Senso is Usagi Yojimbo crossed with HG Wells’ War of the Worlds – ok, why not?
Set towards the end of Usagi’s life, the book opens with a final, massive battle against the evil Lord Hikiji. But as the fighting heats up, a giant bullet-shaped vessel crash lands in the middle of the battlefield! Out of the shell emerges laser cannons that immediately begin decimating the feudal Japanese forces and then three-legged machines with tentacles and guns start laying waste to everything – will Usagi and his friends prevail against such a powerful enemy?
Senso (Japanese for “war”) is unfortunately a bit boring and a bit overwrought. The story is mostly non-stop fighting against a one-dimensional enemy (whose goals/culture/purpose for being on Earth are completely ignored which makes the thin story all the more boring) with a few moments of soap-opera-style drama shoe-horned in.
For example: we get Usagi and Lady Tomoe fighting the machines, scene after scene of Japanese soldiers falling to the octopus aliens and their tech, and then Usagi will turn to her and say something like “We can never be together” and Tomoe saying “Why do you hurt me so?”. Then there's more fighting followed later by a scene where Usagi will pause amidst the killing and mention how Jotaro is his son but he was raised by another man and Jotaro can never know - but he does know and has done for years! This is followed by more fighting, etc.
Ugh, please – it’s so forced!
The action is just so-so – like a lot of Usagi comics, the violence is muted/implied rather than out and out gory, except for one instance – and the melodrama just sat awkwardly alongside it. It’s because Stan Sakai wanted this to be The Last Usagi Yojimbo story which is why it needed to have this emotional resonance to it, even though it doesn’t quite work.
That’s especially true once you see the final chapter, which is funny and VERY Japanese-y (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) but, contrasted with how we’re supposed to be feeling immediately after, is another strange tonal shift. But this isn’t the end of the series, it’s just a one-off, big leap forward in time to tell this story; the normal series where Usagi is thirtysomething, returns later this year.
I do like Usagi Yojimbo normally and Stan Sakai is a true master and legend in comics, but Senso is a very shallow story like Marvel and DC’s action-heavy Event comics crossed with their What If?/Elseworlds titles, which is a comparison I never thought I’d make with this creator/title! Senso is a weak, contrived addition to an otherwise great series.
Usagi Yojimbo: Senso