After a two-year break from his long-running Usagi Yojimbo, time spent working on the Eisner-nominated limited series Ronin 47, Stan Sakai returned to it with the six-issue miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: Senso. Originally published from August 2014 through January 2015, Dark Horse has now collected them in one book.
Sakai introduces the collection with a comic strip where he explains to his main character, the rabbit ronin Usagi, and the reader that Senso's premise deals with the questions "what if the Martians had sent scout ships 200 years before the events chronicled by [H.G.] Wells, and what if they had landed in feudal Japan?" The story is set "15 years in [Usgai's] future [during] the final war between the Geishu Clan and Lord Hikiji."
Sakai has created an epic tale as the two warring sides come together to take on the overwhelming Martian force and their mechanical walkers that cause widespread destruction. In this anthropomorphic animal world, the Martians are drawn as octopi. He offers smart commentary about war in both the story and more significantly the art. It's fascinating how overwhelming and horrible he makes it appear, fields filled with dead bodies, yet there's no gore.
For those new to Usagi's world, this is a very good entry point, but it's a more rewarding experience for longtime readers. Sakai's drawings and inking are the expected exquisiteness one associates with his work. The full-page and two-page panels are particularly impressive, and it would be fantastic to be able to buy them as posters.
The story includes many familiar characters, allies and enemies, such as Gen, Komori Ninjas, Jei-san, and Chizu. It also revisits Usagi dealing with his love for Lady Tomoe and his desire to reveal he is the father to Jotaro. What stands out is Sakai brilliant plotting. Some characters make great sacrifices, but the story is told in such a smart way that even if later stories alter the events, the sacrifices aren't undercut.
Bonus material includes the wraparound cover art from the six issues, which hopefully will be made available as posters. Also offered is a look at Sakai's process, cover sketches, the opening pages of issues #2 and #6 Sakai redrew "to better emphasize the horror of the Martian invasion," a sequence redrawn from issue #3 because he was unsatisfied with it, and developmental notes that reveal there was almost an appearance in the story by Zato Ino.
Usagi Yojimbo: Senso is highly recommended.