Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
It’s time for the penultimate release in the Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics line from IDW. These colored releases of classic Usagi stories have been a fantastic starting point for those new to the character. Reading the five issues before this has given me a whole new appreciation for Stan Sakai and his creation. Now, the “Samurai” story that documented Usagi’s origin is over and the Color Classics line is nearing its end. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great stories left to tell though so let’s look into the latest issue.
The latest entry in the series contains two tales released before “Samurai” and oddly enough they both revolve around pigs. The first story in the book is titled “A Quiet Meal”. Here, Usagi stops in at an inn for something to eat. A group of gamblers appears in pursuit of sake so they can celebrate their recent winnings. Of course, things don’t go well. The gamblers start harassing and assaulting staff members before turning their attention to Usagi. It’s an enjoyable tale that showcases Sakai’s skill as a writer. Usagi appears throughout the story but never utters a word. Even when the loud-mouthed pig leading the gamblers threatens him Usagi stays silent. This adds a lot to the comedy of the tale but also highlights the calm demeanor of our protagonist. “A Quiet Meal” doesn’t feature any major events or debuts but it’s a satisfying read.
Our second story is called “Blind Swords-Pig” and it’s completely the opposite of “A Quiet Meal”. Not only does this tale feature a very talkative Usagi but there’s also the debut of a major character. We’re introduced to Ino, a blind pig who’s trying to find a peaceful place to settle down. Unfortunately, due to discrimination over his disability, he’s had to learn how to use a sword to defend himself. Ino uses his keen sense of smell to track his surroundings so he’s quite deadly despite his handicap. After innocently wandering into a town he’s attacked by the locals. Shortly after this, Usagi visits the same town and finds it in ruins. After speaking to an extremely biased survivor who exaggerates the threat Ino poses, Usagi sets out to punish the villain. Usagi soon meets the pig, unaware of his identity and a friendship blossoms. will it last though?
I really enjoyed this second story. One of the key things that have drawn me to the Usagi Yojimbo series is the realism. The good guy doesn’t always win and the protagonist isn’t always in the right. This issue is an example of that. The story also shows how Usagi’s trusting nature can be a flaw. He immediately believes the villager and seeks vengeance on their behalf without considering that Ino may have acted in self-defense. Things like this really help flesh out the character and make Usagi feel believable and real. A big part of Usagi Yojimbo’s appeal is the realistic nature of the writing contrasting with the cartoonish artwork. “Blind Swords-Pig” is a perfect example of this.
Speaking of the artwork, it continues to be great in these tales. You might think that due to these stories being older that the art may not be as high in quality. You’d be wrong. Sakai’s artwork looks incredible. The characters and backgrounds are extremely detailed, varied, sometimes even humourous and the action is stylish yet believable. It’s incredible that Stan has kept to such a high standard over the years. I can compare the modern Usagi comics he’s doing for IDW with these 30-year-old tales and the quality hasn’t dropped. Most artists and writers deteriorate as they age but Stan Sakai seems to have aged like a fine wine.
The lettering is incredible throughout both stories. Little bits of onomatopoeia like Ino snorting or the “click” when a sword is an unsheathed litter this book. They help immerse you in the events taking place. Then there are the speech bubbles. At times characters will shout and their dialogue is coloured differently, enlarged and a unique font is used. The technique does a lot to help these moments stand out. There’s also some speech bubbles where a character notices something and an exclamation mark fills the bubble instead of dialogue. Alongside their expression, this is another feature used to help you work out what certain characters are thinking. It can give you an insight into their personality or simply draw attention to other parts of the panel. Either way, it’s a great technique.
Overall, this is a fantastic pair of stories and another amazing issue of Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics. It makes me sad that the next issue will be the last. Still, I highly recommend picking this issue up. Even if you haven’t read the previous five entries then this is still an accessible book. They’re simply the adventures of a wandering samurai and I’m sure they’d make a great starting point for new fans. Meanwhile, existing fans of Usagi Yojimbo will no doubt love revisiting these classic stories in color. I can’t wait to read more when the final issue releases.
Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics #6
These two stories make up another brilliant issue of the Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics. The art is phenomenal as usual. The expressive yet cartoonish characters, the realistic battles and amazing levels of detail in both issues all adds up to one big visual treat. The lettering is solid and very inventive at times with its use of sound effects, fonts and colours. The characters, specifically Ino and Usagi show a lot of their personalities and they're both very relatable and believable with clear motivations for their actions throughout the book. Meanwhile, the stories themselves are enjoyable. "A Quiet Meal" and "Blind Swords-Pig" are very different in terms of tone and style but they're both extremely fun and neither of them makes the other feel out of place despite the differences. This was just a great read and I can't compliment Stan Sakai or IDW enough for their work here.