|Posted on December 16, 2010 at 2:58 PM|
Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition
by Stan Sakai
Published by Fantagraphics
For the first ten years of his career, the battling bunny was published by Fantagraphics Books. In honor of his 25th anniversary, Fantagraphics is releasing a deluxe slipcase set collecting the seven first Usagi books. With over 1000 pages of story, this is the complete, definitive, early Usagi. This Special Edition will also be brimming with extra material, including a complete full-color gallery of the more than 50 Usagi covers from that period (never-before-collected); preparatory sketches, including Sakai’s original first draft of the “Samurai” story; two “non-canon” Usagi stories by Sakai co-starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (with whom Usagi also shared screen time in the TMNT TV series); the rare behind-the-scenes "How I Draw Usagi Yojimbo" strip; Introductions by Stan Sakai and Stan Lee; and a feature-length, career-spanning interview with Sakai.
Review by JA Crestmere for Renderwrx.net
(NOTE: This review is being written after finishing all of the stories but without having read the supplemental material.)
The character of Miyamoto Usagi/Usagi Yojimbo (“Rabbit Bodyguard” is probably best known for his appearances on the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. While this probably made him ten times more famous than most of his comic contemporaries (including a great number fromthe Big Two), it is also regrettable in a way. The character of Usagi Yojimbo has little in common with the pizza loving heroes in a halfshell from the cartoon series. In fact, he has as much in common with those characters as the cartoon turtles and the grim and slightly psychopathic turtles of the original comic (of course what 1980sheroes are not a little psychopathic by modern standards?). The stories in this collection had previously been collected in seven volumes by Fantagraphics. While these are still available, they often go in and out of print and it should not be expected that all seven are available at the same time at any given comic store. This collection remedies that and, even at a price tag of a hundred dollars, is not only a good deal but about 10% less than the full retail price of the seven volumes.
Usagi Yojimbo is a samurai who has been a ronin (samurai with no master who serve as mercenaries) since his lord died in a battle. He travels through feudal Japan in search of something (and he barely knows what that is either). While the stories do delve in to fantastic elements from Japanese mythology on occasion, the majority of the stories are plausibly in the vein of historical fiction. Sakai claims that he does extensive research on medieval Japan for the source material andI do not doubt him (though I know very little about the period so I can not comment on the accuracy). If the historical setting has nots cared you off, the world is populated by animals. Please do not be scared off as this is probably one of the best comic stories ever made. The epic scope expected from historical fiction is there as are some of the most finely drawn characters in the medium. Usagi and Gen have one of the most hilariously dysfunctional friendships ever put to paper. When one of the characters dies, my eyes got a little teary. The art conveys everything perfectly and the animal skull andcrossbones to represent death has to be one of the coolest comic touches since words and pictures were put together.
This collection runs over a thousand pages. Like any collection of stories, some are better than others though none of the stories are bad. While even the stories that are not particularly noteworthy are highly readable, the good stories in this collection are amazing.
I did find a printing error. Near the end of the second volume, it looks like two pages were printed together. This was the only significant error that I found but I came at the end of a story so I feel like I was robbed of a conclusion. I was reviewing this from a PDF copy and not a printed version so this may have been fixed in the final version.
I give this book the highest possible praises for quality. However, laudations and kudos must also be balanced against real world issues. Even though Usagi Yojimbo is a masterpiece that deserves to be read alongside Watchmen, this is a collection that costs a hundred dollars. Eventhough it is worth every cent (and actually evens out to be a better deal than most other books being published), this is a fairly steep price. Not everyone will be able to afford this or be willing to spend that kind of money. For every door that opens with the artistic quality of this collection, I fear, one may be closed because of theprice.