Review – Usagi Yojimbo #1 (IDW Publishing)

Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer/Artist/Letterer: Stan Sakai
Colours: Tom Luth
Release Date: 19th June 2019

Starting an all-new era at IDW, Stan Sakai brings us the continuing epic of Usagi Yojimbo. Teaming up with Tom Luth who provides colours, there’s no messy pre-amble; instead we’re thrown in at the proverbial deep end. For established fans, this will no doubt be a winner and an automatic inclusion on the pull list. For those of us with less exposure the question is simply should I give it a go? Well, seeing the news that IDW were bringing a new ongoing series (as well as reprinting the entire library in colour!) I relished the chance to give it a try.

Sakai’s work is instantly recognisable and has a real charm to it. Taking on the mantle of writer, artist, and letterer must be a fair old endeavour, but it pays off with everything falling perfectly into place; I’m sure a good editor helps though. Style wise, this may seem outdated or simplistic in such a crowded market but that would be a real disservice to the whole package. With a warmth of character and disarming, almost cartoony appearance, one can easily fall head first into this anthropomorphic fantastical rendition of the Edo period. The darker moments, both visually and thematically, hitting all the harder for it.

The story in this issue focusses on a travelling bunraku troupe (puppet theatre) that Miyamoto Usagi has happened to stumble upon. Of course, there’s clearly more afoot if the opening is anything to go by, and it’s not exactly a spoiler to say that we see plenty of demons and other nefarious entities throughout!

I’ve been told that Sakai’s Yojimbo often draws out themes through the arc of a story and this appears to hold true here. Underneath the relatively straightforward tale that is unfolding, there are also elements of the morality play and questions of the ideas of honour and station which are as pertinent in today’s climate as they would have been in 17th century Japan. Drawing allegory aside, as well as accepting the fantastical nature, it’s nice that there is some historical context and research evident in the writing. I’m a real sucker for a wee bit of detail and it’s nice to have a page, normally reserved for letters, giving us an insight into Sakai’s personal notes.

Although a very established franchise, evident from the references to previous books, this never feels like it holds any barriers for newcomers. It places the reader in a convincing world, anthropomorphism notwithstanding, and even if you don’t care about the underlying themes, it’s a great read which works on a number of different levels. If this is the standard going forward, consider me a convert.

Rating: 4/5.


The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster

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