Usagi Yojimbo Book 3 TPB: The Wanderer’s Road (UY #7 – 12, Fantagraphics, 1989 edition) – Stan Sakai

5 out of 5

While it could be said to be accidental good fortune – that the book just found its way there – I do think that Stan Sakai had a purposeful hand in guiding Usagi Yojimbo toward its often one / two-issue arc structure, as opposed to the longer stories, such as Samurai, we saw in volume 2’s collection.  It makes sense for the character – a ronin, wandering from tale to tale – which is why it could be said to be a cadence that the title just fell into, but it’s also perfect for Stan’s writing style, as well as for Usagi’s approach to the world (and thus, perhaps, Stan’s as well).  Everything is an experience for our rabbit samurai, good or bad; he interestingly gains a pet – a tokage lizard – and then leaves it behind in these issues, knowing that the lizard needs a home and that his own “home” is on the road.  This is why a reader can drop in on almost literally any issue, and even if there’s a returning character – and here we get Gen, and Zato-Ino, and Tomoe and Noriyuki – not feel left out by dint of not having read previous appearances.  Usagi treats these meetings as the criss-crossed paths that they are; there’s familiarity in his greeting but an understanding that the end of the day will bring another parting of ways.  UY can be incredibly pleasant to read in that sense – and this is Stan’s deceptively “simple” writing style – as it all seems somewhat ephemeral, but at the same time, these experiences absolutely travel with the samurai, and the reader.  So you can take away the impact of that first time you read the story, and/or you can have a separate and unique impact of knowing how that instance pairs with others.

Book 3 is all gold, varying from hefty stories with intense battles, to lighter fare, to buddy comedy camaraderie, to that subtle, slow, “simple” (again, in quotes) world building.  We also get to see the ongoing shifts in Sakai’s linework, going from finer and bubblier to a scratchy line on a couple of issues, then balancing out.  This is something that’s amazing to watch over the years, as Stan is always good, he just continues to try different things at different times.

This also includes the Turtle Soup short that Stan did for a TMNT book, featuring a cute nigh-fight between Leo and Usagi.