This edition of Comics You Should Read is a little different. Normally I discuss individual collections of comics, but this time I am discussing an entire series.
Usagi Yojimbo is a legendary comic series by creator Stan Sakai about Miyamoto Usagi, a ronin in Edo era Japan. But there is one thing very different about this comic. Almost all the characters are anthropomorphic animals. Usagi is a rabbit for example and there are characters like Gen, who is a rhino. But do not be fooled by this, as this is not just a comic for kids but one that can be enjoyed by everyone.
The stories contained in the comic range from funny to epic to tragic, as Stan Sakai presents a look at the life of the Samurai, albeit with some fantasy elements. The stories pull no punches with how the culture worked, with numerous examples of deliberate values dissonance between Edo era Japan and the modern west. There are amazing characters like Tomoe Ame, Lord Noriyuki and Usagi’s nemesis, the demon spearman Jei, the blade of the gods.
The series has been going on since the 80’s and has crossed over with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more than once, but new readers do not need to be worried. All the stories have been collected by both publishers Fantagraphics and Dark Horse Comics and are available for all to read. I suggest starting from the beginning though, so you will understand just who these characters are. Some disappear a bit into the comic, as others make their debut, but all are unique in their own way.
There have been video game adaptations of Usagi in the past, including one way back on the Commodore 64, and one recently on mobile devices. The latter is one I am actually familiar with and has mostly hack n slash elements but also an original story. I suggest checking it out if you are curious.
Usagi is a comic I will be discussing a lot more in the future but wanted to just give a brief overview of first. The stories are amazing, whether they be about Usagi stopping criminals, defeating bandits, transporting a sacred sword to a shrine, or even just making a pot. They all have that special something about them that many comics lack. Usagi is an incredible character, but by Stan Sakai’s own admission, he is an unusual samurai in how he interacts with people. But this isn’t just an idealized storytelling, and the comic makes it very clear why Usagi is who he is when it shows his mentor Katsuichi, This is a comic that has all the pieces fit together just right and even years after being read, it will stick with you.
I suggest checking it out.