Usagi Yojimbo: Tengu War (#16 – 18, UY #254 – 256) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

What it says on the tin, and exactly what you’d want: Sakai indulging in some good ol’ fight comics, and allowed to go a bit buck wild-er than usual with that, given that the participants are of the mystical Tengu variety.

The title is already a good selling point, and then when Usagi crosses paths once more with the adversarial but jobial Sojobo… all of those warm, UY feelings of being part of a forever-unfolding epic just come flooding forth. The familiarity that’s been earned with these character, and his unique relationship with the rabbit ronin, makes the latter’s promise to assist Sojobo with a forthcoming territory war all the more emotional; and if you haven’t been here for those previous stories, you’re fully filled in by Stan’s concise but compact storytelling. In addition, we get some delightful myth lore, detailing some of the different ranks of Tengu, and then further surprises when we learn a bit about Sojobo’s past.

The ensuing battle is magnificent: Stan, as ever, finds rewarding beats for working in themes of honor, and then sudden touching moments as well, but the fighting is gold, with some cool splash panels really capturing the fervor.

While I’m really digging Hi-Fi’s colors on the book – it sincerely feels like the colorist has ported Tom Luth’s subtleties over, while also adding their own feel for backgrounds and depth – there’s almost too much color used amongst the Tengu, with different colored kimono and animal furs creating a near rainbow in each panel. This may have been at Stan’s direction, but it makes it seem a bit more cartoonish than it might otherwise have; sort of bundled with this is admittedly a slight disappointment that we only end up seeing three species of Tengu, so it’s sort of like there was a compromise to try to add more variation with color, and it’s a little overwhelming.

Otherwise, though, I love when Stan just sits back and delivers on all-out action sometimes, and this was a great way of doing that while fleshing out an unexplored corner of the Usagi-verse at the same time.