Usagi Yojimbo goes back to his home province and finds himself caught up in political intrigue related to a shipment of tatami mats. How many players are involved? Find out in Usagi Yojimbo #8 from IDW Publishing.
Writer: Stan Sakai
Artist: Stan Sakai
Colorist: Tom Luth
Letterer: Stan Sakai
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: February 5, 2020
Previously in Usagi Yojimbo: Usagi takes on a job as a bodyguard to a famous writer and finds himself tangled in a dispute between her and her jealous ex-husband. He has also helped recover a lost heirloom sword and tried to reunite it with its proper owner. It’s never a dull moment for the ronin!
YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN
Usagi Yojimbo #8 is the first half of a two-part story, so if you’re at all curious about this long-running and utterly fascinating comic, this is not a bad issue to dive into. The story is called “Tatami,” and I absolutely love that it opens with an explanation of what tatami are and how they’re made. This is so interesting. An incredible amount of work goes into them and making one from start to finish takes two years. As the title suggests, tatami are important to the plot, so we have to know about them, and this informative introduction slides us effortlessly into the story.
We’re back in the North Province, where Usagi is from. For him, it’s been a long time. His Lord Mifune was defeated by Lord Hikiji, which lead to why he is a wanderer now. A large processions rolls past – the tatami mats are being delivered to Lord Gifu. An emissary of the Shogun is visiting to take part in a Tea Ceremony, for which tatami are indispensable. Still, it seems like a lot of guards for delivering tatami.
Usagi wonders if they could use another guard, but the swordsman he is talking with advises against it – he still wears the Mifune clan crest. The war between Mifune and Hikiji was not that long ago. This man, Kato, had fought on Mifune’s side during the war, but being a pragmatist, his loyalty has shifted. This is an interesting exchange, and we get into Usagi’s own thoughts about loyalty. Still, he thinks, there’s nothing to stop him from walking the same direction as the procession.
The road winds through the woods when the procession of samurai meets a group of four nuns. They stop at the side of the road to kneel and show their respect, but as the men pass, one of the nuns gives a signal and they draw blades. Then ninjas drop out of the trees. This is about the point Usagi arrives and gets involved in the fight. In the midst of the skirmish, some throwing stars take out a ninja, and as things clear up, an old friend steps out.
Chizu used to belong to the clan of Neko Ninja, but like Usagi, she is now an outcast thanks to Lord Hikiji. The samurai guarding the Tatami don’t know either of them, but they recognize their help, and are sure that Lord Gifu would like to reward them. This little tale is thick with political intrigue.
FULL OF LIFE
Kudos to Stan Sakai for being able to write, draw, and letter Usagi Yojimbo #8. The characters are not overly detailed, but they have the details that count. At a glance we can tell who are samurai and who are not. Clan crests are important to this story, and even though they are simply drawn, they are distinct.
The scenes in town are brimming with everyday life. While Usagi and Kato are front and center, behind them are all kinds of people doing their day-to-day stuff. You can almost hear the bustle of all this activity. And I love the pages leading up to the ambush. The countryside is so pretty and peaceful that it makes the contrast of the fight seem that much more dramatic.
BOTTOM LINE: A FINE JUMPING ON POINT
Something else I really like about Usagi Yojimbo #8 is that even though the procession doesn’t travel all that far, we get the feeling that there is a whole lot of rich world-building behind the story. It feels like you can just sink into it and never hit bottom.
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Usagi Yojimbo #8
One never knows when little events become tied to bigger ones.