Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming is Book 35 in the collected volumes of Stan Sakai’s long running comic book series and the second collection of new stories since moving to its new publisher. It contains Usagi Yojimbo (vol. 4) Issues #8–14, all written, drawn, and lettered by Sakai and color by Tom Luth. The subtitle refers to the rabbit ronin returning home to the North Province for these stories.
“Tatami” are a type of mat made with such precision it takes two years to make them. A number are being transported under guard for Lord Gifu, who will be conducting a tea ceremony with the shogun’s emissary. Usagi helps when the caravan is attacked by Neko ninja. Also coming to their aid is Chizu, former Neko leader. She is still being hunted because Kagemaru “cannot solidify his position while” she lives. With her appearance, Kagemaru believes the ninja clan has a spy in their midst, a nice suggestion of future stories to come.
“Mon” is the crest of a clan. Usagi still wears that of fallen Lord Mifune, who lost the war to Lord Hikiji. This brings him trouble because there remains a reward for Mifune loyalists. The story offers interesting questions about loyalty. He encounters Kato, who had previously served Mifune but now serves Hijiki as a “dead lord will not fill an empty belly,” and an innkeeper who is most loyal to himself.
“The Return” is a four-issue story that revisits Usagi’s past. While making a pilgrimage to Lord Mifune’s grave, fate leads Usagi to his home village. He reunites with with his beloved Mariko, who is married to Usagi’s rival, Kenichi, who is now the village head. They have a child named Jotaro, who resembles Usagi and is training with Usagi’s old sensei, Katsuichi. Kato and his forces arrive with a plan to kill the shogun’s emissary in order destroy Hikiji politically; however, that will lead to everyone in the village being killed. “The Return” is a well-written story. The plot takes unexpected yet believable turns and longtime fans will enjoy revisiting characters from Usagi’s past.
Sakai is a talented storyteller and the quality of his writing is matched by his skills as an artist. The characters’ moods are so well evoked in the drawings that the panels don’t need dialogue to convey what they are feeling. Sakai pays attention to the settings’ details which allow for realistic locations. Luth’s coloring augments Sakai’s work and makes the panel even more appealing.
Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming finds Sakai continuing the high standard he set in past Usagi comics and will make readers return to see what comes next.
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