Up till now we have only seen Stan Sakai’s gentle, graceful touch as a storyteller. In this volume he really gets to flex his literary muscles employing a range of masterful techniques and methods to enthral us. But this isn’t him showing off or waving his ego about. This is the smoking volcano finally erupting and paying off all the subtle setups from the previous volumes. For some time we have known of the plan to take Grasscutter to the temple and now we finally see it executed.
Like a chess grandmaster the pieces have been moved into position, almost unseen, months previously. When we stumble across an unexpected character we don’t think “how convenient” but curse ourselves for not spotting the fact they were there all along. As well as the epic tale of Grasscutter there are fates of real people to be decided and in some cases concluded.
Right from the start the tension, danger and drama builds and is sustained for more than a hundred pages. With so many players interested in the sword there is a constant battle for possession which has you on the edge of your seat. You really don’t know which way things will go from one page to the next and there is a masterfully executed twist that takes your breath away. Right up to the end you are holding your breath waiting for the final curtain.
Just as the story is masterfully told the art too has exploded with brilliance. It is bold, innovative and dramatic; perfectly in tune with the tale it is telling. There are a lot of fight scenes and even without dialogue these are incredibly expressive and make really tense viewing.
Even though this is an epic story that affects an entire nation it is the humble people, the decisions they make and the actions they take that form the building blocks of this work. Duty, honour, friendship and sacrifice are what motivates our heroes to achieve great deeds and makes the story personal and accessible to the reader.
This might be the finest Usagi story ever told and so truly deserves the Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 16 – The Shrouded Moon – Stan Sakai