The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Book 1


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-671-6(HB)     978-1-61655-609-9(PB)      eISBN: 978-1-63008-081-5

Usagi Yojimbo (“rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in Stan Sakai’s The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, premiering amongst assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in 1984’s Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He then graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Sakai was two years old, the family moved from Kyoto, Japan to Hawaii. Growing up in a cross-cultural paradise he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, before leaving the state to pursue further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer and the Spider-Man newspaper strip – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, inspirationally transforming a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

Although the deliriously expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a peripatetic Lord-less Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible through selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly 16th and 17th century AD by Western reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the tenets of Bushido. He is utterly unable to turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

Despite changing publishers a few times, the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Author Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

The title was as much a wanderer as its star, migrating from Fantagraphics to Mirage and finally Dark Horse where after publishing more than two dozen paperback collections, the canny business types have sagely opted to re-bundle their earlier efforts into hefty tomes offering three times the thrills. There are even digital editions for forward-looking fans of the vintage wonderment…

This guest-star stuffed premiere monochrome masterpiece draws together yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2 #1-16 and Usagi Yojimbo volume 3 #1-6

Following a fulsome Foreword from former editor Jamie S. Rich, pictorial rundown of dramatis personae in ‘Cast of Characters’ and rousing strip recap ‘Origin Tale’, an evocative Introduction from legendary illustrator and Dean of dinosauria William Stout leads into the magnificent and ever-unfolding medieval mystery play…

It all begins with 3-part crossover epic ‘Shades of Green’ wherein Usagi and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) are recruited by Kakera: a ratty shaman in dire need of protection from the dwindling remnants of the once-mighty Neko Ninja clan.

The former imperial favourites have fallen upon hard times since they and the Ronin Rabbit crushed the Dragon Bellow plot of rebel Lord Takamuro. Now, the bat assassins of the Komori Ninja clan are constantly harrying, harassing and actively trying to supplant them in patron Lord Hikiji’s service…

Chunin (deputy leader) Gunji believes the rodent wizard would make a mighty useful slave, and is scheming to overthrow the new – female – clan chief Chizu whilst acquiring him…

With the Neko’s trap closing around them all, the sagacious sensei summons the spirits of four fantastic fighters to aid Usagi and Gen. The phantoms promptly possess a quartet of little Kamé (tortoises) and are reshaped into adolescent amphibian Ninja Turtles, identifying themselves as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.

Usagi has fought beside one of their number before…

The subsequent battles go badly and eventually Gunji’s forces make off with Kakera-sensei. As Usagi leads the remaining heroes in relentless pursuit, the conniving Chunin makes his move. Gunji’s attempt to assassinate Chizu is bloodily and efficiently ended by the late-arriving Usagi who is astounded to be told by the lady he has saved that the Neko’s lethal interest in him is now at an end…

With Kakera rescued and Gunji dead, the adventure closes with the turtle spirits returning to their own place and time, leaving Gen and Usagi to follow their own (temporarily) separate roads…

‘Jizo’ then offers a delightful and gripping interlude as a grieving mother dedicates a roadside shrine to her murdered child and mysterious Karma places the killers in the path of a certain justice-dispensing, long-eared wanderer…

Next comes a brace of stories offering elucidating glimpses of the rabbit’s boyhood. Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate sent to spend his formative years learning the Way of Bushido from a gruff and distant leonine hermit Katsuichi.

The stern sensei taught not just superior technique and tactics, but also an ironclad creed of justice and restraint which would serve the Ronin well throughout his turbulent life.

In ‘Usagi’s Garden’ the callow pupil rebels against the arduous and undignified task of growing food until the lion delivers a subtle but life changing lesson, whilst in ‘Autumn’ a painful fall propels the lad into a nightmare confrontation with a monster who has trapped the changing of the seasons in a bamboo cage…

‘Shi’ is a 2-part tale wherein Usagi comes to the assistance of a valley of poor farmers under constant attack by bullies and brigands seeking to make them leave their impoverished homes. The thugs are secretly employed by a local magistrate and his ruthless brother who have discovered gold under the peasants’ land and want to extract it without attracting the attention of the local Lord’s tax collectors.

When the Ronin’s formidable opposition stalls the brothers’ scheme they hire a quartet of assassins whose collective name means “death”, but the killers are far less trouble than the head farmer’s daughter Kimie who has never seen someone as glamorous or attractive as the soft-spoken samurai…

Although there are battles aplenty for Usagi, the remorseless greed of the brothers finishes them before the Yojimbo can…

A delightful silent comedy follows as ‘The Lizard’s Tale’ pantomimically depicts the Ronin playing unwilling Pied Piper and guardian to a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem). The rambunctious trouble-magnets then repay the favour when the wanderer is ambushed in the snow-drowned mountains by an army of vengeful bandits…

The 3-chapter fable ‘Battlefield’ then discloses a key moment and boyhood turning point in the trainee warrior’s life.

It begins when a mind-broken, fleeing soldier shatters the boy’s childish dreams of warrior glory. The fugitive is a survivor of the losing side in a mighty battle and his sorry state forces Usagi to rethink his preconceptions of war.

Eager to ram home the lesson, Katsuichi takes his student to the battlefield where peasants and scavengers are busy snatching up whatever they can from the scattered corpses…

Usagi is horrified. To take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, but even so, a little later he cannot stop himself picking up a fallen hero’s Wakizashi (short sword)…

However, after concealing the blade in safe place, the apprentice is haunted by visions of the unquiet corpse and sneaks off to return the stolen steel soul.

Caught by soldiers who think him a scavenger and looter and about to lose his thieving hands, little Miyamoto is only saved by the intervention of victorious Great Lord Mifunė. The noble looks into the boy’s face and sees something honest, honourable and perhaps, one day, useful…

Following an Introduction on ‘Classic Storytelling’ from writer James Robinson, the Ronin roaming resumes with ‘The Music of Heaven’ wherein Miyamoto and a wandering flock of tokagé lizards encounter a gentle, pious priest whose life is dedicated to peace, music and enlightenment…

When their paths cross again later, the rabbit is almost murdered by a ruthless assassin who has since killed and impersonated holy man Komuso in an attempt to catch Usagi off guard…

Evocative and movingly spiritual, this classic of casual tragedy perfectly displays the vast range of storytelling Sakai can pack into the most innocuous of tales.

More menaces from the wanderer’s past reconnect in ‘The Gambler, The Widow and the Ronin’ as a professional conman who fleeces villagers with rigged samurai duels plies his shabby trade in just another little hamlet.

Unfortunately, this one is home to his last stooge’s wife, and to make matters worse, whilst his latest hired killer Kedamono is attempting to take over the business, the long-eared nomad who so deftly dispatched his predecessor Shubo strolls into town looking for refreshments…

Again forced into a fight he doesn’t want, Miyamoto makes short work of the blustering Kedamono, leaving the smug gambler to safely flee with the entire take. Slurping back celebratory servings of Saké, the villain has no idea that the inn where he relaxes employs a vengeful widow and mother who knows just who really caused her man’s death…

A note of portentous foreboding informs ‘The Nature of the Viper’, opening a year previously when a boisterous, good-hearted fisherman pulled a body out of the river and nursed his amazingly still breathing catch slowly back to health. If he expected gratitude or mercy the peasant was sadly mistaken, as the victim explained whilst killing his benefactor as soon as he was able…

The ingrate is Jei: a veritable devil in mortal form, who believes himself a “Blade of the Gods”; singled out by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he stalked Usagi the monster was struck by a fortuitous – or possibly divinely sent – lightning bolt but is still going strong and still keen to continue his quest for the Ronin…

‘Slavers’ then begins a particularly dark journey for our hero as Usagi stumbles across a boy in chains escaping from a bandit horde. Little Hiro explains how the ragtag rogues of wily “General” Fujii have captured an entire town and are making the inhabitants harvest all their crops for the scum to steal…

Resolved to save them the rabbit infiltrates the captive town as a mercenary seeking work, but is soon exposed and taken prisoner and ‘Slavers Part 2’ finds Miyamoto stoically enduring the General’s tortures until the boy he saved bravely returns the favour… after which the Yojimbo’s vengeance is awesome and terrible…

However even as the villagers rebel and take back their homes and property, chief bandit Fujii escapes, taking Usagi’s daishō (matched long and short swords) with him.

As previously seen, to take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, and the monster not only has them but continually dishonours them by slaughtering innocents as he flees the Ronin’s relentless pursuit.

