Usagi Yojimbo: Bunrako (#1 – 3, UY #239 – 241) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Damn, this seems like quite a nab for IDW.  I might be underestimating the sales potential of Usagi, and who knows what Stan’s reasons may have been for switching, but the book has been at Dark Horse for a while, and now we arrive at IDW, with promises of color reprints (IDW loves that reprint money, I have no doubt it’ll happen…) and colors for the new ongoing – by Sakai’s regular cover colorer, Tom Luth – as well.

It feels like a big deal.  We’ll see!  Thankfully, regardless of the background or how it turns out, we can rely on Stan to deliver a certain level of quality, and Bunraku happily sits above the (already great) ‘average’ of the series, for an exciting – and spooky! – three parter.

Sasuke (from 2009’s Traitors of the Earth) opens the story up with an over-sized battle with some demons, before a meeting in town with Usagi lets the latter know that some supernatural business is likely to occur.  Sure enough, a puppet show (with full-size, three-manned puppets, called a Bunraku) Usagi had been enjoying takes a dark turn, leading to a lovely swarm of attacking demons as the series rounds to its third issue.  Throughout, Sakai is on point, giving Usagi and the other players crisply emotive reactions, and proving his craft at battle sequences, juggling sound effects with the timing of those effects in a manner that’s just masterful.  Luth’s colors are also mostly perfect, just using the most subtle blends and shading to give depth to Sakai’s art, but for whatever reason, the blends he uses on some ! and ? punctuations just don’t sit right on the art, and really ruined the immersion.  I know that’s fussy, but the tale otherwise is incredibly grabbing, so to be taken out of it is unfortunate.

As a last note, there is an explanation of Bunraku at the end of issue 1, which is appreciated, but it’s not by Sakai.  The DH issues often had little backup texts from Stan; I’m hoping those return.  (…But the preview for next month’s cover looks bad ass.)