This volume concerns the demon Jei. Jei can be seen as a poor villain, being nameless, faceless and almost impossible to kill. He lacks the human qualities and characteristics to make a great antagonist. He has no sense of honour, driving passion, intense emotion and appropriate knowledge of Bushido. Much like the proverbial zombie horde he exists put our heroes under pressure.
He is a credible threat however. The amount of people he has killed and his portrayal as an unstoppable force makes for genuine tension when he crosses path with your favourite characters. You know Stan Sakai would not hesitate to kill the animals you love if the story demanded it. This is what makes his work so great. You don’t know what will happen next but you know it will be the right thing.
This volume also reveals Jei’s origin story. For a hero this is one of the highlights of their fictional career. For a villain finding out their back-story can often render them toothless and neutered. Hannibal Lecter is a great example. Part of a villain’s menace, and Jei’s in particular, is not knowing where he came from and what he is capable of. The first rule of horror is not to show the audience the monster.
This reveal actually makes Jei a much stronger character and anchors him into the storyline and the setting of feudal Japan. By adding depth to the mystery you open up lots of possibilities for future tales and make potential confrontations much more exciting.
The art is great and because Jei’s face is so stylised you can transpose him/ her/ it onto other characters (as we saw with Usagi) with ease. Like the regenerations of Doctor Who Jei’s nature is certainly an asset. The more you see of him however the less terrifying he is. But he does have mileage in him yet. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 25 – Fox Hunt – Stan Sakai