‘Daisho – Part One’ opens with a hallowed sword-maker undertaking the holy methodical process of crafting blades and the harder task of selecting the right person to buy them. Three hundred years later, Usagi is on the brink of madness as he follows the bloody trail of Fujii, remorselessly picking off the General’s remaining killers whilst attempting to redeem those sacred dispensers of death…

The chase leads him to another town pillaged by Fujii where he almost refuses to aid a wounded man until one of the women accuses him of being no better than the beast he hunts…

Shocked back to his senses, Miyamoto saves the elder’s life and in gratitude the girl Hanako offers to lead him to where Fuji was heading…

‘Mongrels’ then changes tack as erstwhile ally and hard-to-love friend Gennosuké enters the picture. The irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taker is on the prowl for suitably profitable prospects when he meets the Stray Dog: his greatest rival in the unpopular profession of cop-for-hire.

After some posturing and double-dealing wherein each tries to edge out the other in the hunt for Fujii, they inevitably come to blows and are only stopped by the fortuitous intervention of the Rabbit Ronin…

‘Daisho – Part Two’ sees the irascible rugged individualists come to a shaky truce in their overweening hunger to tackle the General. Mistrustful of each other, they nevertheless cut a swathe of destruction through Fujii’s regrouped band, but even after the furious Usagi regains his honour swords there is one last betrayal in store…

Older, wiser and generally unharmed, Gen and Usagi part company again as ‘Runaways’ once more delves into the wanderer’s past. Stopping in a town he hasn’t visited in decades, the rabbit hears a name called out and his mind goes back to a time when he was a fresh young warrior in the service of Great Lord Mifunė.

Young princess Takani Kinuko had been promised as bride to trustworthy ally Lord Hirano and the rabbit had been a last-minute replacement as leader of the “babysitting” escort column to her impending nuptials.

When an overwhelming ambush destroyed the party, Usagi was forced to flee with the stuck-up brat, both masquerading as carefree, unencumbered peasants as he strove to bring her safely to her husband-to-be through a seeming army of ninjas killers.

The poignant reverie concludes in ‘Runaways – Part 2’ as valiant hero and spotless maid fell in love whilst fleeing from the pitiless, unrelenting marauders on their heels. Successful at last, their social positions naturally forced them apart once she was safely delivered.

Shaken from his memories the Ronin moves on, tragically unaware that he was not the only one recalling those moments and pondering what might have been…

Originally collected as The Brink of Life and Death, the evocative and enticing third tranche of torrid tales opens with ‘Discoveries’ – a heartfelt and enthusiastic Introduction from comics author Kurt Busiek – before more epic sagas of intrigue intermingle with brief vignettes attending to more plebeian dramas and even the occasional supernatural thriller, all tantalisingly tinged with astounding martial arts action and drenched in wit, irony, pathos and even true tragedy…

Far away from our nomadic star a portentous interlude occurs as a simple peasant and his granddaughter are attacked by bandits. The belligerent scum are about to compound extortion and murder with even more heinous crimes when a stranger with a ‘Black Soul’ stops them…

His is called Jei… and nothing good comes from even innocent association with the Blade of the Gods. Still keen to continue his crusade, the monster deals most emphatically with the criminals before “allowing” orphaned granddaughter Keiko to join him…

‘Kaisō’ then finds Miyamoto Usagi befriending a seaweed farmer who’s experiencing a spot of bother with his neighbours…

At peace with himself amongst hard-toiling peasants, Usagi becomes embroiled in their escalating battle with a village of rival seaweed sellers – previously regarded as helpful and friendly – and soon realises scurrilous merchant Yamanaka is fomenting discord and unrest between his suppliers to make extra profit…

‘A Meeting of Strangers’ in a roadside hostelry introduces a formidable female warrior to the constantly expanding cast as the Lepine Legend graciously offers a fellow weary mendicant the price of a drink. A professional informer then sells Usagi out to the still-smarting merchant Yamanaka and lethally capable Inazuma has ample opportunity to repay her slight debt to the Rabbit Ronin when he’s ambushed by an army of hired brigands…

Despite – or perhaps because – it is usually one of the funniest comics on the market, occasionally Usagi Yojimbo can brilliantly twist readers’ expectations with tales that rip your heart apart.

Such is the case with ‘Noodles’ wherein the nomadic Ronin meets again street performer, shady entertainer and charismatic pickpocket Kitsune. She has been plying all her antisocial trades in a new town just as eternally-wandering Usagi rolls up.

The little metropolis is in uproar at a plague of daring robberies and when the inept enforcers employed by Yoriki (Assistant Commander) Masuda try – and painfully fail – to arrest the long-eared stranger as a probable accomplice, the ferociously resistant Ronin earns the instant enmity of the pompous official.

Following the confrontation, a hulking, mute soba (buckwheat noodle) vendor begins to pester the still-annoyed rabbit and eventually reveals he’s carrying elegant escapologist Kitsune in his baskets…

Astounded, the Yojimbo renews his acquaintance with her before the affable thieves go on their way, but trouble and tragedy are just around the corner…

The town magistrate is leaning heavily on his Yoriki to end the crime wave but has no conception Masuda is actually in the pay of a vicious gang carrying out most of the thefts. What they all need is a convincing scapegoat to pin the blame on and poor dumb peasant Noodles is ideal – after all, he can’t even deny his guilt…

With a little sacrificed loot planted, the gentle giant becomes the perfect patsy and before Usagi and Kitsune even know he’s been taken, the simple fool has been tried and horrifically executed…

‘Noodles Part 2’ opens as the aggrieved heroes frantically dash for the public trial and almost immediate crucifixion but neither pickpocket nor bodyguard can do anything to save the innocent stooge. All they can do is swear to secure appropriate vengeance and a kind of justice…

In sober mien the rabbit roves on, stumbling into a house of horror and case of possession as ‘The Wrath of the Tangled Skein’ finds Usagi returning to a region plagued by demon-infested forests. Offered hospitality at a merchant’s house he subsequently saves the daughter from doom at the claws of a demonic Nue (tiger/fox/pig/snake devil).

He is, however, almost too late and only alerted to a double dose of danger when a Bonze (Buddhist Priest) arrives to exorcise the poor child… just like the cleric already praying over the afflicted waif upstairs…

This duel with the forces of hell leads into ‘The Bonze’s Story’ as Usagi strikes up a friendship with the true priest and learns how misfortune and devotion to honour compelled elite samurai Sanshobo to put aside weapons and war in search of greater truths and inner peace…

Political intrigue and explosive espionage return to the fore in ‘Bats, the Cat, & the Rabbit’ as Neko ninja chief Chizu re-enters Usagi’s life, fleeing a flight of rival Komori (bat) ninjas. The winged horrors are determined to possess a scroll containing the secrets of making gunpowder and, after a tremendous, extended struggle the exhausted she-cat cannot believe her rabbit companion is willing to simply hand it over. She soon shrugs it off.

After all the Komori have fallen into her trap and quickly regret testing the purloined formula…

The peripatetic Yojimbo then walks into a plot to murder Great Lord Miyagi involving infallible unseen assassin Kuroshi at ‘The Chrysanthemum Pass’. The valiant wanderer is simply aiding karma to a just outcome despite overwhelming odds and a most subtle opponent, the act will have appalling repercussions in the days ahead…

Hunted woman and deadly adept Inazuma then proves ‘Lightning Strikes Twice’ when found – as always – at the heart of a storm of hired blades trying to kill her. However, during one peaceful moment, she makes time to share with a fellow swordsmaster the instructive tale of a dutiful daughter who married the wrong samurai and, by exacting rightful vengeance upon his killer, won the undying hatred of a powerful lord and set her own feet irredeemably upon the road of doom…

Also included to round out in this epic collection are copious ‘Story Notes by Stan Sakai’, a full-colour ‘Gallery’ of the covers from both comicbooks and their attendant paperback compilations, annotated ‘Cover Sketches’ and designs plus biographical data ‘About the Author’.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and frequently crushes your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy, evil and duty.

Bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is the perfect comics epic: a monolithic magical irresistibly appealing saga to delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened haters of “funny animal” stories.
Text and illustrations © 1993-1998, 2014 Stan Sakai. All rights reserved. Foreword © 2014 Jamie S. Rich. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles © 2014 Viacom International, Inc. All rights reserved. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo and all other prominently featured characters are registered trademarks of Stan Sakai.

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-709-6

One of the very best and most adaptable survivors of the 1980s black-&-white comicbook explosion/implosion is a truly bizarre and wonderful synthesis of historical Japanese samurai fiction and anthropomorphic animal adventure, as well as a perfect example of the versatility and strengths of a creator-owned character.

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in multi-talented creator Stan Sakai’s peripatetic comedy feature The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which debuted in furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk anthology Albedo Anthropomorphics #1 (1984) subsequently appearing there on his own terms as well as in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up in Grimjack.

Sakai was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family emigrated to Hawaii in 1955. He attended University of Hawaii, graduating with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design after moving to California.

His first comics work was as a letterer, most famously for the incredible Groo the Wanderer, before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express a love of Japanese history and legend. Also shaped by his hearty interest in the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, Sakai turned a proposed story about a human hero into one of the most enticing and impressive – and astoundingly authentic – sagas of all time.

