There are two major factors that make Stan Sakai's USAGI YOJIMBO so compelling: the adventure and the soap opera. Over two-and-a-half decades, Sakai has kept the plots exciting while writing about characters that have rich interpersonal relationships. The tragedy of Miyamoto Usagi's vocation as a wandering samurai is that his friends come in and out of his life on a regular basis. Any contact is fleeting, and thus the soap opera often takes a backseat when the story shifts into big epic mode.
This changes in the latest collection, TRAVELS WITH JOTARO. Longtime readers of USAGI YOJIMBO will know that Jotaro is Usagi's son with his childhood sweetheart, but that only the mother and Usagi are aware of the boy's true parentage. In this volume of the series, Usagi has taken Jotaro on the road with him, giving him a rare opportunity to get to know his child. It comes with a price, though: every day is a struggle with the truth. Should he or should he not change the child's world by revealing their shared secret?
So, while there are many adventures in volume 18, including the usual run-ins with corrupt town officials and a supernatural story about an evil artist with magical art supplies, the true thread of these stories is the dynamic between father and son -- or as Jotaro knows it, uncle and nephew. Effectively, Usagi is taking the boy on a tour through his life, and by introducing Jotaro to long-standing friends, such as the thief Kitsune and the master who trained him, Usagi is finally able to share the whole of himself with one single person.
The addition of this traveling companion gives Sakai an amazing new opportunity to delve into the emotions of his rabbit samurai. There has always been a little bit of sadness to Usagi, constantly moving on and never quite having the connection with people that he seemed to yearn for. In TRAVELS WITH JOTARO, Sakai is able to show how much joy a permanent connection would bring to his swordsman (the best moments are when the pair are joking around, or when Usagi amusedly watches Jotaro's youthful exuberance). It also exposes how deep the loneliness runs. Usagi knows that one word will bind Jotaro to him forever, but he can't upset the balance of things. The reader suspects, however, that some of his fear may be opening himself up so much, just as much as it is disrupting Jotaro's existence.
Jamie S. Rich has edited comic books for ten years, over half of them as editor in chief at Oni Press. In 2000, he published his first novel, Cut My Hair, and is currently exploring his second. When it's done, he swears his website, confessions123.com, will make a lot more sense. In addition, he has written film and music criticism for various publications, and has worked on scripts for far more Tokyopop manga translations than he cares to count.