Usagi Yojimbo vol. 5 TPB: Lone Goat and Kid (Fantagraphics, vol. 1, #19 – 24; UY #21 – 26, Fantagraphics 2008 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

While the 2-part centerpiece of this collection – Blood Wings – falls a little flat, its mimicry of the ‘samurai saves the town’ formula is still fun, and it’s surrounded by another set of wonderful Sakai wizardry.

Opener Frost & Fire is sort of what I view as the “classic” Usagi tale: he gets inadvertently involved in a scuffle, and his sense of honor leads him (and the story) to a uniquely moving conclusion.  Here, Usagi is tasked to retrieve some swords of a wife’s fallen husband, with further investigations showing that hubbie was having an affair.  But UY is rarely black and white, and such is the case here: the affair may have been the more honorable of the relationships, in a way, leading to a conflict of duty versus “right.”  It’s a fascinating tale.

A Kite Story is in the educational vein, which is always fascinating via Sakai’s approach.  Patiently telling us of the creation of kites, Usagi’s part of the tale takes place on the fringes until his tale and that of our kite maker intersect rather amusingly.

Blood Wings is important in how it ties into the larger, ongoing narrative, as the bat ninja clan – the Komoris – are poised to take over for the Neko ninjas for lord Hikiji, but it stumbles a bit in getting its pieces into place for the Komoris’ siege on a city which Usagi is protecting.  I’ve also always found the design of the bat ninjas more humorous than threatening, unfortunately: having their blades affixed to their wings just doesn’t make sense to me, even in this anthropomorphic world, and that tends to make their appearances never as fearsome feeling, to me, as I believe they’re intended to be.  Still, once we’ve built up to the battle, it’s an exciting tale.

The Way of the Samurai is honor fascinating exploration of honor, and introduces our Lone Wolf and Cub parallel – Lone Goat and Kid – which are the focus of the final story.  In what could’ve been a cheap, punny knock-off, Sakai of course instead fully draws the characters into his world and makes them his own, tying a squareoff between goat and rabbit into dealings that are again, essentially, tied back to Hikiji.  It’s a loving tribute, while also a wonderfully effective Usagi tale on its own.