The deliciously rambling and expansive period fantasy series is set in a world of sentient animals whilst specifically referencing the Edo Period of Feudal Japan (how did we cloth-eared Westerners ever get “Japan” from “Nihon” anyway?) and is drenched in classic cultural icons as varied as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi and even Godzilla to enrich the ongoing exploits of Miyamoto Usagi, a Ronin (masterless, wandering Samurai) whose fate is to be drawn constantly into a plethora of incredible situations.

And yes, he’s a rabbit – a brave, sentimental, gentle, honourable, conscientious and heroic bunny who cannot turn down any request for help…

The long-eared nomad has changed publishers a few times but has been in continuous publication since 1987 – with nearly 40 graphic novel collections and compilations to date – with guest-shots in sundry other series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation – he even almost made it into his own small-screen show but there’s still time yet and fashions can revive as quickly as they die out …

Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the comics community and amongst the greater reading public and his bombastic bunny has branched out into high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci fi comics serial and lots of toys. In November 2014 the Rabbit Ronin premiered in a stage show here in London…

Celebrating his 30th anniversary our hero recently appeared in a staggering out-of-continuity cosmic clash first seen in the 6-issue miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: Senso (August 2014-January 2015) now gathered into a sturdy monochrome hardback edition.

Senso means War! – it says so on the back of the book – and this epic Armageddon tale opens fifteen years from the rabbit’s current timeframe with all the regular characters in play for the final battle between usurping over-villain Lord Hikiji and the forces of the Shogun led by Lord Noriyuki of the Geishu Clan.

Preceded by comedic cartoon Introduction ‘Usagi and Stan’ and a selection of cover sketches for the compilation volume, the action opens as the Shogun’s forces, led by recently aligned and fully restored Samurai Usagi, clash with the Dark Lord’s armies.

Also drawn into the cataclysmic battle and employed in key positions are valiant bodyguard Lady Tomoe, former bounty hunter General Gennosuke and even the rabbit’s (unsuspected and unacknowledged) son Jotaro.

Even though the battle seems to be going against them the noble young lord is appalled when chief scientist Takenoko-Sensei offers his new prototype weapon – an armoured, steam-powered, self-propelled moving fortress called Kameyama (“Turtle Mountain”).

Preferring defeat to the shame of utilising an atrocity weapon, the indomitable legion of heroes fight on with renewed desperation, but everything changes in an instant when the sky is suddenly rent by a fiery scream and a colossal metal shell crashes onto the field.

In the silent aftermath the shocked remnants of two shattered armies drag themselves from the blood and dust to discover a third force has entered the fray: ghastly beings like giant octopi, killing with heat and light and riding immense three-legged walking machines…

It takes ninja leader Chizu to discover that the rubbery horrors can be killed and their diabolical machines destroyed, but her consequent and so-noble death will not be the last…

Tense, oppressively ominous and downright scary in places, this fabulous reworking of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds is an astounding and compelling variation on the hallowed theme which offers one tantalising “maybe” after another as three decades of beloved characters assemble to face the end of a world and triumph in a most incredible manner, and at the most horrific of prices…

Amongst the bonus features in this titanic tome are all six wraparound covers from the miniseries and a Process section offering comparisons, deleted and reworked pages and scenes plus fascinating developmental notes and sketches from the story.

The multi-faceted legendary Lepus’ nigh-universal irresistible appeal encompasses every aspect and genre of adventure comics and this moving “End of Days” epic will delight devotees and certainly make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.

Text and illustrations © 2015 Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 11: Seasons


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-375-8

Usagi Yojimbo first appeared in Stan Sakai’s The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, in 1984’s furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk-fest Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He soon graduated to a stirring solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and Munden’s Bar back-up strips in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Sakai was two years old, the family moved from Kyoto, Japan to Hawaii. Growing up in a cross-cultural paradise he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, before leaving the state to pursue further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, inspirationally transforming a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a peripatetic Lord-less samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (a bodyguard-for-hire – and, while we’re at it, “Usagi” literally translates as “rabbit”), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Edo Period of Japan – roughly 16th and 17th century AD by our reckoning – whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, considerate, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the tenets of Bushido, he is simply unable to turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

This evocative and enticing eleventh monochrome medieval masterpiece gathers Dark Horse Comics’ Usagi Yojimbo comicbook (volume 3) #7-12, and the hue-less, line art contents of Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #4 (Green Persimmon).

Following a fondly effusive Introduction from cartoonist Lynn (For Better or For Worse) Johnston, the ever-unfolding adventure resumes with ‘The Withered Field’ as our wandering hero watches swordmaster Nakamura Koji. The former fencing instructor to Lord Hikiji wants to test himself against Ueno, head of the Surodoi School, but the master is absent and his arrogant, haughty students refuse to summon him despite the old man’s succession of victories against them all…

Usagi had also desired to test his skills but instead listens to the incredibly dexterous Koji’s tragic story. Once an important warrior of impeccable status, he was bested in a duel by an unconventional itinerant samurai who rejected the traditional forms of fencing.

Shamed by the defeat Koji took up the Warrior’s Pilgrimage, travelling the land testing and perfecting his skill whilst preparing for a rematch.

As they chat sixteen Surodoi students ambush them, resolved to excise their failure by killing the wanderers. United against the dishonourable attackers, Usagi and Koji efficiently despatch them all and the swordmaster comments on his new friend’s unique combat style…

Once, Miyamoto was simply the son of a small-town magistrate before spending years learning the Way of Bushido from a stern, leonine master who was as much hermit as teacher. The lad learned not just superior technique and tactics, but also Katsuichi’s creed of justice and restraint which would serve him well throughout his turbulent life…

When Ueno returns he is outraged by his disciples’ presumption and further incensed after finding the bodies of his prodigal pupils. He seeks out Koji and finds him calmly walking with a rabbit ronin. Determined to restore his good name, he grants Koji the long-deferred honour of a duel…

The battle is a wonder of form, grace and precision but upon its grisly conclusion the victorious Koji turns upon Usagi. Having seen his companion fight, the swordmaster has recognised the style which defeated him so long ago and must test himself against it once more.

Unable to dissuade him, the rabbit gives his utmost but is resoundingly defeated. Koji has no intention of killing him and instead tasks Usagi with carrying a message and challenge to his reclusive sensei: the triumphant swordmaster will meet Katsuichi a year hence at a specified place to decide finally and forever whose skill is the greatest…

‘A Promise in the Snow’ then sees the rabbit rover stumble upon a robbery and prevent the death of a merchant. The trader is grievously wounded however and his little daughter Fumiye begs the ronin to carry the rapidly expiring Araki to his home a half-day’s journey away.

The task is an arduous one over avalanche-prone mountains with starving wild beasts and numbing cold sapping his energies and good intentions with every step. Despite nigh-overwhelming odds little Fumiye insistently urges Usagi on, but when he finally brings Araki to safety the rescuer receives a stunning shock…

Political intrigue blossoms once again when a wounded messenger carrying an astounding document staggers into a temple in ‘The Conspiracy of Eight’. Inside Usagi is visiting his new friend Sanshobo and is present when the priest finds a pledge signed by eight High Lords agreeing to rise up against the Shogun. The messenger wears the livery of “Shadow Lord” Hikiji and has been struck down by assassin’s arrows…

Ambitious Hikiji’s name is not amongst the signatories and his role in the scheme cannot be guessed, but Sanshobo knows that the letter will result in great bloodshed whether the conspirators, Shadow Lord or Shogun possesses it. Proof of his contention comes when a band of samurai lay siege to the temple compound, demanding the surrender of the messenger…

As snows fall and temperatures plummet, priest, postulants and ronin enact a furious defence of the sanctuary but ultimately a lone ninja steals the document and brings it to an unsuspected fourth party with her own reasons for keeping it quiet.

Neko ninja clan-chief Chizu secretly prays that this time her erstwhile ally Usagi will keep his nose out of her business …

‘Snakes and Blossoms’ offers a brace of flashback tales wherein the Yojimbo, calmly recuperating as Sanshobo’s guest, finds a moment to share some old stories with his new friend.

