Usagi Yojimbo Book 24 TPB: Return of the Black Soul (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #103 – 109; UY #162 – 168, Dark Horse, 2010 edition) – Stan Sakai

5 out of 5

The Black Soul of the title is Jei, and given the incredible creepiness with which Sakai has imbued that spirit since he’s been in Inazuma’s body – it’s a fitting title. Jei just seemed like sort of a cackling bogeyman when he first appeared; since we got to know a bit about Inazuma prior to her possession, her travails while in that state have been both heart-breaking and scary – there’s a personal element to the bogeyman, now, which also makes the promise of her / Jei’s eventual meetup with Usagi more intriguing.

And that’s what we’re getting here, along with Gen and Stray Dog and priest Sanshobo and the mysterious, grim assassin-type samurai who’s been spotted here and there recently.

This is essentially broken up in to two stories, one detailing Jei’s first appearance, in the past – sort of an origin, but still vague enough to keep the nature of Jei spooky – and then the five part ‘Sparrows,’ which draws the lines between the aforementioned characters so that they collide and agree to take down Inazuma / Jei together. This is, then, sort of revisiting the same structure as Grasscutter, but just as Grasscutter II was – by my opinion – superior to the first one, as it got rid of GC I’s split focuses and just zeroed in on a very streamlined story, ‘Return of the Black Soul’ is also superior to Grasscutter I for the same reason: it’s one, very straightforward tale. While we have our characters initially separated, it’s still very linear in stepping through their individual experiences: Usagi doing his wandering bit, keeping an eye on a trail of bodies and that mysterious samurai who seems to show up in their wake; Gen and Stray dog after their bounty; and Sanshobo realizing, when exorcising a demon from another temple’s member, that Jei is still out and about. And when this all collides together, it’s done in an exceedingly satisfying fashion, that allows for greatly choreographed swordplay, but also a good bit of drama, avoiding a strict repeat of previous Jei squabbles we’ve seen a couple times before.

Stan’s art throughout all of this is phenomenal (yes, yes, as usual) – a very bold, certain line, which supports the driving nature of the story.