Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"They worship a criminal?" Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #1 review

Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden is a new 7 issue mini-series by creator Stan Sakai, continuing the tales of his rabbit ronin from the Usagi Yojimbo ongoing series. Like the earlier Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, this series replaces the ongoing for its duration. Likely this is meant to help raise the title's profile in the hopes that new readers might finally sample Usagi when they see the new #1. Hey, whatever brings in more fans; I would be very happy if Sakai kept writing & drawing Usagi Yojimbo until his death (and hopefully no one will continue the series without him).

Over the decades Sakai has written many multi-part stories in Usagi Yojimbo; so what makes this tale worthy of a seven-issue telling? The story is somewhat unusual in that the subject is the spread of Christianity during the age of feudal Japan. Sakai had earlier used this subject for a single tale where the Christian element was a last page surprise reveal. This time, Christians (or 'Kirishitans' as the characters call them) are front and center.

If you saw Martin Scorcese's recent film Silence - then, hi, you must be the other one. As in Silence, one of the methods the Japanese use to ferret out Christian believers is to demand they tread upon an image of the cross. In this story, Usagi is simply confused when it occurs; he knows nothing of Christianity and has no idea what kind of loyalty test it is meant to be.

The best part of the comic is Usagi engaging in a conversation about the Christians with his friend Inspector Ishida. As Ishida explains Christian beliefs, it becomes clear neither of them can quite grasp how the faith functions - their own Buddhist beliefs are simply too incompatible. It's particularly interesting to note they can't understand why Christianity's deity could be considered a model person when he was punished as a criminal. Heck, there are plenty of Christians who fumble with the idea of Christ's crucifixion.

Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden is published by Dark Horse Comics. You should give it a shot.

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