11.13.2009

Rabbit Ronin is a Rewarding Read

Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai (Dark Horse): Usagi Yojimbo celebrates his 25th anniversary in Yokai, an original graphic novel by Stan Sakai. Yokai means “haunts” in Japanese, and Sakai’s samurai rabbit takes the reader on a guided tour of a moody forest teeming with weird ghosts drawn from Japanese mythology. Sakai makes these ghosts and spirits into a credibly-realized threat by allowing Usagi to yell out the names of the escalating parade of demons as he encounters them.

Usagi comes into conflict with these spirits when he is drawn into an inky forest where he encounters a weeping woman with a missing child. Following his code of ethics, Usagi plunges ahead in the search when he crosses paths with the “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons.”

I appreciated the way Usagi’s amazement with each spirit captured the nature of the threat, from the wacky "shanso" (a stalk with a single foot, one eyeball and a tuft of hair) to the savage "nue" (a massive tiger with a snake for a tail). Usagi is saved from the maw of the nue by Sasuke, who has the ambitious title of “Demon Queller.”

Sasuke explains that the demons are in search of a living soul to bring forth the Witch Queen and end the world. The usually unflappable Usagi is rattled by this mystical cavalcade of teeth, claws and tentacles, so much so that he exclaims, “You’re kidding, right?” no fewer than three times. Sasuke implores Usagi to “stop saying that!” as they battle to stop the yokai from ending the world.

This book showcases Sakai’s mastery of his creation; the characters and their motivations are well realized in a few simple lines of dialogue. This standalone story suggests that this adventure is one of many for the wily, veteran samurai. It is a perfect introduction to the medieval Japanese world that Sakai’s characters roam.

The art is amazing. Sakai’s use of watercolors give the panels a rich, layered glow that seems like a lost art in the age of computer coloring. Sakai talks about the passion for his craft in an interview at the end of the book, but it is obvious in every shadow, gnarled root, and mossy riverbank. I really appreciate Dark Horse’s presentation of this anniversary book, from the embossed cover to the detailed examination of a panel showing Sakai’s painting process.

This is one of those rare books that serve as example of the strengths of the comic book medium. I would place this in the hands of any non-comic reader of almost any age without hesitation. Grade A+ .

2 Comments:

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Oh, man. Did this come out on Wednesday? I must have it. ORIGNAL GN too? Not collected material??? So glad you mentioned this.

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

P.S. Just poked around Amazon...my land. Is this whole book in COLOR WATERCOLORS!!?? *DROOL!!!*

 
At 8:38 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey Ryan! Yup, all original, all color, all watercolors. It's really beautiful! It's funny, when Jason sent me this post, I made a passing comment like "Ryan is really going to like this." Ha!

 

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