Usagi Yojimbo: The Death of Lord Hikiji (#123, UY #182) – Stan Sakai

5 out of 5

Usagi tries to interrupt the slaying of three samurai by a black-clad assassin, only to discover that he knows the assassin: he, too, served under Lord Mifune, and the three dead samurai bear the crest of Lord Hikiji. This loyal Mifune servant – Masaki – has teamed with another, and the duo have been slowly picking off Hikiji’s roster, working their way to the evil lord himself. Will Usagi assist them?

‘The Death of Lord Hikiji’ is another stunning example of Stan executing a massive story idea – one that’s been earned across 150+ issues of the title’s history – within a single book, without sacrificing any of the impact of that idea, and wholly serving up a beginning, middle, and end in 30 or less pages. Via his usual sparse dialogue and paced visual storytelling, Stan explores a whole new level of Usagi’s sense of honor, as well as poking at the way the samurai code can be interpreted to mean different things to different people… It’s conceptually brilliant, and then also manages a splash of action as well.

Stan’s linework thins up a little bit, and it makes the pages absolutely thrilling – his line is still confident, as it has been in the issues leading up to this, but the thinner lines allows him a bit more looseness and subtle visual energy.