Usagi Yojimbo, literally the “bunny bodyguard,” follows the adventures of Miyamoto Usagi, an anthropomorphic samurai in anthropomorphic feudal Japan. With a sword at his side, and his stingy, loud-mouthed friend Gen over his shoulder, Usagi ventures into the Kitsune Woods. Will Usagi and Gen make it through the forest or be tricked by the deceitful, nine-tailed foxes?
Issue #110 is a self-contained tale that examines the moral of generosity. The story begins with a magician’s act that astounds the audience. Usagi willingly contributes to the entertainer’s dish, but Gen does not, remarking, “I can’t afford to throw money away.” His selfish penny-pinching will inevitable come back to haunt, but very unexpectedly.
Sakai’s writing and narrative is amusing and well balanced. His characters dialogue reveals how well fleshed out and realistic they are, despite being a rhinoceros and rabbit. For example, after Usagi pays for both their entertainment and directions, the two are forced to split. As Usagi reassures his friend they will meet up later, Gen replies, “You’re just going to abandon me out here? Some friend you are!” Yet, Gen is also characterized as a capable swordsman and a true friend, rounding him out to more than just a moocher.
Similarly, the art is well balanced and fun. Sakai handles comedy, action, and even the expository scenes with energy and charm. As the magician completes her act, the audience contorts their faces in surprise, astonishment, and, in Gen’s case, bewilderment. The action scenes are lively and realistic, as you can actually follow the sword moves panel to panel. Sakai art isn’t overtly intricate as other artists because of his cartoony style, but closer inspection reveals his effort to detail and consistency.
Although this my first Usagi Yojimbo comic I ever read, I’ve known of the character from his cameos on Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles TV series back in the early '90s (which I imagine was a lot of people’s introduction to the rabbit ronin). That said the comic surpassed my expectations. I anticipated a cutesy cartoon with outlandish plots and soon-to-be action-figure characters.
Instead, Usagi Yojimbo is a samurai adventure akin to Samurai Executioner and Lone Wolf and Cub, geared for all ages. There isn’t bloody splattering violence or lewd sexual behavior, but the morality tale set around the noble bushido bunny is no less moving than its Japanese roots. The completeness of issue’s story follows the hallmark of the genre while letting new readers to pick it up easily. Usagi Yojimbo #110 is accessible and enjoyable without requiring knowledge of earlier issues or a degree in Japanese culture. Or anthropomorphic physiology.
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