4 out of 5
After the intense, Jei-focused events collected in the last trade, ‘Fox Hunt’ appropriately takes a bit of a breather, pairing Usagi, initially, with our favorite ne’er do well – Gen – before splitting them off on their own paths for the book’s second half. In both cases, though, Stan still keeps things balanced, delivering good humor with doses of drama, keeping some plot wheels with Neko ninja and Hakiji’s forever-plotting a’turning, and ending things on the best, most humanizing and affecting Gen solo tale to date. Every time the character threatens to become too much of a one-trick, grumbling jokester of a character, Sakai tosses in something like this, and this time – The Outlaw, which initially seems like it’s just a method for extending the odd-couple chemistry with Usagi by swapping the rabbit out, once again, for Stray Dog – takes a brilliant, masterful swerve in its final pages.
A fun juxtaposition to this can be found at the start of the book, with Kitsune Gari (which, translated, gives the trade its title) pitting Gen against some trickster foxes, after he and Usagi have a squabble which sends them down different routes in a forest – essentially the character at his most bristly and stubborn, facing some recompense for it. Thereafter the duo assist a female warrior, Sakura, on her quest – caching another character for a followup someday – and the story typifying the way Stan juggles the aforementioned light-hearted and more serious stuff supremely well; and then the recurring “haven’t we seen you somewhere before?” churlish snitch shows up again to cause trouble, which is essentially what causes Usagi to say he’s going his own way.
A short tale pitting Usagi’s wits against an overzealous samurai, from Myspace Darkhorse Presents, is thankfully printed here, since it’s a very solid little tale, and The Beggar and The Fortress touch on the Neko ninja business, albeit via essentially standalone tales, both with impactful endings.
That last note is something that’s sort of odd throughout these issues: Stan builds up to pretty big conclusions in each storyline, with last-panel dialogue that suggests there will be some carryover of something to the next issue… and then there’s not. That’s not to suggest that over-arching plot elements aren’t carried through, it’s more the lack of mention of What Just Happened. Usagi Yojimbo is, admittedly, never deep with asterisked “see last issue” comments – part of its approachable nature – but, for example, it seems strange that no one even mentions Jei in these issues, and that sensibility of short-term memory occurs throughout.
Art-wise, Sakai further embellishes the thickened linework for silhouettes he was using, and then combines this with looser pencils / inks for detailing – another exciting iteration on his style.