Usagi Yojimbo - Stan Sakai - This is a pretty straight forward lovingly done tribute to a genre. It also uses anthropomorphic animals to tell its stories. I am a big fan of Kurosawa's samurai era films. I also bought a lot of Lone Wolf and Cub when First Comics put out the English language editions with the Frank Miller covers in the late 80's. Usagi Yojimbo started around the same time I think, and I have been aware of it, and thought it was cool, but never read it because sometimes(most times) I am slow to pick up on things.
The volumes I got from the library are numbered 2 and 3, and are put out by Fantagraphics. In this case I don't think starting with volume 2 was bad because it contains what was the first 6 volumes of the Usagi Yojimbo comic, and starts right off with a very nice origin story retelling by the main character himself.
You should know by now that I tend to like nearly everything I read on some level or another. Even I have a ha
rd time believing me when I re-read my reviews. That being said, and unnecessarily apologized for... I really love this series so far, and can't believe it has taken me this long to actually break into it.
The really great thing about this, is that the art is fantastic. It's dynamic and expressive (I think those are important things for art in a comic like this), and allows you to distance this work from its 'source' material. It makes this telling of things completely its own. I don't feel like the use of Animals here is completely allegorical in nature. I don't feel that every animal represented is directly representative of some characteristic of the specific character. Some are, but I don't think it is trying to be that deep all the time. I consider that a very good thing. The way it is done is light, has a good bit of humor, but also comes across as having more depth than just that. Usagi is a real character and we are on his journey with him. He is very much cut from the same cloth as the heroes of the genre I mentioned earlier, and his story is expertly told. Plus... You have to admit that a kick butt samurai rabbit is an extremely cool character design.
This is well written and well drawn. If you like the stories of Zatoichi or Miyamoto Musashi, or any of the others I mentioned, you should give this a shot. If you aren't sure about those things, give this a shot anyway. I think this is a pretty accessible window into the genre.
Ranma 1/2 - Rumiko Takahashi - I am not a big consumer of manga. I have read a number of titles, but nowhere near the hundreds that my daughters have read. I have seen Ranma 1/2 for a LONG time, my library has a ton of it, but I have never tried to read it, and never really understood what it was about. I decided on my last trip or 2 to the library that i would specifically pick up some things I had sort of avoided reading for a long time, and make an effort to read them.
Ranma 1/2 is the story of a father and his daughters who run a martial arts school. He has arranged with an old friend that one of his daughters will become engaged to the friend's son, sight unseen. When the friend and his son show up, it becomes clear pretty quickly that something strange has happened to them. Ultimately it boils down to the fact that they had gone to China and chose to train in an area covered with cursed springs. Anyone falling into one of the springs comes out of it oddly and mostly comically transformed. The transformations are triggered by hot and cold water. The father turns into a giant panda when he is splashed with cold water. The son turns into a girl. To change them back they need to be doused with hot water.
Ranma Saotome is the boy in question. He is an expert martial artist. Akane Tendo is the daughter that ends up engaged to him. Her sisters decided that since Akane seems to hate all the boys she has met, that a boy who is also a girl would be ideal for her. There isn't a ton of depth here, but there is a lot of action, and even more humor. There are also a lot of boobs. lots and lots, but no sexual situations. I will probably let my 10 year old read this. As far as nudity goes, it is about as inoffensive as you can get, and is generally used for humor one way or another.
Akane is also extremely skilled in martial arts. Prior to Ranma showing up, she was able to beat up all the boys in her area. She is not keen on being anyone's fiance at the moment, especially not someone she didn't choose. She is hard-headed and has a quick temper, but she is not without her endearing qualities as well.
In addition to Ranma and his father, we get another character that has had misfortune at the cursed springs. He blames Ranma for it, and is intent upon destroying him. Unfortunately for him, his changed form is that of the cutest little black pig you will ever see.
Obviously this is filled with improbable situations where the changing characters are doused with water far more than anyone should ever expect to be doused with water. I laughed out loud constantly as I was reading this. The second volume moves into the realm of odd specialty fights that Ranma must be a girl to help out in. First it is a Martial Rhythmic Gymnastics battle, and then it is a Martial Figure Skating battle. I admit that those things seem kind of dumb to me, but they are really pretty funny, and very smartly executed. Again, there isn't a ton of depth, but there is a lot of action and cuteness and humor.