Usagi Yojimbo Book 7 TPB: Gen’s Story (Fantagraphics, vol. 1, #32 – 38, Critters #38; UY #35 – 38, #40 – 42, Fantagraphics, 2009 edition) – Stan Sakai

5 out of 5

Another fantastic character joins the narrative, and my favorite character – Gen – gets a lot of love and development in the tales collected in ‘Gen’s Story.’

The new addition: the lovable thief Kitsune. Right from the start, Kitsune’s playful antihero status is established, and I dig that Usagi never has the wool over his eyes in relation to her, and is seemingly always willing to let the scales be balanced back and forth – you steal from me, I steal from you – as though able to qualify, in a snap, which exact rogues ultimately err toward the good over evil. There’s a short and funny ghost flashback ghost story, ‘Gaki,’ that has a pretty great visual gag, and then the fascinating and contemplative ‘Broken Ritual,’ which studies, as ever, a Samurai’s honor, this time through the lens of hara-kiri. The ‘from a plot by Sergio Aragonés’ tag that accompanies this story also seems to affect the art, very positively: Sakai’s linework becomes very skritchy-scratchy in the flashbacks; in the stories that follow, we see Stan possibly encouraged by this to try out different line weights, and it’s an exciting evolution.

After another interestingly ghostly-themed short, the multi-part ‘Gen,’ which fleshes out the character wonderfully, while also giving our odd couple duo plenty of endearing – and often hilarious – moments together.

Sakai would seem to share a love for Gen, as he sticks around for the following two tales, combining the rabbit and rhino with Kitsune, and then ‘The Last Ino Story,’ which does the Stan trick of being all emotions at once: thrilling, nerve-wracking, funny, and tear-jerkery.

The absolute perfection of all of the contents makes up for the oddity of Fantagraphics cutting the pages such that Stan’s “The End” text beneath the concluding panels of stories get cut off a couple of times.