Usagi Yojimbo: Tatami (#8 – 9, UY #246 – 257) – Stan Sakai

5 out of 5

A little bit of cultural education, a little bit of world building, some narrative callbacks, some simply-presented but complex concepts, and a heckuva lotta action = another perfect Usagi arc.

Usagi finds himself back in his home province, witnessing the purchase of several tatami mats from a prominent vendor, the purchaser – a neighboring lord – having sent a swath of soldiers to protect the mats when journeying them back home.  A chat with a local, when questioning why the mats require protection, makes it clear that Lord Hikiji – who now runs things in this province, after the war in which Usagi’s former master, Mifune, was killed, setting up the entire narrative of ronin lifestyle for our rabbit – gets quite jealous of any other lord gaining favor, and as the tatami mats are meant to be used in a ceremony with the shogun…  Usagi decides to join in with the guards, and ends up being integral in their defense against some attacking ninjas.

Sakai has been threading in Usagi’s questioning of how long “honor” is to be maintained – he still wears his clan robes, for example – and this is expertly touched on here, both directly, when told that his Mifune dedication may not go over so well in Hikiji territory, and indirectly, considering both how honor works amongst the ninjas, as well as the guards whom Usagi assists.  And typically challenging on Sakai’s behalf is giving his story a very mixed ending; Stan’s avoidance of “easy” conclusions is what marks UY as an adult narrative, although it’s perfectly accessible to children, for the most part.

Alongside this heavy stuff, we get extended battle sequences that are expertly choreographed, and Stan’s art has been looking incredibly sharp in this IDW run.  The epilogue, which furthers the more ‘ongoing’ style narrative of this volume is also delightfully ominous.