Usagi Yojimbo Vol 32 Review

Mysteries is volume 32 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own and would not be a bad point to jump in.

 

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

 

Detective Ishida is as much a main character as Usagi now, and I continue to enjoy the time the series is spending focusing on the two of them together solving mysteries. Things have a little bit of a different feel now that Usagi has been in one place for a while, but it still stays true to the heart of the series.

This volume starts with two single chapter stories, followed by two and three part stories respectively, then finishes with a couple short “Chibi Usagi” installments.

There are elements in the main stories that connect a bit, giving a nice sense of progression throughout the volume. The stories are interesting and the mystery elements well done as usual.

The inclusion of recurring characters Kitsune and Nezumi (in separate stories) is starting to present a characterization problem with Usagi. The lengths to which he trusts the thief who routinely takes advantage of him and distrusts the other (who has helped investigations and acts in a Robin Hood mold) are becoming exaggerated and risk making Usagi seem oblivious and borderline unsympathetic at times.

Outside of that though, this is another strong volume of intrigue and action. The Chibi Usagi shorts are light and amusingly silly.

 

 

Usagi Yojimbo Vol 31 Review

The Hell Screen is volume 31 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own.

 

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

 

The titular story is three parts long and features the return of one of Usagi’s most trusted companions in a murder mystery amid the backdrop of temple marked for possible redevelopment. It features a disturbing screen depicting Hell at it’s center, and various suspicious individuals with their own agendas and paranoias. The mystery honestly isn’t as compelling as usual this time, but the story was more about the themes of conflict and selfishness anyway and appropriately well told.

 

The trade is filled out with four shorter stories that similarly feature a mix of themes relating to desperation, consequences, and looking beyond the surface. The inevitability of fate is also looked at, from a couple different points of view. There’s a story of a town victimized during their struggle to survive a rainstorm and flood and a thoughtful follow up about the fate of one of the citizens at the hands of a monster, a contrast of debt and duty, and a tale of responsibility and sacrifice that sees Usagi escort a man and his elderly mother to see his father in the mountains.

The messages (both positive and negative) are a little heavy handed this time but fit with the ongoing narrative and Usagi’s character. The story with the greatest potential ended too quickly and in a predictable, unsatisfying manner, but there are a couple of gems here as well.

Overall this is another good installment in Sakai’s epic, if not quite reaching its usual standards in my eyes.

“There are some people in the world who are just too evil to exist.”

Thieves and Spies is volume 30 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. I recommend beginning with Vol. 1 of course, but the tales here don’t really depend on long running story lines. There are some returning characters it would help to be familiar with, but the gist of anyone we’ve seen before is well conveyed, so this isn’t a bad place to start overall.

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

This trade opens with a three part story, and follows with four shorter ones.

“The Thief and the Kunoichi” features the return of some familiar faces and has an interseting set of circumstances placing some of them at apparent cross purposes. The length gives everyone a chance to shine a bit, and this is a strong start to the volume. It was great to see my favorite ninja back, although on the other hand a certain reccuring thief is moving more and more away from “charming rogue” and into “selfish to the core and unlikable” territory. I expect there will be consequences on the horizon.

There’s a dark edge to entire volume, and the remaining four stories all have overtones of selfish and cruel people valuing themselves and their desires above the lives of others. It could just a be a coincidence that these stories were told in succession, but more likely I feel that Sakai is building to some larger crossroads point for Usagi. All four stories are conflict heavy, featuring a one-armed swordsman, a samurai escort on an unusual job, a foreign dignitary with ruthless curiosity, and a promised bride under attack by bandits. All are equally intriguing and provide interesting variations on similar themes.

Thieves and Spies is a serious and thought provoking entry in Sakai’s epic, and is another excellent read as per usual for this series.

Heart in a Box Review

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Suffering a broken heart, Emma wishes it away. Quickly aware of what a bad choice she made, she takes the one opportunity he has to get it back from those it was redistributed to … piece by piece.

I went into this comic knowing nothing about it, and I recommend staying as close to that as possible. The back cover text gives away too much in my opinion, so I’d avoid it (and website descriptions of the book, etc) if at all possible.

I picked this up because of the intriguing cover and being previously familiar with Meredith McClaren’s amazing art. Her self written comic Hinges is a joy. Her style and versatility is a perfect match for Kelly Thompson’s desperate tale of adult heartbreak, emptiness, and growth.

There are parts I wish we’re fleshed out a little more and a couple of lingering questions, but overall Emma’s journey is wondrous, intense, and thought provoking. All beautifully brought to life by Thompson and McClaren.

I won’t go further to avoid spoiling anything, but I highly recommend Heart in a Box.