Usagi Yojimbo: The Long Road (#28, UY #266) – Stan Sakai

5 out of 5

I love how, just last issue, I was critically talking about Usagi Yojimbo “standards” in terms of story templates on which Stan Sakai relies, and how that occasionally (rarely, it should be said) leaves us with some all-too-familiar issues; combined with the somewhat middling personality of Yukichi, Usagi’s current companion, resulted in a very average tale.

And now here we are, with another UY standard – bandits seek an item from an “innocent” traveler; Usagi and pals intervene on behalf of the traveler – and Stan knocks it out of the park, and injects Yukichi (and his bond with Usagi) with 100% more personality. ‘The Long Road’ showcases why these templates are not a bad thing, as Stan is always finding new ways around and to tell his stories, informed by the past. Here, Usagi is long in the tooth with such dealings, and knows a mustache twirling villain when he sees one; the early pull-back to reveal that Usagi is rather calmly watching two plotters “secretly” plot is masterfully concise storytelling, and the fun of how interactions unravel thereafter is watching how Usagi and Yukichi take control of the situation, while remaining within their codes of honor.

To that last point, here’s where we get some interesting room to explore the duo’s dynamic: Yukichi essentially questions Usagi’s dedication to the samurai code above all; specifically – should non-samurai’s be held to the same edict? It’s a fascinatingly simple and yet very modern way of viewing a moral system; something very relevant in today’s dialogues. And I love that Usagi does not outright reject or accept what Yukichi is asking / saying, but rather pledges to think on it. The way the two joke around a bit here also gives their relationship further color.

(Cue my consistent praise, as of late, for Hi-Fi’s gorgeous color work, here exemplified by the evening setting’s golden skies, and how it plays off of our forest setting.)