In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #156

The mystery deepens as the list of suspects grows.

The cover: In a rainstorm, Usagi pulls his kasa up so that he may see the figure before him more clearly. It’s a doll made of straw, wearing clothes similar to his own, and it’s hanging from a tree. This warning to the yojimbo only inflames the title character as seen by the expression on his face. This illustration by Stan Sakai creates a threatening mood without having any overt action in it. The visage on Usagi is incredibly strong, showing his anger and determination at the sign. The falling rain and the sloshing water increases the emotion by giving some physical turmoil to the proceedings. And the simplicity of the hanging figure belies its intentions. The colors by Tom Luth have the warrior catching the reader’s eye with his bright blue clothes and white hair. Also helping the character stand out are the subdued colors of the background. Great cover with a good tease of the story. Overall grade: A+

The story: The storm matches the distress taking place below it as Inspector Ishida and Usagi are looking at a second body, which the yojimbo thinks must be related to the Hell Screen. “Yes,” answers Ishida. “It is too much of a coincidence not be, Usagi.” The intelligent inspector notices that this body was killed by a sharp blade, while the first body was ripped apart. Two different weapons were used to kill each man. Usagi notices some footprints leading away from the victim and the pair follow them. They arrive at the Hall of the Hell Screen and they race inside to find no muddy footprints within. However, Usagi finds on the horrific screen fresh blood in the form of a figure. Lord Shima and the priests arrive and their arguing resumes. Thankfully, Ishida is able to calm all down, while asking a knowing question. As all exit the room, Usagi notices that one person is looking upon the Hell Screen with fear. Stan Sakai has the mystery of these murders proceed in a tension filled paced, with the title character having a terrific moment on Pages 8 – 10, followed by him accidentally coming upon an individual who is about to do something drastic. Tempers continue to rise, a plan is made, and Usagi is separated from the group. This can only lead to more trouble. The tension increases on every page as revelations are made and honor is offended. My favorite panel of the issue was the third panel on Page 21 — Wow! Did that moment put everyone in their place! I don’t know how Sakai can wrap this all up in one issue, but I’ll eagerly be awaiting to see how. Overall grade: A+

The art: The storm above the characters is a great visual metaphor to begin this issue. Stan Sakai continues to show himself a master of emotion and setting with Usagi and Ishida examining the latest victim. I am in love with the way Sakai is able to have Ishida emote, with his unibrow always a tell-tale sign of how he feels: take a look at the first two panels atop Page 2 to see that mighty brow in action. When the pair of protagonists follow the footprints, look at the beautiful setting they run through, complete with mud (which will be an important plot point), and the determination on their faces — no text is required to communicate to the reader how each feels. The building that the two come to looks amazing. Architecture this good must take a tremendous amount of time to create and its perfection cannot be lost upon the reader; for heaven’s sake, take a gander at the tile work (Yes, that’s right — I’m telling you to look at the tiles) in the middle panel on 3. The newest addition to the Hell Screen is a creepy visual, done as a dark dripping shape. Even in this black and white book, it stands out as just wrong on the page. Several characters enter the hall and Sakai never once skimps out on the details, drawing every individual fully, and — and this is the kicker — with the details of the Hell Screen behind a pair of characters. Sakai has all these characters in a fairly small space and all must be shown to the reader so that every person can be considered a suspect. 8 – 10 is a great visual sequence, as it rarely appears in any books, and Sakai plays this scene for all it’s worth. The action on 14 is excellent, with one character not employing a weapon. After this, even more characters enter the story, and, again, Sakai illustrates them fully. The murderer is obviously in the room, but narrowing down the suspects seems visually impossible. Congratulations must be given to Sakai for keeping the suspects list continually high. My favorite drawn panel is 21’s third panel: the strength on the character leaps off the page, leaving me quaking along with the others that shared the room with that man. The final panel of the book contains a visual cliffhanger that shows that Sakai can expertly further a story without text. But when doesn’t Sakai doesn’t deliver his best? Overall grade: A+

The letters: The story’s title, dialogue, yells, moans, laughter, and screams are also created by Stan Sakai. The moans, laughter, and screams all are part of one scene and they look spectacular. The look of the laughter suggests darkness and the screams will sear a reader’s soul. Overall grade: A+

The back cover: The illustration on the back features Usagi going against a foe who believes they have an advantage in the fight. It’s cute and creepy, and created by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai. Overall grade: A+

The final line: The mystery deepens as the list of suspects grows. Revelations are given, but a solution doesn’t seem anywhere in sight. This issue will please long time fans of the yojimbo and create new ones who love a good mystery. 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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