Usagi Yojimbo: Yukichi (#20 – 21, UY #258 – 259) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

This is one of those mini-arcs that sneaks up on you, seeming generally harmless and templated at first – UY meets another samurai on his way to accomplish a task, and agrees to help – and then turns out to have pretty big story revelations, and with an ending that, no pun intended, cuts right to the point through what one would’ve guessed to have been a more moralistic type conclusion.

Usagi runs into another rabbit named Yukichi, who’s delivering a sword as the final request of his recently passed sensei. Rather, Yukichi halts Usagi – he recognizes him, with the latter having visited Yukichi’s school back in the day, and the then-young and still training Yukichi not recognizing Usagi’s skill, and instead judging him based on his travel-worn shabbiness, and lack of a traditional master. Now the leader of his school, Yukichi apologizes for what he’d later recognized as rudeness and shortsightedness; Usagi accepts the apology, and wishes to assist Yukichi on his sword delivery. On the way, though, they are accosted by a rival school, filled with the usual thugs that we often see, ready to challenge our duo. …And then are soundly thrashed, thus setting up a vendetta to be carried out in the story’s second part. As mentioned and suggested, though, the resulting scuffle is a nice tweak from Sakai: UY, in this instance, wishes not to suffer fools.

Yukichi is a little lacking in personality at this point, but Stan’s positioned him to accompany Usagi for at least another issue, so we have time to build. The dialogue exchanged between the two flows really well, and the way he’s folded into the larger UY world is great, as is the way Stan has been carrying over details from issue to issue a bit more consistently in the IDW run. Stan also seems to be bringing back more notably varied line weights to differentiate characters closer to the “camera;” this is a style I really like from him – very cinematic. Hi-Fi’s color work, for the most part, is amazingly balanced, employing a bit more aggressive blending than Tom Luth, but to generally excellent effect. That said, specific to my tastes, I think there’s caution to be had when going too colorful with the backgrounds – a very pretty sunset and some bright motion lines felt discordant against the already colorful kimonos – and when the characters are inside a darkened room in the conclusion, the shading became a bit too noticeable – things started to take on that digital smooth look that can be distracting. Minor nits; I still think Hi-Fi is proving to be a great choice as a color replacement.