Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden (#1 – 7) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

What I hoped for in The Hidden: Inspector Ishida.  Nezumi.  Two-page battle spreads.  At least one panel of Usagi looking silly or befuddled.  Gen.

Okay, no Gen.  But the rest of this was fulfilled.  And if not for a little bit of murkiness behind the character’s intentions in the story – and maybe as a result, a bit of hesitation on my behalf to get immersed because I was similarly questioning Sakai’s motivations – this was an excellently balanced seven part tale.

While we get our precursor Sakai norm – a setup bit of action that serves as the basis for what’s to come – the rest of the story starts fairly in full swing, with Usagi summoned to assist Ishida with an investigation of that precursor’s results.  Two men have been chased into the city; the two men are killed; a thief runs off with something their pursuers were apparently after.  Instead of escalating through fisticuffs, The Hidden is pleasingly focused on the mystery of the whole business, backed up by the history of the time, in which Christianity has been outlawed.

Without spoiling too much of how that informs the story, with awareness of that plot aspect, you can imagine how this might get prickly.  To be fair, Sakai does not preach one way or another, instead using his strip (and a couple of back page text pieces) to teach; he smartly uses Usagi and Ishida as two sides of the discussion on the ‘rightness’ of beliefs in-story, interestingly using Usagi as the more narrow-minded mouthpiece.  I offer this to hopefully soothe concerns about what I’d mentioned above: I kept getting nervous that at some point Stan would tip into a clear agenda, but he does not.  A second reading of the tale allowed me to appreciate it moreso with that awareness.

However, the same can’t necessarily be said of some of the ultimate reveals of some of the characters.  It’s overall a minor beat – just essentially an epilogue – but it somewhat trivializes what’s otherwise a great thriller / mystery.

Stan’s art starts out very loose on this and then shapes up to more defined lines by the final book.  Whether that was purposeful (as the investigation gains direction) or just a natural happenstance, the stylistic shift looks great at all stages.

Wonderful painted pin-ups on the back covers, and a super cute and funny chibi story by Stan and Julie in a couple issues.

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