Chris's Reviews > Usagi Yojimbo, Vol. 24: Return of the Black Soul

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol. 24 by Stan Sakai
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Nov 08, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: adventure, fantasy, historical, graphic, ya

I believe I've given Usagi Yojimbo collections eight through twenty three each a five-star rating, but haven't written a review for any of them until now. It's time for me to rectify that situation, since it's my favorite on-going graphic novel series.

Usagi is a wandering, masterless samurai in someplace like early seventeenth century feudal Japan. It's not actually historical, but don't be fooled by the fact that the characters are all drawn as animals--it is an action-filled drama with a realistic setting and serious themes. Many of Usagi's peers are amoral guards-for-hire or bounty hunters, but he sticks to the warrior's honor code and is always on the lookout for those who need his help. As Charles Solomon writes in this volume's introduction: "He's the stranger who wanders into town, rights a wrong, tosses out a tin-horn bully, solves a mystery, and maybe breaks a heart. . . . He may long for a peaceful settled life, but the backroads and byways are his only real home." He's a humbly heroic figure in a land of chaos ruled by warlords, making his way through life doing the best he can.

Author/illustrator Stan Sakai has been telling Usagi's ongoing story since 1987 in a amazing feat of sustained storytelling. The closest experience I can compare consuming it to is watching an ongoing television show. Each volume is episodic, containing many smaller stories and chapters. Sometimes they stand alone, sometimes they are connected. Usagi grows and changes, but only gradually. There are other characters he encounters repeatedly throughout his travels and references are made to previous volumes, but each can be read and enjoyed without the bigger backstory. I started with volume eight and was able to jump right in without missing a beat, and I think you could happily start most anywhere in the series without worrying about going back to start at the beginning.

(Having said that, I should add that this, more than any other I can think of, might not be the best volume to start with because it is more of a single story than most and is harder than usual to jump into without knowing anything about the characters and their pasts.)

Sakai's art is among the best in the business, and, as with the work of any master, you appreciate it more the longer you dwell in it. His storytelling, plotting, and pacing are excellent. Everything about these books is excellent. I can't recommend the series highly enough and hope more readers find it all the time.
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