Usagi Yojimbo: Sojobo (#15, UY #253) – Stan Sakai

3 out of 5

In my read / reread of Usagi, from start to now, I’m about 3/5ths of the way through. I am, of course, continually astounded at how Stan has produced such original and engaging work the whole while, and then also at the continuing narrative of the journey – that which makes it an incredibly rewarding traversal, whether my first time through or subsequent times, finding accidental synchronicities and then purposeful evolutions that are really only possible when there’s one person (or a set team) at the helm of a creative endeavor the whole while. The general structure of Usagi – a wandering ronin, falling in and out of the various plots threading about his travels – allows for an ever-bountiful supply of stories, and an incredible amount of room to add in new points of view on the past.

Case in point: Sojobo, which revisits a character from Usagi’s formative years – the tengu master with the missing hand, whom he impulsively battled while under Katsuichi’s tutelage – adding another sensei to those who’ve trained him, adding new dimension to Usagi’s present set of skills (and our understanding of the way his sense of honor works), and then leaving us on a cliffhanger that will affect the upcoming issues. And none of this seems cheap; it fits in perfectly. This is fun to read on its own – Usagi battles a demon! – but also wholly rewarding with the back-issue backing; a pure UY experience.

So what’s up with the middling rating?

Well, structurally, this is a flashback, and I think it stumbles a bit in how it transitions to that. There are some scenes Stan wants to use to parallel how things looked then versus now, but since we’re kinda sorta dealing with three timelines (Usagi’s visit to the tengu’s home as a kid; his visit in the flashback, as a young rabbit-in-training; his visit in the present), it gets a little cluttered. Stripping away some of this could’ve streamlined the setup, and made the issue that much stronger. In addition, something feels slightly off about Stan’s art, here. His line is wonderfully fluid, which is great, but Usagi’s body proportions just seem odd in several places, with an unusually large head. I might be sensitive to this since I’m reading old issues concurrently with these new ones, but it hasn’t stuck out to me in other IDW issues. Lastly, we have a new colorist, with Tom Luth’s departure: Hi-Fi Design. And there’s also something off there. Just as it took Ronda Pattison time to find their style on Color Classics, I imagine we’re going to have that same curve with Hi-Fi. It mainly just feels inconsistent at this point – when flats versus blends are used, how foreground vs. background elements are colored. So these two visual aspects combined to take me out of the book at several points, unfortunately, despite it otherwise being a very solid, entertaining read, and an exciting setup for the next issues.