Usagi Yojimbo Book 16 TPB: Shrouded Moon (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #46 – 52; UY #105 – 111, Dark Horse, 2003 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Concise, involving stories – a bit of action, a bit of comedy, a bit of lore – as Usagi (with Gen) travels back to witness the showdown with his master. As previously mentioned, this type of loose, background plotting is often ideal for Usagi, giving his travels a bit of purpose while also allowing for the kind of casual pace that results in strolling into the midst of other matters. Those other matters this time around have Gen and Usagi inserting themselves into a gang war, amusingly playing both sides off of one another – it’s incredibly satisfying when our two master swordsmen can just rely on being master swordsmen – and then a surprise run-in with Kitsune, who’s a’makin’ money and a’causin’ trouble as usual, but for the good cause of upsetting a local gangster. The denouement of this tale lands a little flatly – Stan telegraphs it too early, and then the way he tries to mask it suggests there’s more going on than there is. This leads in to some background on Kitsune, fleshing out her character nicely; elsewhere, we get to see some of the fallout from Chizu’s recent troubles with her ninja, in a terrifying meeting with Lord Hebi – the chase this leads to is pulse-pounding stuff – and then we get what’s initially a cute tale of three strangers sharing their experiences with Usagi, resulting in a truly unexpected (for me, anyway) reveal.

As always, it’s interesting to see Stan’s artwork morphing; a couple chapters in to this collection, he drops the varying lineweight he’d been using for something slicker and loopier – recalling Sergio Aragones to my eye. It’s not sketchy, exactly, just a bit more streamlined, while maintaining the denseness of panels. I dig it; it gives the book a light feel, juxtaposing its heavier story elements. Kitsune has undergone some slight changes that, honestly, made her unrecognizable to me until she was named. Glancing back at earlier representations, Stan has made her features a bit more “severe” – less cute, a bit more wily – perhaps playing up her role as a femme fatale.

The collection also includes covers. I don’t get when they leave these out… it’s always preferable to have them.