Usagi Yojimbo Book 18 TPB: Travels With Jotaro (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #61 – 68; UY #120 – 127, Dark Horse, 2004 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

You tell me we’re going to have a run of issues of a samurai traveling with his (kinda sorta) estranged son, and I’m expecting some fairly generic stuff – kid learns respect through actions of his father; father learns patience or somesuch through the naivete of his son. Yeah, it’s Stan Sakai, so it’ll be more effectively implemented than that, but still, here I am assuming that ‘Travels With Jotaro’ – Usagi and the boy, taking the long road home so they can spend time together, the latter unawares of his true relationship to the elder rabbit – will be fairly easy-going stuff.

Except yeah, it’s Stan Sakai, so I’m an idiot and the stories are as exciting, and imaginative, and layered as ever. We get the usual mix of intrigue, fantasy, and comedy, but Sakai’s approach to Jotaro is fascinating: this isn’t the bumbling kid who gets taught life lessons and control – after all, he has Usagi’s old sensei to give him that. Instead, Jotaro, while absolutely a spritely, bit-of-an-upstart youngster, proves to be incredibly capable and intuitive, though within a believable range for his approximate age. Sakai also avoids the flipside of the potentially generic equation, not having Usagi become jealous or resentful of Jotaro’s skills, rather displaying true appreciation and respect for when he steps up to the plate, and accepting when Jotaro’s deviations from Usagi’s instructions actually turn out to be a good choice. The free-flowing nature of their relationship makes Jotaro a great traveling partner – not a bore, not an annoyance – and we get to bump in to Kitsune, and the mystical Sasuke. ‘Travels With Jotaro’ is thus not only consistently entertaining, but allows for that ideal casual narrative flow Sakai effects, character evolution and plotting tick-tick-ticking in the background while the foreground throws duels and creatures at us.

Art-wise, Sakai’s linework is on point, continuing the same strengths he showed last volume. The only exception comes with the 3-part “Sumi-E,” about some possessed inks, which allow their user to draw fantastic beasts into creation. While Stan’s design of these creatures is great, it doesn’t feel like he gets a handle on how to effectively display their interaction with the world, and correctly capture the scale differences between them and Usagi and whatnot, until the third issue. (That third issue, mind you, is awesome – a great payoff with several great battles all happening at once.)

And our travels ain’t yet complete, with the volume ending on something of a cliffhanger…