USAGI YOJIMBO: THE HIDDEN #6 / Writer: Stan Sakai / Artist: Stan Sakai / Letterer : Stan Sakai / Inker: Stan Sakai / Publisher: Dark Horse / Sep 19, 2018
The first seven pages of Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #6 take place within the torii gates of Inari Shrine. They completely dominate the background of all seven pages, a wall of cross-hatching that Stan Sakai ably navigates around with character staging and changing angles. These large rows of gates act like a giant hallway, one which characters traverse between to enter and exit the opening scene of the issue. In some panels, greenery can be spotted between the gates, suggesting openings that can be seen from a certain perspective. Likewise, the mystery at the heart of this arc depends a lot on different characters’ points of view.
Usagi Yojimbo the wandering Ronin and Inspector Ishida are closing in on the motives surrounding mysterious murders and the players surrounding it, including a page from the book everyone is tracking down. That book is the Kirishitan (Christian) Bible, translated into Japanese, and as Usagi Yojimbo takes place at the close of the 16th century, Christianity is not welcome in Japan. After seeing proof of the Japanese Bible’s existence, Usagi and Ishida meet with Hama, a covert Christian. Usagi is prepared to place him under immediate arrest, but Ishida tells him to back off, refusing to effectively condemn Hama to the death penalty for identifying as a Christian.
Ishida and Usagi go on to chat about Christianity at The Sakana Shogun, still butting heads while enjoying some of the best food in town. Earlier issues came with page-long afterwords by Sakai about the history of Christianity in Japan, and he takes care to portray the consequences of that history in practical terms. For example, on their way to The Sakana Shogun, they pass a checkpoint where travelers must step on a cross to demonstrate their disloyalty to Christianity. Usagi frowns upon Christianity as a religion that “will eventually die out here” based on how its god died as a foreign criminal. Ishida has a more relaxed approach:
“A person can be judged on his beliefs but should be arrested only for his actions.”
What follows from that scene consists of some cloak-and-dagger reveals and reversals that I don’t want to spoil. However, this is a more thoughtful, subdued chapter than the cover might suggest with its swords drawn. Everyone is chasing either the Bible or people associated with it, but only Ishida is pursuing justice. Usagi shows a blind spot in his empathy and humanity, which adds believable nuance to his character. These qualities of story carry over to Sakai’s illustrations, as well. Despite working in black and white, he is able to depict multiple characters in distinct clothing against backgrounds, all full of detail, pattern, shading, texture, and plenty of cross hatching. It would be fair to call some of his panels full, but they are never overcrowded.
The last page leaves plenty of conflict and action for the seventh and final issue to cover, followed by black and white artwork of Usagi battling clockwork enemies and a color portrait on the rear cover. Bonus artwork such as these are excellent incentives to track down Usagi Yojimbo in single issues. I am a recent convert to Usagi Yojimbo, jumping on this latest arc after reading the very first trade. The decades-long legacy of this series can seem like a dauntingly long hallway of torii gates, but there are clear openings all over if you take a closer look.
Verdict: 4 out of 5.
Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.