‘Hebi’ harks back to a time when the ronin and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad, bounty-hunting, conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) were caught in a storm and took shelter in an almost abandoned temple. Gen had to kill a huge, vicious snake to get there but once inside things became even more dangerous as the beast’s demon wife impersonated a nun to get close enough to exact vengeance…

A far more educational parable follows as ‘The Courage of the Plum’ reveals how impulsive student Usagi learned a life-lesson from Katsuichi-sensei one cold spring just as the winter snows began to melt…

After a rousing pin-up the drama recommences with ‘Return to Adachi Plain’ (inked by Sergio Aragonés) as the perpetual nomad’s path brings him back to the battlefield where his karma was decided forever…

Mere months after completing his tutelage with Katsuichi, Usagi was recruited to the personal retinue of Great Lord Mifunė. He advanced quickly and was soon a trusted bodyguard too, serving beside the indomitable and legendary Gunichi. It was a time of great unrest and war was brewing…

In his third year of service, the castle was attacked by Neko ninja assassins and, although the doughty heroes managed to save their master, the Lord’s wife Kazumi and heir Tsuruichi were murdered. Realising ambitious rival Lord Hikiji was responsible, Mifunė declared war…

The epic conflict ended on the great Adachigahara Plain when Mifunė’s general Todo switched sides and the betrayed Great Lord fell. At the crucial moment Gunichi also broke, fleeing to save his own skin and leaving Usagi to preserve the fallen Lord’s head – and honour – from shameful desecration…

With no master to serve, Usagi became a ronin and began his endless Warrior Pilgrimage…

Far away another portentous interlude occurs as a simple peasant is saved by a dark stranger from a cruel and murderous samurai as they all shared passage between islands in ‘The Crossing’.

Jei is a veritable devil in mortal form, believing himself a “Blade of the Gods”, chosen by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he first met Usagi the diabolical spearman was struck by lightning and still survived.

Still pursuing his crusade against evil, Jei has adopted an orphan girl Keiko to aid him, but after saving a life he then perceives it to be an evil one too – as apparently is every other passenger on the unlucky vessel…

A fascinating exploration of warrior spirit is depicted as a defeated general goes deep undercover as farmer in ‘The Patience of the Spider’. Ikeda and his most trusted lieutenants survived the fall of their Lord, adopted a peasant lifestyle and are biding their time until they can rise again to expunge their shameful defeat.

But months turn to decades and the General fully grows into his new role – perhaps too much so…

Usagi resurfaces again when a band of cutthroats at an inn initially select him as a prospective victim before switching sights to another, more affluent-seeming traveller. The rogues soon learn the error of their ways as the enigmatic Oyama Tadanori wipes them out with ease.

Later the stranger encounters Usagi and the ronin recognises ‘The Lord of the Owls’ as an infamous cursed warrior reputed to be able to see death in a person’s eyes. He is not happy to hear the taciturn figure warn him that they will meet again…

More secrets of the Conspiracy of Eight are revealed in ‘The First Tenet’ when Chizu’s deputy Kagemaru exposes her part in the incriminating letter’s theft to Hikiji’s untrustworthy facilitator Lord Hebi. Infuriatingly some wily ninja has doctored the document and the conspirators remain practically anonymous…

Later, as Hebi’s entourage is attacked by assassins, Kagemaru just happens to be nearby with a band of faithful ninjas who rapidly despatch the assailants. It’s not so much the surprise of the counterattack that routs the rogues as shock that the man who hired them is now leading the defence of Hebi…

Attention returns to the Yojimbo as he passes the devastated mansion of Lady Takagi and recalls how, in the aftermath of the Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, he, Gen and female warrior Tomoe were rushing back to inform benevolent young Lord Noriyuki that the crisis had been averted.

After battling their way past hostile forces they were offered a night’s respite by the noble lady but ‘The Obakéneko of the Geishu Clan’ was a were-beast intent on murder and worse and it took all the ronin’s might and plenty of luck to survive until daylight…

The spellbinding storytelling concludes with espionage mystery ‘Green Persimmon’ as a dying samurai of Noriyuki’s Geishu clan entrusts Usagi with a strangely glazed ceramic fruit which simply must reach the young Lord at all costs.

The fragile porcelain artefact attracts the attention of numerous thugs, cutthroats and hired killers but as the Yojimbo carves his way across the country he is unable to fathom its purpose. Only when he meets Tomoe does the Green Persimmon surrender its incredible secret…

This medieval monochrome masterwork concludes with a ‘Gallery’ of seven superb covers to wrap things up with artistic aplomb.

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with over 30 books and collections so far. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, Usagi Yojimbo also bristles with tension and thrills and frequently breaks your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, it is the perfect comics epic: a monolithic magical saga of irresistible appeal to delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened haters of “funny animal” stories.
© 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 10: The Brink of Life and Death


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-259-7

Usagi Yojimbo (“rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in Stan Sakai’s The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which premiered in 1984 amongst assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He subsequently graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Sakai was two years old, the family moved from Kyoto, Japan to Hawaii. Growing up in a cross-cultural paradise he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, before leaving the state to pursue further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, inspirationally transforming a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously peripatetic and expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a peripatetic Lord-less Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly 16th – 17th century AD by our reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the tenets of Bushido, he is simply unable to turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

This evocative and enticing tenth black-&-white blockbuster collects yarns from Dark Horse Comics’ Usagi Yojimbo series (volume 3), #1-6 plus additional tales from issues #13, 15 and 16 from the previous Mirage iteration, aligning epic sagas of intrigue with brief vignettes attending to more plebeian dramas and even the occasional supernatural thriller, all tantalisingly tinged with astounding martial arts action and drenched in wit, irony, pathos and even true tragedy…

Following a heartfelt and enthusiastic Introduction from comics author Kurt Busiek, the ever-unfolding yarn resumes with a handy recap in ‘Origin Tale’ summarising the valiant wanderer’s fraught life to date before ‘Kaisō’ finds Miyamoto Usagi befriending a seaweed farmer who’s experiencing a spot of bother with his neighbours…

At peace with himself amongst hard-toiling peasants, Usagi becomes embroiled in their escalating battle with a village of rival seaweed sellers – previously considered helpful and friendly – and soon realises scurrilous merchant Yamanaka is fomenting unrest between his suppliers to make extra profit…

‘A Meeting of Strangers’ in a roadside hostelry introduces a formidable female warrior to the constantly expanding cast as the Lepine Legend graciously offers a fellow weary mendicant the price of a drink. A professional informer then sells Usagi out to the still-smarting Yamanaka and the lethally capable Inazuma has ample opportunity to repay her slight debt to the Rabbit Ronin when he’s ambushed by an army of hired brigands…

Far away a portentous interlude occurs as a simple peasant and his granddaughter are attacked by a band of bandits. The belligerent scum are about to compound extortion and murder with even more heinous crimes when a stranger with a ‘Black Soul’ stops them…

Jei is a veritable devil in mortal form, believing himself a “Blade of the Gods”, chosen by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he stalked Usagi the manic monster was struck by a fortuitous – or possibly divinely sent – lightning bolt and still survived.

Still keen to continue his crusade, the monster deals most emphatically with the criminals before allowing orphaned granddaughter Keiko to join him…

Despite – or perhaps because – it is usually one of the funniest comics on the market, occasionally Usagi Yojimbo can brilliantly twist readers’ expectations with tales that rip your heart apart.

Such is the case with ‘Noodles’ as the nomadic Ronin meets again street performer, shady entertainer and charismatic pickpocket Kitsune who has begun plying all her antisocial trades in a new town just as eternally-wandering Usagi turns up.

The little metropolis is in uproar at a plague of daring robberies and when the inept men employed by Yoriki (Assistant Commander) Masuda try – and painfully fail – to arrest the long-eared stranger as a probable accomplice, the ferociously resistant ronin earns the instant enmity of the pompous official.

Following the confrontation, a hulking, mute soba (buckwheat noodle) vendor begins to pester the still-annoyed rabbit and eventually reveals he’s carrying the elegant Kitsune in his baskets…

Astounded the Yojimbo renews his acquaintance with her before the affable thieves go on their way, but trouble and tragedy are just around the corner…

The town magistrate is leaning heavily on his Yoriki to end the crime wave but has no conception that Masuda is actually in the pay of a vicious gang carrying out most of the thefts. What they all need a convincing scapegoat to pin the blame on and poor dumb peasant Noodles is ideal – after all, he can’t even deny his guilt…

With a little sacrificed loot planted, he becomes the perfect patsy and before Usagi and Kitsune even know he’s been taken, the simple fool has been tried and horrifically executed…

‘Noodles Part 2’ opens as they frantically dash for the public trial and almost immediate crucifixion but pickpocket and ronin can do nothing to save the innocent victim. All they can do is swear to secure appropriate vengeance and justice…

In sober mien the rabbit roves on, stumbling into a house of horror and case of possession as ‘The Wrath of the Tangled Skein’ finds Usagi returning to a region plagued by demon-infested forests. Offered hospitality at a merchant’s house he subsequently saves the daughter from doom at the claws of a demonic Nue (tiger/fox/pig/snake devil).

