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Comic Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #3

by Dan Gehen

Usagi and Ishida’s investigation continues, as they get information from street rats and the well-to-do of Imperial Japan.

Comic Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #3

(W/A) Stan Sakai

Each issue of Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden has peeled back another layer of Japanese culture for Western audiences. With the series’ third issue, creator Stan Sakai looks to shatter the illusion that all adhere to the romanticized notion of honor through two contrasting social classes. While there are serious messages to be found, Sakai injects the book with levity to provide a balance – practically a staple of Usagi Yojimbo at this point.

Because of the book’s black and white presentation, Sakai is able to manipulate or subvert the readers’ expectations with ease. This is evident in the issue’s first pages, following up the cliffhanger from the previous issue. When issue #2 concluded, we were left with the impression that in order to get their next lead, Usagi and Ishida would need to deal with an individual that was dangerous as they were evil. This is thanks to Sakai’s use of layouts and heavy inking, which gave this figure a threatening appearance. However, as we find out in this issue, this would-be-threat is just a poor [and greedy] hustler trying to leverage his knowledge into a few bucks. The transition itself is seamless, resulting in an entertaining back and forth between the characters.

One thing that Sakai has made evident throughout this series is that Usagi and Ishida have a long history together, even if the former is not a member of the shogun’s law enforcement. Because of their relationship, they are able to convincingly pull off a variation of the “good cop/bad cop” routine in a manner that once again subverts reader expectations. As their investigation leads them to a seemingly well-to-do member of society, it becomes clear that he will not be forthcoming with information. When it becomes clear that this man cares more for his possessions than helping solve a crime, the stoic Miyamoto Usagi decides to play the role of foole. He begins to bump into things and handle fragile items without care. It is a hilarious sequence that ultimately produces results for the protagonists.

With each passing issue, Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden becomes a title that I look forward to reading each month. Steadily, it has moved up towards the top end of my read pile, thanks to Sakai’s sharp dialogue and mastery of the medium. Even though this third installment could be seen as a “filler” issue by some, as the titular “Hidden” have been absent since the first issue. But at the end of the day, Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #3 manages to keep the reader fully engaged throughout, so what more could you really want from a comic?

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