5 out of 5
In his introduction to this volume, Kurt Busiek remarks on the masterful scene control Stan Sakai displays in the book’s last collected story, “Lightning Strikes Twice.” While his comment is focused on the artwork’s storytelling – it’s a silent sequence – this mastery applies to every facet of every tale herein. Sakai, as usual, is operating in several modes – educational; comedy; action; drama – but what’s just ridiculous is how deftly each piece, which are mostly standalones, but drift characters from one to the next, slides between these modes, in such a way that you’re not, at any point, taken out of the immersiveness of Usagi’s world. There’s not a point where Kitsune’s thieving fun and games just clearly switch over to a tragedy – it just happens, permanently deepening Kitsune’s character, and without some rote, out-of-place subplot to make it so.
Elsewhere, Jei follows up on his promising appearance from last volume and makes good on his ante-up from “I guess kinda creepy” to disturbing, and now I can’t wait to see where his part in things is heading. We also pop back to some quality appearances from other old Usagi friends and foes, and there’s that same aforementioned blending of light-hearted travelogue to heavy dramatics, interspersed with excellently choreographed action – Sakai using a simpler line of varying weight throughout the book, to great effect – and then a delightful new samurai character, Inazuma, who’s plenty mysterious and excitingly adds to the already rich cast from which Sakai can draw.