He is almost too late however and only alerted to a double dose of danger when a Bonze (Buddhist Priest) arrives to exorcise the poor child… just like the one already praying over the afflicted waif upstairs…

This duel with the forces of hell leads into ‘The Bonze’s Story’ as Usagi strikes up a friendship with the true priest and learns how misfortune and devotion to honour compelled elite samurai Sanshobo to put aside weapons and war in search of greater truths and inner peace…

Political intrigue and explosive espionage resurface in ‘Bats, the Cat, & the Rabbit’ as Neko ninja chief Chizu re-enters Usagi’s life, fleeing a flight of rival Komori (bat) ninjas. The winged horrors are determined to take a scroll containing the secrets of making gunpowder and after a tremendous, extended struggle the exhausted she-cat cannot believe her rabbit companion is willing to hand it over. She soon shrugs it off. After all the Komori have fallen into her trap and quickly regret testing the purloined formula …

The peripatetic Yojimbo then walks into a plot to murder Great Lord Miyagi involving infallible unseen assassin Kuroshi at ‘The Chrysanthemum Pass’. He is simply aiding karma to a just outcome despite overwhelming odds and a most subtle opponent… This chronicle then sees a return engagement with the lethally adept Inazuma when ‘Lightning Strikes Twice’

The hunted woman is always at the heart of a storm of hired blades trying to kill her, but during one peaceful moment she finds a little time to share with a fellow swordsmaster the instructive tale of a dutiful daughter who married the wrong samurai and, by exacting rightful vengeance upon his killer, won the undying hatred of a powerful lord…

Despite changing publishers a number of times, the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and nearly made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and frequently crushes your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy, evil and duty.

Bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is the perfect comics epic: a monolithic magical saga irresistibly appealing that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened haters of “funny animal” stories.
© 1998 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 9: Daisho


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-259-7

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Author Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as an extra in anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy which premiered in 1984 amongst assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in Albedo Anthropomorphics #1.

He subsequently graduated to a solo-starring act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Stan Sakai was two years old, his family moved to Hawaii from Kyoto, Japan. He left the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, after which Sakai transformed a work-in-progress about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

Its engaging protagonist is a Bushido bunny and it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously peripatetic and expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a wandering Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly the 17th century AD by our Christian reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources from Zatoichi to Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a born soldier whose master has been murdered, now devoted to the spiritual tenets of Bushido. He simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

The title was as much a nomad as its star. This guest-star-stuffed eighth monochrome masterpiece marshals yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2, #7-14, and comes with an Introduction from writer James Robinson, after which the medieval mystery play resumes with ‘The Music of Heaven’ wherein Miyamoto and a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem) encounter a gentle, pious priest whose life is dedicated to peace, music and enlightenment…

When their paths cross again later, the ronin is almost murdered by a ruthless assassin who has killed and impersonated the holy man Komuso in an attempt to catch Usagi off guard…

Evocative and movingly spiritual, this classic of casual tragedy perfectly displays the vast range of storytelling Sakai can pack into the most innocuous of tales.

More menaces from the wanderer’s past reconnect in ‘The Gambler, The Widow and the Ronin’ as a professional gambler who fleeces villagers with rigged samurai duels plies his shabby trade in just another little hamlet.

Unfortunately this one is home to his last stooge’s wife, and whilst his latest hired killer Kedamono is attempting to take over the business, to make matters worse the long-eared nomad who so deftly dispatched his predecessor Shubo has just strolled into town looking for refreshments…

Again forced into a fight he doesn’t want, Miyamoto makes short work of blustering Kedamono, leaving the smug gambler to safely flee with the entire take. Slurping back celebratory servings of Saké, the villain has no idea that the inn where he relaxes employs a vengeful widow and mother who knows just who really caused her man’s death…

‘Slavers’ then begins a particularly dark journey for the ronin as Usagi stumbles across a boy in chains escaping from a bandit horde. Little Hiro explains how the ragtag rogues of wily “General” Fujii have captured an entire town and are making the inhabitants harvest all their crops for the scum to steal…

Resolved to save them the rabbit infiltrates the captive town as a mercenary seeking work, but is soon exposed and taken prisoner.

‘Slavers Part 2’ finds Miyamoto stoically enduring the General’s tortures until the boy he saved bravely returns the favour, after which the Yojimbo’s vengeance is awesome and terrible.

However even as the villagers rebel and take back their homes and property, chief bandit Fujii escapes, taking Usagi’s daishō (matched long and short swords) with him.

As previously seen, to take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, and the monster not only has them but continually dishonours them by slaughtering innocents as he flees the ronin’s relentless pursuit.

‘Daisho – Part One’ opens with a hallowed sword-maker undertaking the holy methodical process of crafting blades and the harder task of selecting the right person to buy them. Three hundred years later, Usagi is on the brink of madness as he follows the bloody trail of Fujii, remorselessly picking off the General’s remaining killers whilst attempting to redeem those sacred dispensers of death…

The chase leads him to another town pillaged by Fujii where he almost refuses to aid a wounded man until one of the women accuses him of being no better than the beast he hunts…

Shocked back to his senses Miyamoto saves the elder’s life and in gratitude the girl Hanako offers to lead him to where Fuji was heading…

‘Mongrels’ then changes tack as erstwhile ally and hard-to-love friend Gennosuké enters the picture. The irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taker is on the prowl for suitably profitable prospects when he meets the Stray Dog: his greatest rival in the unpopular profession of cop-for-hire.

After some posturing and double-dealing wherein each tries to edge out the other in the hunt for Fujii they inevitably come to blows and are only stopped by the fortuitous intervention of the rabbit ronin…

‘Daisho – Part Two’ sees the rugged individualists come to a shaky truce in their overweening hunger to tackle the General. Mistrustful of each other they nevertheless cut a swathe of destruction through Fujii’s regrouped band, but even after the furious ronin regains his honour swords there is one last betrayal in store…

Older, wiser and generally unharmed, Gen and Usagi then part company again as ‘Runaways’ once more takes a peek into Usagi’s past. Stopping in a town he hasn’t visited in years, the rabbit hears a name called out and his mind goes back to a time when he was a fresh young warrior in the service of Great Lord Mifunė.

Young princess Takani Kinuko had been promised as bride to trustworthy ally Lord Hirano and the rabbit had been a last-minute replacement as leader of the “babysitting” escort column to her impending nuptials.

When an overwhelming ambush destroyed the party, Usagi was forced to flee with the stuck-up brat, both masquerading as carefree, unencumbered peasants as he strove to bring her safely to her husband-to-be through a seeming army of ninjas killers.

The poignant reverie concludes in ‘Runaways – Part 2’ as valiant hero and spotless maid fell in love whilst fleeing from the pitiless, unrelenting marauders on their heels. Successful at last, their positions naturally forced them apart once she was safely delivered.

Shaken from his memories the ronin moves on, tragically unaware that he was not the only one recalling those moments and pondering what might have been…

This emotional rollercoaster ends on a note of portentous foreboding with ‘The Nature of the Viper’, opening a year previously when a boisterous, good-hearted fisherman pulled a body out of the river and nursed his amazingly not dead catch slowly back to health. If he expected gratitude or mercy the peasant was sadly mistaken, as the victim explained whilst killing as soon as he was able.

Jei is a veritable devil in mortal form, believing himself a “Blade of the Gods”; singled out by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The maniac makes a convincing case: when he stalked Usagi the monster was struck by a fortuitous – or possibly divinely sent – lightning bolt and is still keen to continue his quest…

This medieval monochrome masterwork also includes a gallery of covers to charm and delight one and all.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, and always astoundingly action-packed, Usagi Yojimbo alternately bristles with tension and thrills and frequently breaks your heart with irresistible tales of pride, triumph and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, this is a perfect comics experience: monolithic, magical tales of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.
Text and illustrations © 1994, 1995, 1998 Stan Sakai. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo and all other prominently featured characters are registered trademarks of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 8: Shades of Death


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-259-7

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which premiered in 1984 amongst the assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk in Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He subsequently graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Stan Sakai was two years old, his family moved to Hawaii from Kyoto, Japan. He left the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, and transformed a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously peripatetic and expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a Lord-less wandering Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly the 17th century AD by our reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi and Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the spiritual tenets of Bushido.  He simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

The title was as much a nomad as its star. This guest-star stuffed eighth monochrome masterpiece marshals yarns released by Mirage Publishing as Usagi Yojimbo volume 2, #1-6, and also offers some short tales from #7-8.

Following an evocative Introduction from legendary illustrator and Dean of dinosauria William Stout, the medieval mystery play continues with the 3-part crossover epic ‘Shades of Green’ wherein Usagi and his crusty companion Gennosuké (an irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taking rhino with a heart of gold) are recruited by Kakera: a ratty shaman in dire need of protection from the dwindling remnants of the once-mighty Neko Ninja clan.

The former imperial favourites have fallen upon hard times since they and the Ronin Rabbit crushed the Dragon Bellow plot of rebel Lord Takamuro. Now, the bat assassins of the Komori Ninja clan are constantly harrying, harassing and actively trying to replace them in patron Lord Hikiji’s service…

Chunin (deputy leader) Gunji believes the rodent wizard would make a mighty slave, and is scheming to usurp the new – female – clan chief Chizu whilst acquiring him…

With the Neko’s trap closing around them all, the sensei summons the spirits of four fantastic fighters to aid Usagi and Gen. The phantoms promptly posses a quartet of little Kamé (tortoises) and are reshaped into adolescent amphibian Ninja Turtles, identifying themselves as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.

