4 out of 5
I can’t lie: these pre-Usagi works of Stan Sakai – initially intended to evolve into something larger, according to the creator’s intro, but relegated to short gag strips appearing in Critters and elsewhere, instead – gain a nice, rose-tinted sheen from the holy aura of Sakai’s rabbit ronin. If this book appeared on its lonesome, not tangential to Usagi, it’d be cute – and notable for the evolving artistic chops on display – but admittedly not of much notice. Then again, it’s unlikely such a strip would be getting such a cute, little hardcover collection if it wasn’t tied to Sakai, so it was made for and likely purchased by an established fan base, i.e. maybe it’s not so wrong to admit that it automatically gets a ratings boost just by being in the targeted demographic.
Nilson Groundthumper – a rabbit warrior – and Hermy – a bumbling, 100% naive hamster – stumble into each other’s company in an anthropomorphic, magic- and dragon-ridden land, going on 7-page hijinks in a forever quest to secure money or food or both. Stan’s appreciation for slapstick and pun humor are the guiding forces here, but because the strips are never in the same realm of seriousness as Usagi, he allows himself to be a bit meaner to his protagonists, pushing the comedy more into the realm of Looney Tunes – very much to our readerly benefit. So it’s all pretty pleasant and goofy, arted in Stan’s rounder art style of the early days, but gets sharper and smarter and more detailed as it goes along, leading to some actual laugh-out-loud bits of cleverness when we get to the latter (and more modern) entries, which’d appeared as Usagi backups, or in Dark Horse Presents.
100 pages of this stuff is just about the right amount, and it’s rounded out with some bonus art (promotional pinups; unused pages) and the aforementioned intro from Sakai.