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Comic Review: Usagi Yojimbo #160

by Dan Gehen

Miyamoto Usagi has encountered his fair share of strange crimes over the years. Now, he must deal with his strangest mystery yet – death by fugu!

Comic Review: Usagi Yojimbo #160

(w/a) Stan Sakai

What makes Usagi Yojimbo a consistently great series is Stan Sakai’s refusal to over-complicate his narratives. Rather, each issue features a plot that is meticulously paced, yet straightforward. Look no further than the issue’s set-up for evidence of this. The 3-1-3 layout of the first page establishes a steady cadence, with each panel unveiling a new element to the scene. As the sequence continues over the next couple pages, Sakai’s use of framing and expressiveness builds tension right up to a character’s death.

Each issue of Usagi Yojimbo offers a lesson in Japanese culture, and this is no different. This time the central focus is fugu, also known as pufferfish. and its preparation as a dish. Potentially lethal, only the most skilled chefs can prepare this dish appropriately. Even today, there are rigorous laws which regulate the restaurant preparation of the dish. It is the dish’s venomous potential that results in the aforementioned death, jump-starting the mystery of whether this was an accidental poisoning or murder. What follows is a series of twists and turns resulting in an end that can only be seen as bittersweet.

As a special treat, Sakai includes a charming backup story featuring a chibi version of Usagi (appropriately named “Chibi Usagi”) attempting to provide his sensei with the food he has requested. Unfortunately, he is continuously stopped on his journey through the forest by a strange man that always steals the food. This scenario repeats itself again and again, forcing Chibi Usagi to be a bit creative, resulting in a payoff that prominently features Sakai’s macabre humor.

Usagi Yojimbo #160 may not be the most action-packed of Stan Sakai’s long-running saga, but is adheres to the high standards that readers have come to expect. Featuring great art and solid storytelling in both the main feature and the backup, Sakai provides the benchmark that all comics featuring anthropomorphic animals should strive towards. And above all else, it’s a highly accessible issue that anyone can pick up and find enjoyment in.

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