5 out of 5
If you skip over the little story summary blurb on the inside cover, Encounter at Blood Tree Pass is awesomely disarming. A Town Called Hell wasn’t too long ago, but reading at a monthly pace, it’s enough time – a few months – for the plotline to have nestled into memory. I’d found it to be a somewhat forced conflict, but I liked that it set up Kato – another samurai – as a foe, and over a willful miscommunication – something a bit more clouded than the usual blood feuds and money / clout scrambles that fuel these things.
In this issue, Usagi is doing his roaming bit, and is suddenly subjected to oppressive stares in the town through which he’s passing; the reader learns this is because Kato has been spreading the word that he’s searching for a dishonorable long-eared samurai, and now our ever-present snitch spots the rabbit and lets Kato know.
The showdown between the two is perfect: it’s a great reversal of the uncharacteristic naivety Usagi showed in Hell issues, and Stan’s linework throughout the book is quite intense, in service of this story – very thin, defined, detailed. And I loved the initial mystery (assuming you skip the summary) regarding the town’s suspicious looks, and how Stan reveals the cause, then ranks up the tension, page-by-page, to the inevitable battle.