Sunday, February 20, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter

Usagi Yojimbo continues its trail of one rabbit samurai wandering the countryside as a ronin who keeps a circle of friends close while the world about him continues to come together in ways that are not always seen by the main character, but that the audience sees as ties that bind.

Below I'll be discussing some of the bits from Grasscutter, previewed here, the twelfth volume graphic novel collection of Usagi Yojimbo published by Dark Horse comics. Spoilers will follow so beware!

Mythology: Either Stan does a fantastic job of researching the history of Japan and presenting it to the reader or he does it in such a way that it's fun to read and doesn't negatively impact the story. In many cultures, there are magical weapons but too often the origin or founding point of these weapons are left to the readers imagination. There's nothing wrong with that. Was the infamous sword Blackrazor better before it gained excessive background or worse? Readers will be divided on that issue. Here, we are introduced to Grasscutter through both myth and historical events as to how it was lost to Usagi's Japan.

Nemesis: Ah, the dreaded tale of the nemesis. I've hit on this several times but well, here it hits again. Jei, the demonic warrior that Usagi has 'killed' several times prior to this returns in this novel. He showcases his powers against several entities that may have even been kin in their own way to him, but the path Jei walks is one that he walks unopposed. This can be an important thing to showcase with the villains in your setting.

In some setting such as the Forgotten Realms, there are so many high level villain and heroic organizations that it's often difficult to imagine the setting not resembling Gamma World more than a pseudo fantasy setting but those organizations dont' tend to ally with each other and even with 'good', may have their own ideas on how certain things, like artifacts and knowledge, should be shared, putting them at odds with one another. Have the party stumble upon a group of dead orcs and hobgoblins to showcase that just because they all hate the players, doesn't mean they love each other.

The Villain's Weakness: Most of the time when Jei and Usagi fight, Usagi doesn't do to well and generally is saved either by circumstance or luck. This volume is no different but it showcases a different side of Jei in that he leaves himselve open protecting 'his innocent'. This is essentially a follower of Jei who doesn't understand or care about what Jei is, only that he protected her at a dark period in her life and looks out for her. Usagi doesn't deliberately use her against him, but events conspire to put her in danger and Jei can choose to either end Usagi or save the 'innocent'. He saves the innocent.

Foreshadowing: Stan does this with a saint's patience. While probably not as noticeable in the individual issues that make up the series, the graphic novels allow the reader to see Stan setting up events so that they fall like domino's. Could you guess the events that will happen? Possibly. Do they make sense in the context of the story and keep the story moving forward?

Yes. In this instance, Inazuma, introduced only last volume, is hunted by Gen for the large bounty on her head. the two fight, Gen barely escapes with his life but ironically, due to an accident, it's Inazuma that's badly injured and passes out in front of Jei who at the bidding of his follower, leaves Inazuma, suffering from delusions and hallucinations, at a temple to heal. When Jei is 'killed', his spirit finds a new host in Inazuma, whose storyline will come back into play way down the line in volume 24.

Grasscutter: Grasscutter exhibits some interesting bits to it but doesn't shine through as something like Excalibur or Strombringer in terms of raw sword power. Rather, it's something that is a unique cultural artifact that could upset the political power of Japan and send the whole of it into further warfare. The thing is, Usagi is generally a 'good' individual and has no desire for political power. Don't put the gun in the room unless you're ready for the players to use it. I can easily envision a scenario where the players are supposed to pass an object to another individual but hey, when is this opportunity going to come along again? Always be ready for the players to take the path not offered and be ready for the consequences of it.

In my opinion, if you don't want to deal with the players potentially getting their hands on such an object and using it as players instead of as story element, it's better to not put it into the game rather than having some highly unlikely series of events conspire to steal the item from the players.