Sunday, April 8, 2012

Usagi Yojimbo: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy (Review)

This volume of our favorite Rabbit Ronin; Miyamoto Usagi, was the first  long and exciting story arc of the series.  The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy includes all the intrigue, fight scenes, personal conflicts, ninja, and tragedy of a great story.....all with the atmosphere of feudal Japan.

Many characters of earlier books are in this arc....Gennosuke (Usagi's self-proclaimed Best Friend), Tomoe (Lord Noriyuki's Chief Samurai)Shingen (the ninja), & Zato-Ino (the blind swordspig)....drawn together by outside circumstances into an uneasy alliance against the treacherous Lord Tamakuro.  Will these proud and headstrong warriors resolve their differences with one another and help Usagi defeat Lord Tamakuro?

Written and drawn by Stan Sakai; who in an epic fashion resembling the Asian classic The Seven Samurai, creates a dramatic, funny, and heart-wrenching tale of the life and times of our brave and lonesome Samurai rabbit.....Usagi Yojimbo.

The book begins with Tomoe racing back to her Lord; Noriyuki, attempting to tell him of Lord Tamakuro's preparations against the Shogun....but is in the midst of an overwhelming force seeking to block her path.  She is captured and being returned to Tamakuro when they pass a ronin Samurai.....Miyamoto Usagi! He recognizes her and follows to help her.  Meanwhile, Gen the Bounty Hunter is tracking Zato-Ino the notorious blind Swordspig.

Tamakuro; in an attempt to hide his plans from Lord Hikiji and others, orders Tomoe (who found his stockpile of rifles earlier) imprisoned, and the base-of-operations of spying ninjas destroyed.  Meanwhile, Gen happens upon several dead bounty hunters, who fell at the hands of the infamous Zato-Ino.....who is bathing in a mountain pool, accompanied by a couple of beautiful females....

Usagi happens upon the Ninja village destroyed by Tamakuro's men, and is found by Shingen....who wants vengeance for the deaths of his comrades and believes Usagi is responsible!  The two fight, and Shingen falls over a cliff's edge...believed dead by Usagi.

Usagi is welcomed into service for Lord Tamakuro, but gets an uneasy feeling after speaking to his Captain, Torame.  Usagi finds and frees Tomoe, and the two attempt escape....but only Usagi makes it out of the fortress. Just as Usagi looks to be defeated by Tamakuro's forces, help arrives from Shingen  the ninja!

Shingen; having learned the truth of who was behind the destruction of the Ninja Village, forms an alliance with Usagi and takes him to meet with the other Neko Ninja to prepare to assault the castle fortress of Lord Tamakuro.

Meanwhile, Gen & Zato-Ino come face-to-face and battle against one another in one of the most epic encounters I've read in Usagi Yojimbo so far.....Gen loses his horn to Zato-Ino's blade!....but it ends in a stalemate, as they are interrupted by Usagi and his Ninja allies.  Usagi convinces the two to put aside their fury against one another for the moment and instead unleash it on Lord Tamakuro.

They attack the fortress of Lord Tamakuro, find Tomoe still alive, and defeat the forces of Tamakuro in epic fashion by blowing up the fortress armory.  Shingen, Zato-Ino, & Spot are lost during the attack and explosion, and presumed dead.

Lord Noriyuki thanks Usagi for his service to the realm, and then He and Gen take their leave.  In The Fate of the Blind Swordspig, we learn that Zato-Ino & Spot had not died as Usagi and others were led to believe! Injured and close to death, he and Spot are rescued by mountain villagers.  In his gratitude, Zato-Ino helps them fight off some bandits, and he decides to stay......having only sought peace and quiet, this is his dream come true.

A really great story arc with wonderful plots, fights, intrigue, conspiracy, and tragedy to have you reading this volume over and over! Citizen's Grade: Impressive.

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