Usagi Yojimbo #13 enters the climax of a story arc in this week’s release from IDW. Creator Stan Sakai as writer, artist, and letter joins colorist Tom Luth in a rather powerful issue.
Background and Recap
In IDW’s chapter on the wandering long-eared ronin, Usagi doesn’t just take on new journeys but encounters old friends. One is a samurai group who serve his late lord Mifune, the lord Usagi went to great lengths to keep his dignity. Because his slayer Lord Hikiji would’ve put Mifune’s head on display. But what happens when Usagi’s home village, lead by his childhood rival Kenichi, had to swear loyalty to Mifune’s slayer less the village face destruction? Well, Usagi has no resentment towards Kenichi despite him marrying their childhood sweetheart, Mariko, and raising Usagi’s son, he never knew. In fact, he’s more than willing to help out Kenichi when goings get tough. However, the remnants of Lord Mifune’s samurai plan to wipe out the village in vengeance against Lord Hikiji. Usagi ultimately finds the samurai’s plan too extreme since it puts innocents in danger and decides to help Kenichi.
Usagi Yojimbo #13 Drives Anticipation
While this four-part arc is better with context from the previous two issues, this issue can stand on its own. With Stan Sakai focusing on writing Usagi and Kenichi’s relationship, the reader of Usagi Yojimbo #13 gets an idea of what they’re up against. Despite their differences, Usagi and Kenichi are still friends who recognize one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, while Usagi’s cunning skill in a quick-time strategy with Kenichi’s complementary aggressiveness can’t solve everything. A flashback displays this as, despite their teamwork, they still come up short on what to take away from it.
Especially when a call for help, they planned ends up failing. But before a major cliffhanger comes to rub this conflict in Usagi’s face, a chance for a turnabout occurs. But since the reader doesn’t know if this is a good or bad chance, it sets up a powerful cliffhanger for a reader to await the next chapter.
Stan Sakai’s cartooning remains extremely efficient and expressive after many years. Many of the unnamed characters look very similar, but Sakai takes the time to make sure they are never the same. While they are often killed off in cartoonish fashion with imaginary skulls appearing over the corpses, it is important to make each kill important. The best display of that is in contrast with scenes of intense struggle. Mariko is exhausted in all of her appearances with her flustered expressions and messy hair. So seeing the adrenaline in her spike in an encounter and killing potential attackers is a scene of cathartic levity. Every piece of Sakai’s artwork, including the wordmark lettering handmade for little noises, feels expertly crafted.
Tom Luth, as the colorist, brings about a natural sense of the setting in Usagi Yojimbo #13. The uniforms the enemy samurai wear in the first pages tells a lot about what happened in the previous chapters. This case being infiltration of Kenichi’s guard before a larger encounter, has them change to outfits matching Usagi’s. It’s a small but very relevant point that brings up the conflict between Usagi and enemy leader Kato. While they both served the same lord, they have very different goals.
The Legend Continues In Usagi Yojimbo #13
Usagi Yojimbo #13 reminds readers why this series was nominated for Eisners. From the efficient but carefully crafted artwork to storytelling that raises the tensions. While this issue does end on a cliffhanger, it’s only because the story here needs a grand finale to match. So stay tuned for the next issue.