Usagi has fought beside one of their number before…

The subsequent battles go badly and eventually Gunji’s forces make off with Kakera-sensei. As Usagi leads the remaining heroes in relentless pursuit, the conniving chunin makes his move. Gunji’s attempt to assassinate Chizu is bloodily and efficiently ended by the late-arriving Rabbit Ronin who is astounded to be told by the lady he has saved that the Neko’s lethal interest in him is now at an end…

With the shaman rescued and Gunji dead, the adventure closes with the turtle spirits returned to their own place and time, leaving Gen and Usagi to follow their own (temporarily) separate roads…

‘Jizo’ then offers a delightful interlude as a grieving mother dedicates a roadside shrine to her murdered child and mysterious Karma places the killers in the path of a certain justice-dispensing, long-eared wanderer before 2-part tale ‘Shi’ leads Usagi to the assistance of a valley of poor farmers under constant attack by bullies and brigands seeking to make them leave their impoverished homes.

The thugs are secretly employed by a local magistrate and his ruthless brother who have discovered gold under the peasants land and want to extract it without attracting the attention of the local Lord’s tax collectors.

When the Ronin’s formidable opposition stalls the brothers’ scheme they hire a quartet of assassins whose collective name means “death”, but the killers are far less trouble than the head farmer’s daughter Kimie who has never seen someone as glamorous or attractive as the soft-spoken samurai…

Although there are battles aplenty for Usagi, the remorseless greed of the brothers finishes them before the yojimbo can…

A delightful silent comedy follows as ‘The Lizard’s Tale’ sees the Ronin play unwilling Pied Piper and guardian to a wandering flock of tokagé lizards (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate the anthropomorphic world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem). The rambunctious trouble-magnets then repay the favour when the wanderer is ambushed in the snow-drowned mountains by an army of vengeful bandits…

The remainder of the stories offer elucidating glimpses of the rabbit’s boyhood. Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate sent to spend his formative years learning the Way of Bushido from a gruff and distant leonine hermit named Katsuichi.

The stern sensei taught not just superior technique and tactics, but also an ironclad creed of justice and restraint which would serve the Ronin well throughout his turbulent life.

In ‘Usagi’s Garden’ the pupil rebels against the arduous and undignified task of growing food until the lion delivers a subtle but life changing lesson, whilst in ‘Autumn’ a painful fall propels the lad into a nightmare confrontation with a monster who has trapped the changing of the seasons in a bamboo cage…

The 3-chapter fable ‘Battlefield’ then discloses a key moment and turning point in the trainee warrior’s life.

It begins when a mind-broken, fleeing soldier shatters the boy’s childish dreams of warrior glory. The fugitive is a survivor of the losing side in a mighty battle and his sorry state forces Usagi to rethink his preconceptions of war.

Eager to ram home the lesson, Katsuichi takes his student to the battlefield where peasants and scavengers are busy snatching up whatever they can from the scattered corpses. Usagi is horrified. To take a samurai’s swords is to steal his soul, but even so a little later he cannot stop himself picking up a fallen hero’s Wakizashi (short sword).

However, after concealing the blade in safe place, the boy is haunted by visions of the unquiet corpse and sneaks off to return the stolen steel soul.

He is caught by soldiers who think him a scavenger and looter. About to lose his thieving hands he is only saved by the intervention of victorious Great Lord Mifunė.

The noble looks into the boy’s face and sees something honest, honourable and perhaps, one day, useful…

This medieval monochrome masterwork also includes a gallery of covers to charm and delight one and all.

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and often breaks your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is a perfect comics experience: a monolithic, magical saga of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.

Sheer comicbook poetry by a sublime Comicbook Sensei…
Text and illustrations © 1993, 1994, 1997 Stan Sakai. All other material and registered characters are © and™ their respective owners. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 7: Gen’s Story


By Stan Sakai (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-304-1

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in Stan Sakai’s anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which premiered in 1984 amongst the assorted furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. He subsequently graduated to a solo act in Critters, Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up series in Grimjack.

In 1955, when Sakai was two years old, his family moved to Hawaii from Kyoto, Japan. He left the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California.

His early forays into comics were as a letterer – most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer – before his nimble pens and brushes found a way to express his passion for Japanese history, legend and the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, and transformed a proposed story about a human historical hero into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

Although the deliriously peripatetic and expansive period epic stars sentient animals and details the life of a peripatetic Lord-less Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire), the milieu and scenarios all scrupulously mirror the Feudal Edo Period of Japan (roughly the 17th century AD by our reckoning) whilst simultaneously referencing other cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi and Godzilla.

Miyamoto Usagi is brave, noble, industrious, honest, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering and conscientious: a rabbit devoted to the tenets of Bushido.  He simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice. As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into an unending panorama of incredible situations.

This evocative and enticingly seventh black-&-white blockbuster collects yarns from Fantagraphics’ Usagi Yojimbo comicbook volume 1, #32-38 plus an extra attraction from funny animal anthology Critters #38, offering a selection of complete adventures tantalisingly tinged with supernatural terror and drenched in wit, irony and pathos.

Following a lavish and laudatory Introduction from Groo-some co-worker Sergio Aragonés, the historical drama resumes as the restless, roaming Miyamoto encounters street performer ‘Kitsune’ whose beguiling beauty and dexterity with spinning tops turns many a head.

Of course whilst everybody’s gaping in astonishment the foxy lady is picking their pockets…

The philosophical wandering warrior takes it in his stride but when crooked gambler Hatsu’s customary conniving tricks provoke a bloody fight in an inn, Kitsune is forced to show the still blithely unaware bunny her other – far more lethal skills – to save their lives…

‘Gaki’ (literally “Hungry Ghost”) then delightfully skips backs to the bunny’s boyhood as a Bushido disciple of master warrior Katsuichi, wherein that venerable warrior teaches his fractious student a valuable and terrifying lesson in staying alert, after which ‘Broken Ritual’ (from a plot by Aragonés) offers a magnificent ghost story of honour regained.

It begins when the Yojimbo wanders into a village of terrified peasants cowering from the nightly horrors of a spectral warrior. The unhappy revenant is General Tadaoka, an old comrade of Usagi’s and, as the story of the defeated soldier’s frustrated attempt to commit Seppuku comes out, the heart-sore hare realises what he must do to give his deceased friend peace…

Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate who had spent years learning the Way of Bushido from his stern, leonine master: not just superior technique and tactics, but also Katsuichi’s creed of justice and restraint which would serve the Ronin well throughout his turbulent life.

Mere months after graduating, Usagi was personally recruited by the personal bodyguard of Great Lord Mifunė. The young man advanced quickly and was soon a trusted bodyguard too, serving beside the indomitable Gunichi. It was a time of great unrest and war was brewing…

In his third year of service the Lord’s castle was attacked by Neko Ninja assassins and, although the doughty heroes managed to save their master, the Lord’s wife Kazumi and heir Tsuruichi were murdered. Realising ambitious rival Lord Hikiji was responsible, Mifunė declared war…

The epic conflict ended on the great Adachigahara plain when Mifunė’s general Todo switched sides and the Great Lord fell. At the crucial moment Gunichi also broke, fleeing to save his own skin and leaving the helpless Usagi to preserve the fallen Lord’s head – and honour – from shameful desecration…

The next tale here returns to the days after that tragic betrayal and finds the hunted Usagi hiding in the wild forest known as ‘The Tangled Skein’ and taking shelter in the hut of an old woman. The crone was in fact a demonic Obakemono and, easily overpowering the fugitive, was set to devour Usagi when dead Mifunė returned to repay his most faithful servant for his unswerving loyalty…

This is followed by an extended contemporary tale featuring old frenemy ‘Gen’ and the title tale of this tome.

When the irascibly bombastic, money-mad bounty-hunter and conniving thief-taker bites off more than he can chew, he is lucky Usagi is there to rescue him. Whilst the roguish rhino is recovering from severe wounds, however, the Ronin is approached by a haughty but destitute noblewoman and is drawn into ‘Lady Asano’s Story’ and her quest for vengeance against the traitor who destroyed her clan and family.

The Yojimbo is looking for a way to let her down gently when the dowager recognises Gennosuké as the lost son of her most trusted general…

The bitter bounty hunter wants nothing to do with her but when the traitor Oda – now the town magistrate – arrests the lady and Usagi learns of his companion’s awful upbringing in ‘Sins of the Father’ he decides to help even if Gen won’t.

