We review the latest issue in Stan Sakai's rabbit ronin saga and find a standout chapter demanding attention.
While we've anticipated the eventual clash between Jei and Miyamoto for several months, many of us probably could not have predicted the joy contained within Usagi Yojimbo: Ice and Snow #3. Our favorite rabbit ronin is off the board, caring for his cousin after their nearly fatal encounter with the Yokai Yuki-Onna last issue. Stan Sakai takes the opportunity to allow the Blade of the Gods to strut his stuff, and the results are some of the funniest and scariest moments this series has produced so far.
Jei treks across a wintery landscape, with bandits gathered around him like hostages, not partners. They murmur amongst each other, understanding their demonic boss will likely cause their death. A few even contemplate escape, but their luck ran out long ago. Yuki-Onna fled in flames from Miyamoto and comes directly into contact with these scoundrels. They make easy pickings for her.
Sakai has played with Yokai before. They can be rather spooky (see the slithery monk from Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 4 #19). However, I wonder if they've ever been as scary as their attack upon these bandits in Ice and Snow #3. Sakai's vicious, monstrous expressions dug into me, producing numerous jolts and lingering creeps.
The fearful response is underscored by the devilish comedy on display. Jei cares not for the bandits who walk alongside him. They're less than cannon fodder, and the ease with which he offers them to the opposing Yokai is as hilarious as it is cold. And the dreaded reaction from the offerings elicits chuckles throughout the issue. These are bad dudes, but they don't deserve such dismissiveness. Or maybe they do? Karma's a monster.
Usagi Yojimbo: Ice and Snow proves itself as an essential entry with every passing chapter. It's astonishing to watch Stan Sakai operate in top form nearly forty years after his character's creation. I hope new readers are finding their way to this series through Ice and Snow and dipping back into Sakai's catalog. Their future is so bright if they do.
The third issue doesn't inch us closer to the latest confrontation between Miyamoto and Jei; it catapults us. Cousin Yukichi seems in bad shape. I don't know how much help he can offer to the upcoming battle, but he is an added element previously missing from confrontations. As is the Yuki-Onna, priming Jei's pump, revving his rage toward his archnemesis. Our anticipation for the brawl has hit a fever pitch.
Mostly, it's a delight for Sakai to step away from Miyamoto for a bit. In carving space for Jei to do his thing, we catch a suggestion that Miyamoto and Yukichi could receive more than a scratch from the baddie when they finally do meet. Ice and Snow is a stressful adventure. Scarrier than many Usagi Yojimbo tales, funnier than many Usagi Yojimbo tales. The cartoonist shepherding everything is clearly having a ball.
Quickie Review: Usagi Yojimbo: Ice and Snow 3 departs from previous entries. It's as scary as it is funny, placing Jei under the spotlight and ratching the suspense for what's about to come. The breaks between issues are also becoming harder and harder to manage. I need the next one ASAP.
Usagi Yojimbo Ice and Snow #3
Writer: Stan Sakai
Artist: Stan Sakai
Letterer: Stan Sakai
Colorist: HiFi Colour Design
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/Dogu Publishing
Cover Price: $4.99
On Sale: 12/6
Plot Synopsis: The yokai, Yuki Onna, is on a rampage and attacks a gang of bandits who are searching for Usagi and Yukichi. She kills many of them, but comes face to face with their leader, Jei, the Blade of the Gods. Meanwhile, Usagi and Yukichi, suffering from the effects of the fight with Yuki Onna, are holed up in her small hut dreading her return!