So, an interesting thing I learned today. While it is not a practice that is exclusive to them, Dark Horse the only publisher that regularly numbers a story arc within a series exclusively with the story arc number as if it were its own miniseries. So Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #1 is actually issue #166 in the regular monthly series. [It is also “Number 232 in a series” and it is awesome that Dark Horse recognizes Usagi’s serialized nature going back through previous publishers.]
However you want to number it, this is still the start of what should be a fascinating 7-part story. One of the biggest reasons that Usagi Yojimbo has been so successful over the past three decades is Stan Sakai’s dedication to integrating legitimate Japanese history and legends into his anamorphic universe.
The story notes at the end of this issue explain some of the histories of the first European sailors to land in Japan, the introduction of the tanegashima muskets, and the increasing influence of the Catholic missionaries that followed. He brings up some of the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, but he continues the ahead to the expulsion of those foreign missionaries and the persecution of Japanese Christians. Christianity was driven underground, and this story arc “The Hidden” takes its name from those who continued to practice their faith, known as Kakure Kirishitan or “Hidden Christians”.
There is nothing I can say about the art and storytelling of Stan Sakai that hasn’t already been said over and over (including by me) over the past 34 years of Usagi. This first story, on its own, is nothing particularly spectacular. But it does its job at setting up the next six issues. Freedom of religion is a hot topic these days, so it a bold move to tackle it here. In another writer’s hand, this could go horribly, horribly, wrong. But again, Stan Sakai has never been one to shy away from a difficult topic, and I am left eagerly wondering
On its own merits an individual issue, I can’t justify giving this more than 3 out of 5. But I also have to acknowledge that the average completed Usagi Yojimbo story arc, sits at around a 4.5 or higher for me.