Usagi Yojimbo doesn’t get nearly enough love. It’s a shame and it’s tantamount to a kind of comic book sin because few books in print today (or even in days of yore) are deserved of more public awareness and recognition than this undercurrent of a series. It’s a common symptom of almost any artistic medium that popularity isn’t necessarily earned with quality but with ubiquity. So that for comics, titles that have secured an implicit familiarity with readers almost automatically earn a pick off the shelf come Wednesday, while books that might seem a little too arcane are left to the proverbial backburner.

But there is a remedy and the onus is on the comic book lover—as if it might be some unspoken rule— to always reach out and discover new titles, even if they aren’t new in the most literal sense. And what better place to start than to consider the creative exuberance that Usagi Yojimbo has offered up so consistently and for so long?

Usagi Yojimbo (literally “Rabbit Bodyguard” in Japanese) is an on-going series that takes place in Edo-era Japan. A time when feudal lords vie for power and control and samurai retainer carry out their will; bandits and thieves roam the hillsides and ronin wander the towns and taverns of the fabled Land of the Rising Sun.

Senso 7

Needless to say it’s a colourful time in history and one ripe with its own legends and lore and given such a scope of mythical and historical source material it would take a master of cultural nuance to translate it all to the page. That master of course, is the multi-hyphenate wizard behind the pages of Yojimbo, Stan Sakai. The Japanese-American, multi-Eisner Award winning talent first wandered onto the scene with his anthropomorphic rabbit samurai, Miyamoto Usagi, in 1984 and thirty years later, Sakai and his vibrant cast of characters still have relevant stories to tell.

The resounding proof of that is in Senso, the first story in Usagi’s pantheon of adventures in almost two years and after such a considerable hiatus, it’s a small wonder if Sakai would bring back Yojimbo swinging. What is surprising however, is Sakai’s decision to make that return in the form of a six-part miniseries; one that simultaneously transits the storyline twenty years in the future and serves as a homage to the classic science fiction tale, War of the Worlds, no less. But while, at first glance, this choice might seem jarring it never feels inappropriate.

Senso 2

In fact it makes perfect sense.

Yojimbo has been a tapestry thirty years in the making and that substantial time frame has afforded the series a breadth of characters and plotlines, but perhaps most important of all, the opportunity for experimentation. Over the course the series’ run—one that spans three publishers in as many decades—Sakai has done his creative best to ensure that his material has never stagnated and that’s a formidable task given that his is by and large a one-man-show. But he’s more than once risen to the challenge as storylines have tackled everything from the ethical and philosophical, to questions of spirituality, demonry, and love, to humour, honour, betrayal, and justice. Usagi has done it all.

Hell, he’s even been to space.

It’s this inherent flexibility then that Sakai has managed to weave into his style of storytelling that has made his iconic rabbit so singular. And it is perhaps this same reason that despite the usually grounded premises that Yojimbo offers up to readers, that Senso works so well as a reintroduction of the character and his world of war-torn Japan.

Except that this time it’s more of a war between worlds as Usagi et al. tackle a new and alien foe. Literally. Senso (Japanese for “war”) is a genre-melding tale that starts at what might seem—for familiar readers—like the long-awaited conclusion. After years sojourning as masterless warrior, Usagi has finally found his place as a retainer and general in an army that stands to finally end the political treachery and subterfuge of the darkest lord in Japan. Thrust into the heat of that final battle and at the cusp what appears to be a final victory over evil the storyline makes for an abrupt shift in gear with the introduction of rocket hurtling for the earth.

Senso 3

What follows over the course of the subsequent five issues is a deliberate throwback to pulp science fiction and the vintage flare of grainy B-movies or flamboyant radio dramas. It’s far from pastiche however, and that’s thanks to Sakai’s mastery over thematic elements and tone; the series takes its fair share of dramatic tensions and twists and goes so far as to introduce clans, factions and characters that some may have thought would have never fit into this kind of story.

Some. But not Sakai.

Storylines and pacing have never been a problem for Usagi Yojimbo and that’s no different in Senso. Sakai has always opted for a minimalized, bittersweet approach to his stories and writing (a wholly Japanese quality to say the least) and there are several underlying plotlines run through the series, each handled deftly and poignantly as some long-burning questions are answered but not to the extent that they might come across as droll or dragged.

True to that form Sakai’s art has never anything less than exemplary; his pencils are never flashy or rushed; lines are consequently clean, rigid, and peppered with a level of detail that could leave the reader wandering the page in artistic limbo, trying to take it all in. Sakai’s lettering is also something out of a bygone era; done exclusively by hand his commitment to the art form and the genre stand as a testament to what one man with enough vision and talent can accomplish on the page.

Senso 6

On the whole, Usagi Yojimbo: Senso is a welcome return for the most skilled rabbit in all comics and serves as an excellent jumping point for new readers as well as godsend for those who have been waiting for fix of anthropomorphic samurai in feudal Japan. It marks the steady reintegration of one the finest characters ever to be put to the page and if this miniseries serves as anything of sign of what’s to come for Miyamoto Usagi and his maker, great things can be expected. And with any luck, come the next Wednesday, more readers will be waiting.

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop or on Dark Horse’s website.

Overall Score
89 %

A welcome return to for Sakai and Usagi, Senso is an excellent genre-bending homage to sci-fi and "what if?".

Story 85%
Writing 85%
Pencils and Inks 95%
Cover Art 90%

About The Author

Kabir Chauhan is self-professed lover of video games, photography, fine films, and Oxford commas. When he isn't indulging in any of that, he enjoys the occasional comic book or two...or three as well as talking about himself in the third person.

Comments are closed.