3 out of 5
See, this is where I have the good fortune of being picky: Stan Sakai has given us so many, so, so good Usagi tales over the years – and even at this early point in the series that’s the case – that I can call some issues which still put most books on the rack to shame “average.” The issues collected in ‘Circles’ are definitely up to the usual Sakai quality of amazing choreography and simple but touching character interactions, with the right dashes of humor and mythology and action and story-telling along the way, but the last half is also taken up by a Jei followup, and Jei just isn’t that interesting of a character to me… It’s telling that the three-ish issues of material this takes up (the titular ‘Circles’) are bested by a short, 10 page epilogue that suddenly makes it all worth it: Stan got to bring Usagi back home and advance his narrative – giving him a reason to keep wandering – and insert some lightning-backed Jei-being-weird stuff because that probably seemed fun at the time.
The collection kicks off with The Bridge, which is excellent but too short, and would’ve gotten my vote for another issue or so to build up to its twists and turns which are a little underwhelming in its single-book form.
The Duel is perfection, though – classic Usagi gray morality, standing by Samurai Code and showing how the Way of The Sword doesn’t guarantee a hero’s lifestyle.
There’s a short Critters tale which would’ve been fun in that anthology book but is kind of a generic spook tale, and then My Lord’s Daughter, a cute but slight story that’s cool for allowing Sakai to go wild with creature designs, but you sort of get the gist of what’s what – and that it’s not meant to be taken seriously – pretty early on.
My humdrum reaction to Jei aside, that short epilogue does make this a huge turning point for our rabbit ronin, so it’s still required reading… although it’d be required just ’cause it’s Stan and Usagi anyway.