging them on. It’s a fantastic piece of black and white work, with the blackness of the sky shattered by streaks of white falling upon the helpless men. The second page is a tremendous splash showing the menacing clouds, the architecture of the village, the men trying to save it, and the rising waters in the foreground. Given all this drama, it’s neat to see one panel, the second on Page 7, showing a moment of joy on the title character when he’s reunited with some objects. The fight scene on Page 13 is amazing for the number of characters involved and the continual amount of detail that Sakai places in his work. Yet, this number of characters only grows as this book progresses, weaving its way into becoming a visual spectacle. This book continues to be a joy to look upon. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: With all the rain and the damage it causes, Stan Sakai has to employ a lot of different sounds for all the actions, and they’re sensational. The first page alone contains four specific sounds that add to the tone of the book’s visuals. Sakai also creates the wonderful story title and the book’s dialogue, yells, and a iconic creature’s exclamation on the final page. The text on this book looks magnificent. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: The rain is the least of Usagi’s worries in this outstanding offering. 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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