Usagi Yojimbo: Shoyu (#143 – 144, UY #202 – 203) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

The subject matter for this – the making of soy sauce – is surprisingly fascinating, though “surprising” is probably an overused term for focuses on which Stan zeroes in in Usagi, as he always takes potentially mundane concepts and makes them interesting as heck and graspably concise.

The rabbit ronin wanders into a town and manages to spot some miscreants setting a fire on a warehouse. Sounding the alert and calling others to action, the blaze is doused, and Usagi learns not only of the rivalry between two soy sauce manufacturers – one whose warehouse was the one set alight by, presumably, the other – but also the incompetence of the local cop, Wada, who pretty much refuses to get involved. Usagi sides with Mitsui, the elder soy sauce manufacturer, who walks him through the intriguing production process of the product, and pledges to help to resolve the matter with his rival, Hata, a young business owner who cares not for history and craft, but blames his inferior soy sauce’s lack of success on Mitsui instead – hence the fire.

This builds up to an exciting showdown with Hata’s thugs, and, as mentioned, Stan’s exploration of the whole soy sauce process is great. The only thing that sticks out is the handling of Wada; the lazy or corrupt cop is certainly not a new type of character in UY, but Stan overplays Wada’s incompetence to an extreme degree, adding humor that sometimes seems at odd with how vicious Hata’s methods are, and how dark the ending of the story is.