The attempt fails and he is captured, compelling the rhino to get involved in ‘Lady Asano’s Revenge’: an epic final confrontation of Shakespearean proportions…

The sober, weary pair of itinerants then trek to another village in time for more trouble and ‘The Return of Kitsune’. The shady entertainer has been plying her trade and accidentally stolen a very dangerous letter: one detailing a proposed rebellion and scheme to profiteer from the crisis. Now she in hiding from the mercenaries of a hugely powerful and influential merchant…

However after the ill-starred trio savagely end the threat in typical bloodletting fashion a hidden faction springs a galling surprise on the weary victors…

‘The Last Ino Story’ ends the story section of this volume with a tale of brooding emotional drama and features the return of the Blind Swordspig; a blood-spilling porcine outlaw with a huge price on his head whose incredible olfactory sense more than compensates for his useless eyes.

Although Ino was a ruthless, blood-spilling villain he valiantly helped Gen in a desperate crisis, and the thief-taker returned the favour by leading everyone to believe his profitable quarry had perished.

Now, after fighting their way out of a vicious bandit ambush, the bounty hunter and his bunny buddy discover the swine has simply settled down as an innocuous farmer, but his violent past will not leave him be. Ino is dying of an infected arrow wound and his frantic young wife Fujiko begs them to save him any way they can…

This medieval monochrome masterwork also includes a gallery of covers to charm and delight one and all.

Despite changing publishers a few times the Roaming Rabbit has been in continuous publication since 1987, with more than 30 collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series (most notably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show.

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys. Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, informative and funny, the saga alternately bristles with tension and thrills and often breaks your heart with astounding tales of pride and tragedy.

Simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is the perfect comics epic: a monolithic magical saga of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories.

Sheer comicbook poetry by a Comicbook Sensei…
© 1992, 1993, 1996, 2009 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo book 6: Circles


By Stan Sakai (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-146-0

Wandering rabbit bodyguard Miyamoto Usagi started life as a background character in Stan Sakai’s anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper before indomitably carving his own unique path to graphic glory.

Creative mastermind Sakai was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family moved to Hawaii two years later. On graduating from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, he pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California and started in comics as a letterer, most famously for the inimitable Sergio Aragonés’ Groo the Wanderer.

Eventually the cartoonist within resurfaced: blending a passionate storytelling drive and abiding love of Japanese history and legend with a hearty interest in the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, Sakai began crafting one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

The addictive period epic is set in a world of sentient animals (with a few unobtrusive human characters scattered about) but scrupulously mirrors the Feudal Edo Period of Japan – (roughly the 17th century AD by our reckoning); simultaneously referencing classic contemporary cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi and Godzilla, whilst specifically recounting the life of a peripatetic Lord-less Samurai eking out as honourable a living as possible by selling his sword as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire).

As such, his destiny is to be perpetually drawn into a plethora of incredible situations.

He is a rabbit – brave, noble, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering, conscientious and devoted to the tenets of Bushido – who simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice…

This superbly stirring sixth black-&-white blockbuster collects yarns from Fantagraphics’ Usagi Yojimbo comicbook volume 1, #25-31 plus an extra attraction from funny animal anthology Critters #50, offering a selection of complete adventures tantalisingly tinged with supernatural terror and drenched in wit, irony and pathos.

Following an adulatory Introduction from Jeff Smith, the restless Miyamoto encounters a Hannya (female demon) plaguing travellers whenever they try to cross ‘The Bridge’ after which ‘The Duel’ sees him targeted by a ruthless bookie.

The gambler’s professional duellist only needs one final big payday to safely retire with his beloved wife and child, but his disreputable boss is determined to fleece the locals no matter who has to die…

‘Yurei’ means ghost and, when a weeping woman’s spirit invades the Yojimbo’s dreams crying for justice, Usagi becomes an unwitting avenger whose presence provokes her murderer into making a huge and fatal mistake, after which ‘My Lord’s Daughter’ finds the Rabbit Ronin relating his greatest – battle against a horde of Obakemono (monsters) and demons to rescue a princess – in a wry fairy-tale tribute to the aforementioned Groo…

The remainder of this rousing compendium details a revelatory exploit wherein Usagi makes for his home village with thoughts of finally staying in one place. However when he meets again his childhood sweetheart Mariko a shocking secret regarding her soon changes everything.

‘Circles’ is divided into a succession of connected vignettes beginning with ‘Wind over the Tombstones’ as the homeward-bound hero discovers his former sensei Katsuichi – whom he believed dead – is very far from it…

Then in ‘Remembrances’, young Jotaro is abducted by the deadly Jei.

This veritable devil in human form believes himself a “Blade of the Gods” singled out by the Lords of Heaven to kill the wicked. The raving loon has been hunting Usagi ever since the Yojimbo defeated him – with the aid of a fortuitous or possibly divinely sent lightning bolt….

Now, in the little boy Jei senses a connection to his despise quarry and recruits a band of brigands to assist him in his schemes for revenge…

When the devil’s hired killers attack the village where Mariko’s husband Kenichi is headman, the strands of fate knit together as ‘Shroud Over the Mountain’ unites former friends and rivals in their desire to save the boy – who has already escaped and got into even more trouble…

The drama comes to an emotionally shattering climax in ‘Closing the Circle’ as the Rabbit Ronin learns at last the shocking truth about Jotaro and Mariko.

Arranging for his aging sensei to take on a new pupil he then wearily resumes his restless wanderings …

Triumph, tragedy, terrific action and terror all seamlessly flow together in this addictive epic, and Circles is still one the best collections in an unbroken run of classic graphic masterpieces.

Usagi Yojimbo has been in continuous publication since 1987, resulting in more than 30 graphic novel collections and books to date. The Legendary Lepus has guest-starred in many other comics and nearly had his own TV show – but there’s still time yet and fashions are ever fickle so hope endures…

As well as generating a horde of high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games, RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi series and lots of toys to promote popularity, Sakai and his creation have deservedly won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, funny and scary, always moving, astoundingly visceral, ferociously thrilling and simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is a work of cartoon genius: engaging and irresistible with a broad appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of anthropomorphic adventures.
Text and illustrations © 1992, 1993, 1994 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is ® Stan Sakai. Book editions © 1994, 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo Book 5: Lone Goat and Kid


By Stan Sakai (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-088-0

The wandering rabbit bodyguard Miyamoto Usagi began as a background character in Stan Sakai’s anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper before indomitably carving his own unique path to graphic glory.

Creative mastermind Sakai was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family moved to Hawaii two years later. After graduating from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Fine Arts, he pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California and started in comics as a letterer, most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer.

Eventually the cartoonist within resurfaced: blending his storytelling drive with a love of Japanese history and legend, and hearty interest in the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

The addictive period epic is set in a world of sentient animals (with a few unobtrusive human characters scattered about) but scrupulously mirrors the Feudal Edo Period of Japan – (the 17th century by our reckoning), simultaneously referencing classic contemporary cultural icons from sources as varied as Zatoichi and Godzilla, whilst specifically recounting the life of a peripatetic masterless Samurai eking out an honourable living as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire).

As such, his fate is to be drawn constantly into a plethora of incredible situations.

And yes, he’s a rabbit – brave, noble, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering, conscientious and devoted to the tenets of Bushido, the heroic everyman bunny simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice…

This fantastically funny fifth monochrome masterwork gathers tales from Fantagraphics’ Usagi Yojimbo comicbook volume 1, #19-24 and offers a selection of complete adventures culminating in an unbelievably welcome and long-awaited spoof of Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima’s legendary samurai manga Kozure Ōkami, best known in the West as Lone Wolf and Cub

Following a fulsome Introduction from Stan Lee, the restless Ronin takes on a paying gig with very little honour attached in ‘Frost and Fire’. On the recommendation of friend and occasional patron Lord Noriyuki, Usagi contracts with the cold and snobbish Lady Koriko to recover the priceless antique swords – but not the body – of her husband; recently expired in a distant village.

