Usagi Yojimbo Book 13 TPB: Grey Shadows (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #23 – 30; UY #82 – 89, Dark Horse, 2000 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

The ever-evolving, ever-growing Stan Sakai: shifting the looser, less-detailed work of the preceding volume into a confidently simplified, weighty line, our next batch of issues follow in the wake of the events of Grasscutter but, similarly to the art, pare things down and come across stronger as a result: these are smaller stories, but still expansive, still adding to the lore. And bringing in a new, fantastic character in constable Inspector Ishida, the diminutive, crook-backed, but ass-kicking detective. The immediate love for this guy is clear: after one well-written two-part tale of political intrigue and murders, Sakai brings Ishida back for a tale called Tameshigiri, happily subtitling it ‘An Inspector Ishida Mystery.’ Lead tale My Father’s Swords is another classic bit of Sakai moral greyness; The Demon Flute some a creepy ghost tale; Momo-Usagi-Taro a smile-creating bit of fantasy, as Usagi crafts a tale for some children. Grey Shadows, for the most part, is back in full form, then. For the most part: Sakai is still playing around with how to drop plot hints, and it’s not always smooth, ending some stories on a thud as he lingers some connecting detail for the following story, and maybe dilutes a couple of these tales by unnecessarily crossing them over with one another.

As usual, though, this is mostly a minor quibble – a beat here or there that doesn’t work. This is, otherwise, the usual artistic wizardry.