5 out of 5
An excellent blend of all things Usagi: the slice-of-life beats; light continuity stirrings; splashes of excellent action. ‘Ice Runners’ concerns those specialized to a very specific task: being messengers, hustling to and fro in the days when that was the only way to get to To and Fro, and as the title suggests, the thing being messengered this time… is ice. As our bosses are wont to do, one lord declares that he can deliver a gift of ice from the frozen mountain to the visiting Lord Hikiji, and as such, it’s now down to our tasked runners to actually do the thing, obviously needing to make the journey in a certain amount of time before the ice melts. However, this claim has been challenged by a competing lord, as Usagi stumbles across the runners being attacked by – likely – warriors sent from that opposing leader.
As Usagi is wont to do, he gets involved, hustling alongside the runners to protect them from further threats, and once those occur, he even picks up the job of carrying the bundle himself. This is such a great blend of low-key events plus high intrigue – it’s just taking an innocuous item from one location to another, but with big implications of honor and duty – that it’s incredibly engrossing throughout, resulting in a pace that’s both very much “on the run” the whole while, but also quiet enough to fully communicate the What and Why of the situation.
The conclusion is tense for several reasons, with things getting right down to the wire – masterfully framed, of course – and Stan fits in a character we haven’t seen for quite some time, which indirectly adds further weight to matters as well.