Usagi Yojimbo Book 21 TPB: The Mother of Mountains (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #83 – 89; UY #142 – 148, Dark Horse, 2007 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Longer-form Usagi stories have, thus far, stemmed out of various plot threads that meet and intertwine, requiring a lot of character cross-cutting. They’ve been pretty massive, and occasionally a little messy as a result. Very much in general, then, I tend to prefer the more “straight forward” Usagi tales, whether or not the rabbit ronin is the sole focus, and that’s leant itself to shorter stories.

Separately, I continually redefine what the best Usagi story might be to give to a new reader – something that fully indicates the scope and personality of the world, while also being relatively standalone.

The Mother of Mountains is, to me, the first “blockbuster”-style Usagi tale. It would seem to be another massive story, told across seven issues, but it’s actually very streamlined: there’s an incident in the mountains, Tomoe goes to investigate, and gets embroiled in some conceit and coverup with a character from her past, newly introduced to us: Noriko. Usagi wanders into the same, and we get a very movie-like buildup to a climactic scuffle, and even a potential setup for a sequel. The tale can almost wholly work on its own – a flashback at the start brings in Noriko; character interrelationships are pretty well explained along the way – but there’re also hints of other things brewing in the Usagi verse (trouble in Noriyuki’s camp, for example) that firmly set it in the world’s chronology. In other words, while I might not elect this as the deepest thing Stan has written, if I were going to hedge my bets and give a potential comic reader something that they’ll enjoy, even if they don’t decide to follow up with other books – The Mother of Mountains is an excellent candidate. It’s a perfect blend of Stan’s different styles of linework, flipping between smoother lines and more fervored ones at relevant parts of the story, and crafts well-rounded representations of its principle characters, while also offering up a fun-to-hate villain with Noriko.