There comes a time in every creative person’s life when, upon reaching a certain level of success, they are tempted to get either a bit experimental or just plain too big for their boots. When Will Eisner (comic book granddaddy) starts writing your forewords you know you have reached this level.
You quickly get the sense that Sakai has bitten off more than he can chew. If your story needs FOUR prologues that last for more than 50 pages then this is a warning sign something is wrong. Make those prologues about ancient politics and religion with footnotes and a huge appendix and you have rapidly lost your reader.
Having said that, if you can endure this trial or skip over it completely, you enter into one of Usagi’s most dramatic adventures yet. In comic books the “end of the world” theme is tried and tested but how would bring such an apocalypse to mediaeval Japan? In a culture based on social structure and an ordered society the discovery of something that would change that social order permanently is a powerful weapon indeed.
Like the Dragon Bellow Conspiracy this tale is a single epic that really has you on the edge of your seat. Seemingly inconsequential characters and threads from previous books are brought together in significant ways here. Everything clicks into place neatly and leaves you open mouthed at this incredible example of careful plotting.
The art is clearly second fiddle to the words and it is easy to not give it a second glance as the story rushes headlong to it final conclusion. But there are some nice touches. There is a supernatural influence and it is portrayed by subtle changes to the lettering and small intrusions into the pictures. The art has not been skimped on and the usual care has been taken but like a beautiful landscape seen from a train it is gone all too quickly.
This is a shaky start but you should have faith enough by now to trust that your patience will be rewarded. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 13 – Grey Shadows – Stan Sakai