Kirin dove for cover as the objects started flying around her room as if a small tornado had blown through. The lights flickered on and off. Faintly, she heard Textbox calling her and sinister laughter over the crashing and breaking objects. Though she didn’t want to admit it to whatever was out there, she was scared. Then as quickly as the insanity began, it stopped. The room was deathly quiet.
Hello, I’m a unicorn. My life has gotten weird, but not as weird as the hero of my all time favorite ongoing series, Usagi Yojimbo. The titular Usagi is an anthropomorphic master-less samurai rabbit who wanders throughout an alternate version of Feudal Japan where everyone is an animal. Adventure just happens to follow him everywhere he goes. When I say it out loud, it sounds like an insane idea, but these stories are amazing. I could go all day about how wonderful they are or how awesome Stan Sakai, the writer, artist, and researcher is, but that would be a post for another time. In this post, I’ll focus on the weirdness that surrounds everyone’s favorite rabbit eared ronin. After all, if you’ve been on the road as long as Usagi, you’re bound to have strange adventures, especially when monsters are a proven fact.
So, without spoilers and further adieu, these are my top ten favorite Usagi Yojimbo horror issues.
10. The Obakéneko of the Geishu Clan, Dark Horse Issue 12 volume 11: Just after thwarting the Dragon Bellow Conspiracy (also highly recommended) Usagi, Tomoe,(female samurai and faithful retainer to Lord Noriyuki) and Gen (a bounty hunter) need a place to stay. Thankfully, the mysterious Lady Takagi is a wonderful hostess. But she is not what she seems. What is the secret of Lady Takagi? You must read to find out.
9. The Demon Flute, Dark Horse Issue 24, Volume 13: Usagi wanders into a village haunted by a mysterious figure and his lovely flute melody. Every night, when the flute plays, villagers are massacred and it is up to Usagi to end the vengeful demon with the help of another vengeful ghost and his white Tokagé. How is this ghost connected to the demon? You must read to find out.
8. The Inn on Moon Shadow Hill, Dark Horse Issue 31, Volume 14: Welcome to the inn on Moon Shadow hill, where ghost and demons are commonplace. Feel free to sit back, relax and enjoy the haunts in the safety of this inn. Or, if you dare, you can prove your courage by venturing out into the monster infested graveyard and taking the white stone with “truth” engraved in it. Unlike, Usagi though, I wouldn’t bet anything drastic on it. Are you brave enough to discover the secret of this humble inn?
7. Wrath of the Tangled Skein, Volume 10: Usagi stays at an inn at the same time as a woman who has taken ill. Realizing that the illness has to do with the Tangled Skein, a demon infested forest, he calls a priest who isn’t all that he appears to be and battles against a monster known as a nue and a trickster known as tanuki-bozu .
6. The Entire Volume 24: Every issue in this volume is horror related, and each one is amazing. In “One Dark Stormy Night” Usagi spends the night at the home of a beautiful woman while her husband is away. When he returns, Usagi discovers that history has a tendency to repeat itself. In “The Darkness and the Soul,” we learn the origin of Jei, the pants wettingly creepy Blade of the Gods, and how he came to be the killer of all sinners. In “Sparrows” we get resolution on the fact that a swords woman named Inazuma has been possessed by Jei’s spirit. Though still retains some of her humanity, she often slips back into his thrall. Speaking of Jei…
5. Blade of the Gods, Fantagraphics issue 10, Volume 3: This is the first appearance of Usagi’s arch nemesis. They meet on good terms, but when the gods tell Jei-san that Usagi is a sinner, he believes that when he kills him, he will join the gods as one of them. Jei-san, by the way, is a pun based on the fact that he constantly returns from the dead. Did I mention that? Because he totally does, many times, including this issue, but not without nearly killing Usagi as well. It just goes to show, never trust a samurai with black blades, because, as we all know, the blades are the soul of the samurai. As a bonus, in both the trade and individual issue, there is a crossover where Usagi meets Leonardo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they are different stories, so I suggest getting both.
4. Dreams In Darkness, Volume 23: This story isn’t technically a horror comic, but it definitely is a horrifying thought. What if Usagi is possessed by Jei’s spirit? When he is poisoned in a fight against the Neko ninja clan, this question is answered in a horrifying fever dream where he kills the people he cares about. Or was it just a dream? Perhaps it was a premonition of things to come.
3. Yokai Color special: When a woman begs Usagi to find her missing daughter, he ventures into a haunted forest and discovers an amassing group of demons planning a raid on the countryside. Fortunately, Sasuke, the mysterious Demon Queller, offers his assistance. The artwork in this is beautiful, and we learn a little about Sasuke as well.
2. Traitors of the Earth, Volume 26: Usagi and the little theif, Kiyoko fight samurai zombies in order to save their possessed friend, Kitsune. Let me say that again. Samurai versus samurai zombies. Did I mention how much I love this series?
1. A Promise in the Snow, Volume 11: This story relies heavily on a twist ending that still gives me chills, so I won’t spoil it. Instead, I’ll ask you this : how far would a daughter go to save the life of her father?
These are but a few of the my favorite adventures of the long eared ronin. In nearly every trade volume, there is at least one wonderful supernatural tale, but Usagi’s world isn’t just supernatural. There are plenty of humorous and poignant tales, as well as political intrigue and character drama. Sometimes, all of these are combined. Still not convinced? Well, Usagi Yojimbo is not only my favorite, but is also the series that got me into comics in the first place. Nearly every issue is a great starting point, so what are you waiting for? Read some Usagi Yojimbo now!
As soon as she finished typing, the chaos started again with a trade of Usagi Yojimbo flying across the room, then another and another. Kirin ducked, but something inside of her hardened. She didn’t know how she was going to stop whatever was out there, but she wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She ran out of her room and to the dining room table where she had left her broadsword, the destruction following her.
“You think that a puny sword will have an effect against me? You truly are a fool,” the creature said. She swung her sword wildly, nearly lopping off the creature’s head.
“I don’t know, but I hear creatures like you don’t like iron.” This time, she grazed the creature’s arm. It hissed in pain. “So iron does hurt you. Good to know,” she reckoned and swung blindly again. This time, the creature ducked out of the way. He was done playing. He ducked under Kirin’s subsequent swing, and grabbed her sword, yanking it out of her hand. He saw the shock give way to fear. Now was the time for the kill. He slashed at her, but she lunged for the sword at the last moment. He attacked her head on, both trying to get at the other’s vital organs. After nearly getting stabbed, the creature realized he needed a distraction.
“Kirin? Where am I? It’s like I’m coming out of a fog,” he let Textbox say. This gave him the right advantage he needed to catch her off guard and throw her against the wall. She crumpled to the ground. Just as he was about to make the kill, the door burst open.