On arrival however Usagi finds a thorny dilemma: fallen and shamed samurai Nagao broke all class stricture and protocol by consorting with a peasant girl. Grief-stricken Atsuko wants to keep his family’s blades as the only reminder of the man she loved and who loved her in return…

This impossible impasse is only broken when Atsuko’s greedy brother intervenes, more concerned with the blades’ monetary value than their sentimental worth…

‘A Kite Story’ is an enchanting agglomeration of connected vignettes divided into four visual epigrams beginning with ‘The Kite Maker’s Tale’ in which master craftsman Tatsusaburo describes his process and motivation in building the largest Odako ever to challenge the clouds…

Next comes disreputable Hatsu who in ‘The Gambler’s Tale’ discloses how a long-eared Ronin exposed his cheating and ruined his business. Now, Yojimbo has returned and the games-man sees a way to pay him back, but fails in his scurrilous scheme due to the warrior’s ingenuity and the giant kite in ‘The Ronin’s Tale’ after which the elegant micro-saga comes full circle with ‘The Kite Maker’s Tale II’

Although telling short stories here, everything is a fragment of a greater mosaic. Sakai is gradually constructing a massive overarching history and in the 2-part ‘Blood Wings’ the wanderer stumbles upon a man cut to ribbons by a flying killer. He soon discovers a village plagued by Komori ninja – a clan of bats trained in all the deadly tactics of Chi no Tsubasa – killing silently from above on “wings of blood”…

Although Usagi succeeds in helping the desperate villagers he has no way of knowing how the sky killers will affect his future, as the Komori are actually striving to prove themselves worthy replacements for the decimated Neko ninjas who have fallen from the good graces of scheming Lord Hebi since the end of the Dragon Bellows Conspiracy…

In the next tale the Yojimbo meets martial legend General Oyaneko but is distressed to learn the aged warrior is dying of a wasting disease. He’s even more upset when the General attempts to kill him, wanting to earn a clean end in ‘The Way of the Samurai’

This volume concludes with ‘Lone Goat and Kid’ wherein former imperial official Yagi – who became an assassin after being framed by underlings of Lord Hirone – is tricked into fighting a certain rabbit Ronin who has no idea he is the latest pawn in a Machiavellian scheme to destroy the noble goat and his capable kid Gorogoro

However, even though Usagi is tricked into fighting the doom-laden duo, the guilty impatience of the plotters soon reveals the true state of affairs…

Despite changing publishers a few times, Usagi Yojimbo has been in continuous publication since 1987, resulting in dozens of graphic novel collections and books to date. The Legendary Lepus has guest-starred in many other series and nearly had his own TV show – there’s still time yet, and fashions can revive as quickly as they die out…

As well as generating a horde of high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi series and lots of toys to promote popularity, Sakai and his creation have deservedly won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, funny and scary, always moving, astoundingly visceral, ferociously thrilling and simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is a cartoon masterpiece of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories and comics.
Text and illustrations © 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is ® Stan Sakai. Book editions © 1992, 2005 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo Book 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy


By Stan Sakai (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-063-7

Usagi Yojimbo (literally “rabbit bodyguard”) premiered as a background character in Stan Sakai’s anthropomorphic comedy The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper before indomitably carving his own unique path to graphic glory.

Sakai was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family moved to Hawaii two years later. After graduating the University of Hawaii, with a BA in Fine Arts, he pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design in California and started in comics as a letterer, most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer.

Eventually the cartoonist within resurfaced: blending his storytelling drive with a love of Japanese history and legend and hearty interest in the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, into one of the most enticing and impressive fantasy sagas of all time.

And it’s still more educational, informative and authentic than any dozen Samurai sagas you can name…

The intoxicating period epic is set in a world of sentient animals (with a few unobtrusive human characters scattered about) but scrupulously mirrors the Edo Period of Feudal Japan – the early 17th century by our reckoning, simultaneously sampling classic contemporary cultural icons from sources as varied as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi and even Godzilla, whilst specifically recounting the life of Miyamoto Usagi, a peripatetic masterless Samurai, eking out an honourable living as a Yojimbo (bodyguard-for-hire).

As such, his fate is to be drawn constantly into a plethora of incredible situations.

And yes, he’s a rabbit – brave, noble, sentimental, gentle, artistic, empathetic, long-suffering, conscientious and devoted to the tenets of Bushido, the heroic everyman bunny simply cannot turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice…

This fabulous fourth black and white blockbuster gathers tales which originally appeared in Fantagraphics’ Usagi Yojimbo volume 1, #13-18 from 1988-1991, and temporarily sacrifices short stories and vignettes for another grand multi-chapter saga of blood and steel and cloak and dagger.

The drama begins after an illuminating Introduction from the legendary multi-media imagineer Alejandro Jodorowsky before the epic and slowly-brewing Dragon Bellows Conspiracy flares into fulgent fury in a grandiose epic where weather and environment are as much major players as the wide cast of regulars brought together by fate and a brewing tempest…

In recent days young Lord Noriyuki – new and still politically insecure leader of the prestigious Geishu Clan – had been targeted by various schemes to destabilise his position, and in ‘The Clouds Gather’ his devoted bodyguard Tomoe Ame is despatched to make diplomatic overtures and undertake covert inquiries at the castle of neighbouring Lord Tamakuro, an elder noble of undisclosed loyalties.

What she finds is an abomination: Tamakuro is stockpiling Teppo – forbidden western matchlock muskets and black powder weapons…

When she is discovered, her loyal entourage sacrifice themselves, allowing Tomoe time to escape and alert Noriyuki, but in her pell-mell flight she is relentlessly pursued…

Elsewhere, blind outlaw swords-pig Zato-Ino is still searching for peace and finding nothing but mercenaries and thugs hungry for the price on his head, with fate inevitably drawing him closer to a clash with money-mad bounty-hunter Gennosuké.

As the rains begin to fall, a wandering long-eared Ronin is forced off the road by a party of Samurai dragging the captured Tomoe towards the fortress of Lord Tamakuro…

The players begin to converge in ‘The Winds Howl’ when sinister imperial plotter Lord Hebi despatches Neko ninja chief Shingen to take command of an operation already underway in Tamakuro’s lands.

That paranoid rebel is keenly aware of official eyes upon him. Hurrying after Tomoe, Usagi wanders into a village laid waste by Tamakuro’s forces and finds himself blamed by Shingen for the slaughter of the inhabitants – every one an undercover Neko…

Barely surviving a savage protracted duel with the ninja chief, the weary Yojimbo at last reaches the gates of Tamakuro’s citadel in ‘Downpour’ and defeats many of the rebel warlord’s warriors to win an officer’s post in his new, musket-equipped army.

Even as, in the sodden lands beyond the gates, Gen closes in on Ino, within the fortress Usagi rashly breaks the brutally abused Tomoe free and the pair flee into the tumultuous night with hordes of troops hard on their heels.

At least that’s what the pursuing soldiers believe. In truth the Ronin has fled alone to draw the rebels away and warn Lord Noriyuki, but his rash ride brings him crashing right into another clash with the vengeance-crazed Shingen…

Awakening from horrific nightmares to ‘Thunder and Lightning’, Usagi realises that the ninja has been ministering to the rabbit’s many wounds. Shingen has realised the truth and now wants to work together to destroy Tamakuro and to that end has marshalled more Neko to attack the fortress.

Tamakuro, meanwhile, is restless. His plans have come undone and he has just learned that the diabolical Tomoe is hiding somewhere in his house, waiting for the right moment to strike…

As Usagi and the ninjas move on the castle, the Ronin finds an old friend on the road. Spot is a Tokagé lizard (ubiquitous, omnivorous reptiles that populate this world, replacing scavenger species like rats, cats and dogs in the fictitious ecosystem) and was once his faithful companion in his wanderings.

However the pet long ago switched his devotion to Blind Ino. If Spot is here, the blood-spilling porcine brigand – whose incredible olfactory sense more than compensates for his useless eyes – cannot be far away…

He isn’t – but Usagi finds him engaged in a furious fight to the death with Gennosuké under skies ablaze with electric fire and shattered by booming clamour…

Grimly determined, the rabbit convinces both of them to join his band in an assault on the castle in ‘The Heart of the Storm’ even as many miles distant a Neko ninja infiltrates Noriyuki’s private chambers with a message from Usagi.

Her deed done, she vanishes, leaving the Boy Lord to rouse the families loyal to the Shogun. It is not the last time we shall see the beautiful, deadly sister of Shingen…

By the time dawn breaks, however, it is all over and the ferocious bloodletting has ended with the deaths of many comrades and valiant souls as well as the explosive destruction of all Tamakuro’s dreams…

With the grand design concluded, the Dragon Bellows Conspiracy wraps up with two gentler episodes as, in ‘Storm Clouds Part’, Noriyuki formally offers the wandering Yojimbo the friendship of the Geishu Clan, whilst rough-handed Gen resumes his far more fraternal rivalry with Usagi.

Then ‘The Fate of the Blind Swordspig’ reveals one secret the bounty hunter refused to share with even his greatest friend as, far away, another major player is plagued with a tantalising, impossible choice…

Despite changing publishers a few times, Usagi Yojimbo has been in continuous publication since 1987, resulting in dozens of graphic novel collections and books to date. He has guest-starred in many other series and even nearly made it into his own TV show – there’s still time yet, and fashions can revive as quickly as they die out…

As well as generating a horde of high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi series and lots of toys to promote popularity, Sakai and his creation have deservedly won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public.

Fast-paced yet lyrical, funny and scary, always moving, ferociously thrilling and simply bursting with veracity and verve, Usagi Yojimbo is a cartoon masterpiece of irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories and comics.
Text and illustrations © 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is ® Stan Sakai. Book editions © 1990, 1991, 1998 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.