5 out of 5
You know, and I know, that once someone actually makes the commitment to read Usagi Yojimbo, they’ll be hooked. There’s no need to offer up any “just hang in there until issue X” pleadings, or to cherry pick collections that show off the strip in a flattering light: you can start anywhere, and almost every issue / strip is pretty flattering. James Robinson pretty much attests this in his intro to the volume 9 collection – that it’s getting over the hump of viewing UY as a funny animal book that’s the challenge, but it’s a challenge surmounted simply by reading the dang thing.
That said, this set would be a candidate for a good introduction. It’s got some hefty, yet compressed storylines, and has the feeling of Usagi’s world of characters and history without spoiling any storylines, should a new reader wish to go back and explore what came before, or requiring any former knowledge of that same before-time – which is rare, for Usagi, as Stan is such a pro at making any given point a jumping on one, but for new new readers, I think any callback to characters or scenarios can be offputting, however minor.
Daisho simply has it all, though: a sense of the research Stan puts in to things, with the warrior monk in The Music of Heaven, and the background on sword making in the title story; dashes of humor with Gen but then also the utter heart-rending emotional depth of which the ongoing tale is so magnificently capable with Runaways; not to mention the intense and awesome action found throughout, and especially in Slavers. The Mirage era of the series also had a notable sense of story consistency from book to book, which isn’t a requirement for great Usagi by any means, but again adds to why this reads together so well, flowing from mini-epic to mini-epic with a followable carryover that makes it very accessible. The book even ends with an excellent cliffhanger sting – the return of a particular character – that makes it hard to not wonder what could be coming next…
And for those of us who are already converted, well this is just adding more gold to the already over-flowing pot, and that cliffhanger ups the ante significantly on a character I hadn’t cared much for before.