Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For this latest Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of 2021, the next volume of Stan Sakai’s epic Usagi Yojimbo comic series, Homecoming.
I have made it no secret that I am a huge fan of Stan Sakai’s long-running and exceptional Usagi Yojimbo series, and it easily one of my favourite comic book series of all time. The Usagi Yojimbo comics are set in an alternate version of feudal Japan and follow the protagonist, rabbit samurai Miyamoto Usagi, as he adventures through a land populated by anthropomorphic animals. This outstanding series has been going since the 1980s, and I have had an amazing time reading and rereading this cool comic over the years due to the excellent combination of compelling stories, complex characters and breathtaking artwork. In recent years I have reviewed some of the latest volumes when they are released (including Volume 32: Mysteries, Volume 33: The Hidden and Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories), and I have also gone back and started reviewing the earlier entries in the series, which has proved to be a lot of fun. My only regret about being a Usagi Yojimbo fan is that only one volume of the comic is released each year, and once I get a copy, I have to wait an entire year for the next volume.
Luckily for me, my wait is nearly over as the next volume of this series, Homecoming, is currently set for release on 27 April 2021. Homecoming will be the 35th volume of the Usagi Yojimbo series and will contain issues #8-14 of the current run of the series, which is published by IDW. This means that the upcoming volume will be printed in colour, which is a relatively new feature that was started in the last volume, and which adds some fantastic visual detail to the story. In this latest upcoming volume, it looks like Usagi will journey to some of the most important locations from his past and find himself once again involved in the nefarious plots of one of his most dangerous enemies.
Volume Two of the new series sees Usagi return to his home province to pay his respects, but ghosts from his past have other plans.
In “Tatami,” Usagi returns to his home province only to find intrigue and betrayal! An important tea ceremony is about to take place, but what sinister plan does Lord Hikiji have for it and how are the Neko ninja clan involved?
Then, in “Mon,” long ago, Lord Hikiji defeated Usagi’s Lord Mifune to take control of the Northern Province. Usagi, now traveling through his old territories, still wears the mon (a family crest) of his former lord. But, there are those who still remember the Great Wars with bitterness and threaten to kill any samurai loyal to Mifune. What happens when they come across Usagi?
In “The Return,” Usagi is on a pilgrimage to his late lord’s gravesite, however, wearing the Mifune clan crest in Lord Hikiji’s territory has made him an enemy. Traveling through this dangerous land he has made his way to the one place he had been avoiding–the village in which he grew up. Bittersweet memories awaken with his long-time love, until the village becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate an emissary of the shogun.
Ooh, now this sounds like it is going to be a rather cool collection of connected stories, and I have a very strong feeling that I am really going to enjoy them. People familiar with the comic will know that the Lord Hikiji mentioned above is the major overarching antagonist of Usagi Yojimbo; he not only killed both Usagi’s father and his lord in the past but has also been plotting against the Shogun and several of Usagi’s friends in the current plot line. Hikiji’s schemes have taken a bit of a back seat in recent years, with Usagi dealing with other antagonists and dangers, although he was so well built up in the earlier entries of this series that he is always a lurking shadow in the Usagi Yojimbo universe. As a result, I am rather intrigued to see an entire volume that is going to be dedicated to Usagi facing off against Hikiji’s minions again, especially as they are going to tie directly into the wars that made Usagi a masterless, wandering samurai.
All three of the stories mentioned in the synopsis sound really cool and I look forward to seeing how each of them turns out. The first story, Tatami, will apparently revolve around a tea ceremony, with Hikiji and the Neko Ninja operating some elaborate scheme around it. Sakai has presented some truly masterful depictions of the traditional tea ceremony before, and I imagine that you will see some cool artwork in this upcoming volume, which will no doubt really pop with the added colour. It will be really interesting to see how this entire story turns out, and no doubt it will serve as the basis for the rest of the narratives contained within Homecoming.
The next story in this volume, Mon, also sounds extremely compelling, and I think it is going to be a fantastic addition to Homecoming. Mon will apparently see Usagi return to the battlefields of his youth, where he will encounter those who hold a grudge against Usagi’s deceased lord and his now masterless retainers, and who will have issue with Usagi wearing the crest of his lord (the three dots shaped in a triangle that have been part of Usagi’s clothes for essentially his entire run). There are so many potentially awesome ways that this story can go, and I look forward to seeing how the wars affected other characters aside from Usagi and how running into other veterans or victims will impact him. In particular, I look forward to seeing Usagi’s role in the battle of Adachi Plain (as shown in Volume 2: Samurai, Volume 11: Seasons and in Volume 34: Bunraku and Other Stories), once again come to the fore of the story, and no doubt Usagi will have some issues with some of the survivors of these wars. This entire scenario has a lot of potential to be awesome, and I cannot wait to see how Sakai revisits this integral part of Usagi’s backstory.
The final story mentioned in the synopsis is The Return (which incidentally is the name of a historical fiction book I am reading at the moment), which sees Usagi journey back to his childhood village, where yet another plot awaits. Out of all the stories that have been mentioned for this volume, I think that The Return is the one that has the most potential for dramatic and emotionally rich moments, as Usagi has so much history waiting for him back at his village. You have to assume that Usagi will once again encounter Mariko, the love of his life who he can never be with, and Kenichi, his old childhood rival who ended up marrying Mariko. There is also a chance that he will once again come across Jotaro, his secret son with Mariko, who has previously travelled with Usagi as his pupil. The two previous stories which saw Usagi return home (as seen in Volume 1: The Ronin and Volume 6: Circles) were loaded with some incredible and heartbreaking character moments, and I imagine a lot of these issues will once again rise to the surface in this latest story. Throw in an assassination plot and you have the basis for a truly outstanding Usagi Yojimbo story which I cannot wait to read.
I think it is pretty clear after seeing me go on about this upcoming volume that I am really going to enjoy Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming. All of the featured stories mentioned in the synopsis sound pretty damn epic, and I love the fact that Sakai is going to dive into some pretty heavy storylines that could have some significant impact on the overall series. Based on how much I have loved every single other Usagi Yojimbo comic I have ever read, I know well in advance that Homecoming is probably going to get a five-star review from me and it will no doubt be one of the best things I read in 2021.