What starts off as a quiet trip to the theatre becomes much more when Usagi encounters an old acquaintance from his past. What can a demon slayer, a ronin, and a traveling puppet troupe have in common? Find out as the three-part story “BUNRAKU” begins here, in Usagi Yojimbo #1, the latest series from IDW Publishing.
Writer: Stan Sakai
Artist: Stan Sakai
Colors: Tom Luth
Letters: Stan Sakai
Cover: Stan Sakai
Alternate Covers: Daniel Warren Johnson, Walter Simonson, Kevin Eastman, Various
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Release Date: June 19, 2019
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously in USAGI YOJIMBO: The brain child of creator Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo has been thrilling readers with his specific style of action, drama , and heart felt stories for close to thirty-five years. First appearing in Albedo Anthropomorphics #2 in November of 1984, Stan Saki’s tales of the wandering rabbit ronin have moved far beyond just another “funny animal” comic. Now the tales of the wandering samurai come to IDW with a new ongoing series..
ART IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER …
Bunraku begins with the demon queller Sasuke is surrounded by the demons.. His sword cuts a swath through the foul creatures as they surround him. Sasuke fights on, even when it looks as if the miniature monsters will overwhelm him. After a furious battle, he is triumphant, only to have the massive horned and clawed, fire-breathing mother of those he vanquished appear to destroy him. However, Sasuke has not lived for the hundreds of years he has by being an easy target, and his skills finally overcome the demon, even as they drain his own strength. Catching his breath, his patron, the ghostly Lord Shoki appears before him. While he has been successful in vanquishing the demons of Mount Funai, there is another danger to attend. Sasuke is direct to travel to the city of Kuroyama. The battle wearily fox gathers his strength as he sets out to follow him master’s command.
Meanwhile, a familiar scene of love and want are unfolding. The Princess Momoko has two suitors, both declaring they will claim her. Swords flash and one falls. The victor turns to the princess and asks where her father’s kingdom is. The beautiful woman declares her father is the king of hell as her beauty turns demonic and she turns on he assumed champion. We pull back and find that an audience is viewing this tale. It is a bunraku play, a puppet show which employees puppets so real and puppeteers so skilled the audience often forgets they are there. Usagi is in the audience, enthralled with the artistry of the program, but ultimately disappointed when it stops for an intermission. He greets one of the puppeteers and expresses his enjoyment. The puppeteer then introduces Usagi to the blind narrator of the show whom he addresses as Takagi-Sensei. Inviting him to tea, Takagi enlightens Usagi on some of the aspects of his and his troupes chosen art form.
Soon Usagi leaves, but is confronted by Sasuke. Knowing that Sasuke goes only where there is evil, he questions the slayer of demons. What does Usagi discover and how does it tie in to Usagi’s recent actions and Sasuke’s mission?
THERE IS A DARK SIDE TO EVERY STORY…
This issue marks the first of a new ongoing series from IDW Publishing featuring the famed samurai rabbit who Stan Sakai (47 Ronin, Space Usagi) first brought to life so many years ago. Here we continue the virtues that have made the character so popular, good art and a compelling story. One of the most compelling qualities of the Usagi Yojimbo stories is the detail Sakai instill in them. Every story, every issue, is filled with Japanese lore and history, it allows you to sink into the world instead of just feeling as if you are being presented with a set of stage pieces. In this issue we are given a synopsis of bunraku, but not in a formal, here are the facts way, but as part of the story. As Usagi learns from Takagi-Sensei, so does the reader learn. Sakai add little notations for the reader as well, sometimes explaining a particular Japanese work, sometimes referencing a previous story of volume. These little touches, along with the masterful flow of his words, make Usagi Yojimbo such a pleasure to read. You are drawn into the story as much as Usagi is drawn into the situation.
Sakai also provides the art for the story and I cannot imagine another artist taking the reins of the character and achieving the same effect. It is deceptively simple. This is an old school anthromorphic style, very loose and flowing. Often when an artist has such a style it lacks a certain amount of depth, but not with Sakai. Backgrounds are fully realized, shadows, shading, expressions, the simplicity draws you in the same way the story telling does. The serious nature of the storytelling brings the art to another level, and you find yourself attending to the little details in the background, such as the crosshatching on a rock or details on a building. It is, and has always been, a visual treat.
BOTTOM LINE: A SLOW BURN THAT GRABS YOU
Despite the action packed beginning, the story moves at a very leisurely pace. You are introduced to the characters and the situation and once you are comfortable there you are given the swerve, that little hook which grabs you and leaves you wanting more.
USAGI YOJIMBO #1 looks to be the beginning of another great chapter in the amazing line of stories by Stan Sakai. You should pick it up now so you don’t have to hunt it down later.
Usagi Yojimbo #1
A solid, expressive issue with great story telling and technique.