In reading its 151st issue, I realized Usagi Yojimbo the comic shares a number of important characteristics with Usagi the character. Both are fundamentally good-hearted and peaceful but countenance the moral complexities of a violent world. Neither are prone to over-complexity (the character is quiet while the book is sparse). Finally, both demonstrate a deceptive simplicity and honesty that make them easy to underestimate. These parallels run to the core of what Usagi is as a comic, a tale of a wandering bodyguard who, though ostensibly seeking peace, is always compelled to violence. It not a book of dizzying turns or continuity progression (the book purposefully shuns character development), but it is one of surprisingly subtle character beats, each story shedding a little more light onto a world that clearly fascinates the author. 'The Bride' is a one-shot story that begins, as always, with Usagi travelling the wilderness in search of tranquility and virtue. He happens upon the chaos of what appears to be a bandit attack on a travelling procession, the only survivor of which is the titular bride. Discovering she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer and betrothed in marriage to another brewer from the local town, Usagi decides to escort her down the road to avoid further dangers. His assumption that the bandits were attempting to kidnap and ransom the bride proves to be a possibly fatal miscalculation as the two are stocked by a group of assassins.
Early on Stan Sakai sets up that the bride is coping with the historical limitations of ancient Japan. She is being forced to marry a man against her will while she is in love with another. As per usual, these story elements are laid out without emotion, which smartly limits the social commentary that is often present in this type of story. Sakai could have laid on the drama related to how unfair the arranged marriage system was, but instead smartly opts to simply portray how the characters deal with this unfortunate situation. Similarly, the decision to make the potential groom feel similarly trapped by the marriage is a smart way of fleshing things out.
The arc of the bride and groom plays out through a number of twists I won't spoil, but how does Usagi himself fare throughout the issue? As mentioned before Usagi does not tend to go through an arc of his own so much as he facilitates the story of the other characters. That said, in this issue, he is surprisingly off-kilter. Usagi is smart enough to know that the Bride is not telling him the whole story, and despite his devotion to heroism, he is angered at the realization that she might be putting his life in danger without his knowledge or consent. The anger and suspicion of the normally even-keeled Usagi creates a tense, mysterious atmosphere paralleled nicely by an impending thunderstorm.
As I mentioned before, the issue ends with a twist that nicely ties up the main arc of the story while also reflecting back, a little sadly on the Usagi's place in the world. It's a thought-provoking turn that elevates an already solid issue in the type of fascinating character study the title excels at. All in all, 'The Bride' is an especially good issue of an always quality series.
Usagi Yojimbo #151 Creator: Stan Sakai Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 1/20/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital