In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #160

Inspector Ishida and Usagi are a fantastic pair in this outstanding outing.

The cover: Inspector Ishida stoops to examine the body of the dead man before him, while Usagi takes note of the unusual object hanging from the ceiling: a fugu — a puffer fish. This is a great cover by artist Stan Sakai and colorist Tom Luth. The reader’s eye is instantly drawn to the fish, as it’s practically the dead center of the cover and there’s nothing around it, not even a line, so the reader has to look at it. The fish’s face is pointing at Usagi, so that’s were the reader looks next, and his hand provides the bridge to move to Ishida, and then down to the victim. A great layout that has the reader take in all the images in a sequential order. The coloring is also good because the colors have the fish standing out as just a shade lighter than the background, again, having the reader focus on it. The white on Usagi next takes the reader’s eye, while his bright togs are close enough in colors to what Ishida is wearing to communicate that they’re on the same side to new readers. Excellent all around. Overall grade: A+

The stories: The main story is a twenty paged story titled “Death by Fugu.” It’s a self contained tale and is perfect to introduce Usagi to new readers. A food server walks into a room and places some sashimi in front of a patron. He smiles with delight as he takes a piece and starts to chew. He savors every bite until something is not right and he grabs at his throat before falling onto the plate. An iconic Stan Sakai death rattle comes out of him. The next page has Inspector Ishida on the scene with an assistant who tells Ishida that it’s the body of Oga-sama, a high ranking Shogun official. The inspector is clever enough to recognize the dead man’s meal as fugu and asks the server who delivered the man’s meal. This leads to Usagi entering the book, but not at the scene of the crime, but at a character’s business. The man who owns the establishment prepares something for Usagi that has Ishida interrupting and introducing both characters to the Oga’s passing. What follows is some good detective work by all three characters to catch the killer. The ending is surprising and not one any reader is soon to forget. The second story is a five pager titled “The Story of Chibi Usagi and the Big Bad Jei!” by Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai. The story is very humorous and for someone who’s not easily won over by “cute” comic book stories, I found myself laughing at this one with Usagi’s solution and the laugh out loud final dialogue. Is there any way that Chibi Usagi could get his own one-shot? Overall grades: Both A+

The art: “Death by Fugu” is also illustrated by Stan Sakai and the first three pages are amazing. There’s no text on the first page and any reader can understand what’s being done. However, what’s also impressive about this is Sakai’s ability to create character just with his illustrations: look at the solemn way the server presents the food, while Oga’s reaction is one any foodie has had on their face when seeing his or her meal. The second page focuses on bust shots of Oga eating and they go from pleasure to pain. The third page has two panels, one of Oga grabbing this throat and the larger one has him falling on his meal. Each illustration shows his ghastly demise. The fourth page’s first panel instantly establishes Ishida as the man in charge and the panels that follow it show him to be thoughtful as he considers everything. Without spoiling anything, the business owner that Usagi meets with on Page 5 is one of the most pleasant and wonderful looking characters that Sakai has created; the final panel on the page never ceases to elicit a smile from me. Sakai is not only an excellent illustrator of characters, his settings are incredibly detailed; check out the streets the characters walk down for proof. The chibi story is by Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai and the antagonist was the scene stealer of this tale. Yes, all the fine details one would expect from a Usagi story are here, but darned if they aren’t incredibly cute. The BONK! panels are my favorites. Both stories are visual wonders. Overall grades: Both A+

The letters: Sounds, the story’s title, dialogue, yells, the unique dialogue of the character that appears on Page 21, and the sensational punctuation marks that provide character’s silent reactions are created by Stan Sakai. I like how Sakai is more than willing to use an interesting font for the story’s title, as he does with this issue, rather than use the same style for every story. I also really enjoy his punctuation marks, such as in the final panel on 2: I love how the shock overpowers the question of what’s occurring. Even the lettering of this book is exceedingly charming. Overall grade: A+

The back cover: Chibi versions of Mariko (I’m assuming that’s her given the colors of her robe) and Usagi are sitting down to eat. This was incredibly cute and funny, given the huge size of Usagi’s mouth. Created by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai, this is another shining example why Chibi Usagi needs to be a title unto itself. Overall grade: A

The final line: Inspector Ishida and Usagi are a fantastic pair in this outstanding outing. A perfect tale with perfect visuals. Always a recommended read. Overall grade: A+ 

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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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