In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #161

An entertaining mystery begins, with a familiar character taking the fall. Recommended.

The cover: A man has just died, his death rattle coming out of him. A pool of blood is on the floor that even the thief Kitsune cannot avoid. Behind her a screen has opened with Inspector Ishida and a shocked Usagi coming upon this horrific scene. This gives all a prospective reader needs to know about this story. All that’s missing for the reader to learn is whether Kitsune is a murderer or not. Judging by her face and the cleanliness of her kimono, she’s not a killer. The imagery by Stan Sakai gives a clear premise, while the excellent colors of Tom Luth show that this crime was committed and discovered at night. Overall grade: A

The stories: That’s right — stories. There are two in this issue. The first is the twenty-four page opening half of “The Body in the Library” by Stan Sakai. What starts this story off well is that it doesn’t focus on Usagi or Ishida. Instead, the story begins with 11 pages that show Kitsune on a mission. Kiyoko and Kitsune wait until a guard has passed them and then the elder thief enters a doctor’s house. The joy that she feels on Page 5 is a trait not often shown in comic book characters, with the author simply getting to the action of the tale. By giving Kitsune a moment to think as she begins her work, Sakai makes her more than a one-dimensional character. Once inside the home, she finds a surprise on 6, leading to a more enjoyable discovery on 8. However, it’s on Page 9 where her crime takes a turn and she shows what kind of criminal she is. Caught “in the act” by several men, it’s only with Usagi’s appearance that she can talk her way out of swift justice on the spot. Page 16 had a major character moment, as someone says something that is completely unexpected and a character’s reaction in the third panel mirrored my own. I needed a moment to come down after that proclamation, so I was feeling similar to a character in the fourth panel. The thieves have a brief scene on 17, showing that no words are necessary for them to communicate, emphasizing that the pair are a good team. A new character arrives to give information that should make short work of this mystery, but on the final page Sakai shows that the easiest solutions are not often the correct ones. Another excellent mystery! The second story is a one-pager titled “Chibi Usagi and the Goblin of Adachi Plain.” This is by Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai. Chibi Usagi is walking in a cold, snowy evening in the woods. Seeing a house, he goes to it and is greeted by someone who seems nice, but with a title like this, anything could happen in the next installment! Both tales are incredibly engaging. Overall grade: A  

The art: The setting is clearly established in the first panel as a tired guard makes his way through another uneventful night. A tokage runs before the man, hiding momentarily until being called by the guard to follow him. It runs after him on Page 2 and in a neat bit of storytelling, the background remains the same for the first seven panels, to show the creature and its master’s journey, but then reveals where little Kiyoko was hiding. There’s a neat close-up of her in the eighth panel on the page to show the reader who she is. With the man and his pet gone, the two criminals are gleeful at what they hope to gain, and their pleasure will make the reader feel giddy as well. As with previous issues, the settings by Stan Sakai are incredible, with the work done on and in every building amazing. Seriously, if a book were to slowly weave through a building without a character and Sakai were illustrating it, I would buy it. Look how the setting is used to show transitions, such as on Page 5, with a roof being the means to show the exterior of the home, the top of the building, and the inside — all using that roof. The look at the bottom of the same page has Kitsune looking absolutely hungry as she considers what must be within the house. Something is discovered, but not shown, on 8 that has me thinking of an object from Pulp Fiction. The tease on 9 is a great combination of a static character and a moving character, with the visuals showing the concern of Kitsune. The realization of her situation on the pages that follow is excellent and the partial double-page spread on 12 and 13 is awesome, with characters emerging from every possible location. Usagi’s first appearance is wonderful, with a sly, knowing smile and a small wave to the suspect. It’s Inspector Ishida that produces much visual enjoyment, with his inquisitive squint and tremendous monobrow that gives away his emotional state. The final page has two great panels, with the first being a reaction shot and the second, the larger, being what’s creating the reaction. The Chibi Usagi tale captures the Chibi style with Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai doing the visuals, with Usagi being incredibly cute, as is the character he speaks with. The setting, also in Chibi style, looks great. This page is perfection, just like the previous twenty-four pages. Overall grade: A+

The letters: The story’s title on Page 1 is a creeper, setting a sinister tone from the onset. The EEPs uttered by the tokage are as cute as they ever are. The dialogue is extremely neat and very easy to read. The yells on 12 and 13 increase the tension, making the opening of the screens frantic. Chibi Usagi’s tale doesn’t have as dramatic a title, though it is crisp, and the footfalls in the snow are neat. As always, Stan Sakai does an awesome job on the lettering. Overall grade: A

The back cover: Created by Stan and Julie, a josei sports a parasol against some cherry blossoms that’s caught in a breeze behind her. It’s cute, but it’s not a character from this series I recognize. Overall grade: B+

The final line: An entertaining mystery begins, with a familiar character taking the fall. Will Usagi and Ishida be able to keep Kitsune from prison? And what’s Chibi Usagi going to discover in that home in the snow? The only real mystery is why you’re not picking this up! Recommended. 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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