Usagi Yojimbo Book 2 TPB: Samurai (Fantagraphics, vol. 1, #1 – 6; UY #2 – 7, Fantagraphics, 2015 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Time to eat some crow.  When reviewing the first collection of Usagi stories, I remarked on how the short version of our rabbit ronin’s “origin” featured therein was – thanks to creator Stan Sakai’s concise storytelling – all we needed, making a statement that suggested that we never got anything more than that on the subject, and it was fine.  Then I cracked open volume 2, which collects the very first six issues of when Usagi went ongoing, and… the multi-part “Samurai” takes 90 or so pages to retell and expand upon that origin, starting with Usagi’s training as a youth, up through his becoming a vassal to Lord Mifune and the battle (the one previously covered in those early appearances) that would follow.

Nice.  I’ve been reading Usagi for at least a decade at this point, and have picked up trades of older issues along the way, allowing me to fill in key story points, but I guess I had never read these issues until now, and so crow tastes pretty good.

But I do think the sentiment remains.  After all, I never had the details from these issues previously, and it’s never stopped me from appreciating where I currently was in Usagi’s journey.  The same has gone for when I’ve “met” long-since established characters and then have only later gone back to read their first appearances.  Stan’s writing is such that it’s always of the moment, but also informed by the past; it’s misleadingly simple, but equally rich and rewarding in that regard.  The story told in Samurai is amazing on its own, as Usagi recounts his history to frienemy Gen, and then it makes me re-appreciate all of the stories to come, and makes me eager to get around to rereading them.  The collection also includes some shorter stories, some humorous – another pun-based conclusion – and some just “classic” Sakai, little mini-epics of adventure and heroism, before that description would have the same meaning as it does 30+ years later, proving how immediately satisfying this title was.

Regarding volume 1, I’d also questioning if that was a good starting point for new readers, stating that it might not be; volume 2 is a definite starting point, though.  Not only because you get this excellently paced telling of the rabbit’s background, but also because you can witness the character evolving, and Stan’s artistry growing, over the course of the book.  By the time you get to the end of Samurai, with tons of characters meeting on a battlefield, and Sakai’s figurework having grown more lithe and mobile and detailed, it’s immensely pleasing on all accounts – as a story, as a visual masterpiece, and as an experience.  I’m only being overly judgemental with my rating again because that same evolution does mean the chronology of Samurai gets a little wonky here and there, as Stan fiddles with how long Usagi’s ears are, and how squat he is.  So the rabbit kinda sorta ages up and down when the timeline is mostly linear.

But that’s just me being picky so you don’t get tired of seeing every collection hereafter get 5 stars.