Sunday, 10 August 2014

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1 Review (Stan Sakai)

The new Usagi Yojimbo story arc kicks off with Senso #1 (Japanese for “war”). Set twenty years in the future, the issue begins on the battlefield of the final battle between the evil Lord Hikiji’s forces and Lord Noriyuki’s, for whom an elderly Usagi-san is an advisor. As both sides vie for victory, Usagi’s son, Jotaro, becomes involved in the fray as Noriyuki is about to deploy a new weapon of war. And then something happens to completely change the course of the battle…

Senso looks to be an ambitious story arc, an epic tale befitting the 30th anniversary of the character, and, as you’d expect given that it’s Stan Sakai writing and drawing, it’s really good. I love how there are characters here from the very beginning of the series - the 28th volume just came out yet Jotaro, Noriyuki, Tomoe, Hikiji and Hebi all made appearances in the very first volume! It’s a real callback to older fans and longtime readers of the series. 

Of course Noriyuki, Tomoe and Usagi are all older - Noriyuki was a kid in the first volume and here he’s a young man - and there’s a feeling that the era of feudal Japan is coming to an end, the closer we get to Usagi-san’s death. Something called the kameyama (“turtle mountain” - a crude early tank) makes an appearance, signalling that technology is moving on and the era of the swordsman is coming to an end. 

Most of the issue is told from the perspectives of the two sides’ commanders as they stand on the hilltops around the battlefield, their forces attacking one another, but Usagi-san gets into it once he realises his son is in danger so there’s a nice burst of action towards the end of the issue. 

I was really impressed with what must’ve been painstakingly time-consuming for Sakai to draw so many figures on the page and love that he’s really going for it in this series - a really big Usagi Yojimbo story. 

And just when you think you’ve got the direction of this mini-series figured out, BOOM! That ending happens, changing everything, and making you wish you had the next issue to hand RIGHT NOW (though if you peeked at the back cover, you’ll know what that surprise is)! 

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1 is an excellent comic from a master of the form, Stan Sakai. Fans will love it though it’s also a good jumping on point for new readers keen to experience Usagi Yojimbo for themselves. It’s an accessible comic, like all Usagi Yojimbo comics are, and well worth picking up whether you’re an established fan or a newcomer.

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