Thursday, March 24, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Demon Mask comments Part 2

Stan Sakai brings new characters and scenarios up in the later part of Demon Mak by using some of the old favorite methods of getting Usagi involved by showing up unannounced at the action. While on the road seeing if it's safe to move the sword Grasscutter, Usagi comes across a duel where one of the swordsmen is wearing a demon mask.

He soon becomes involved with in the mystery of demon mask. This includes learning that his reputation, from his work with Inspector Ishida, has passed around, at least to those who work in the same field, such as Inspector Kojo.

Stan lays down several clues through the adventure until Usagi finds the identity of Demon Mask.

The real charm of the story though, is in how Stan brings to life the minor characters that fill the story. This ranges from Assistant Inspector Nitta, a son of a disgraced samurai who hates ronin and perfects his sword skill against his assistants and in continual training.

It comes in through Kuroda, a sickly, elderly samurai who has his own motivations for hunting down Demon Mask. We discover that he is Nitta's father.

It comes through the assistants of Nitta who are eager to help but who aren't up to the levels Usagi is. Usagi manages to use his native charm to win them over. Buying them liquor doesn't hurt either.

While doing so, he continues to bring to life different parts of Japanese culture. This includes their fire brigade system implemented to fight fires which could quickly burn down a town, as well as the enjoyement of the game go, to the value of a samurai's sword, as being his soul.

The next story, Kumo, starts innocent enough. Usagi decides to take a short cut through a pass over the mountains. While doing so, spiders begin to swarm about. Not enough to be that unusual, but enough to be noticible.

Then there's the large lizard stuck in spider's webbing. Poor guy, looking for a snack, and then caught in the webbing. Still, at least the lizard doesnt' do as bad as the guy Usagi comes across that's stuck in the webbing and already dead eh?

Upon getting to the town, Usagi relays the information about the spiders as well as the dead man who turns out to be Ichiro, a villager missing for days.  It is during this time of villager panic, that Usagi mets with Sasuke, a man who claims to be a ronin who introduces himself by what is part of his catch phrase, "You must have introduced yourself when you came over. Don't you remember?"

Instead of Usagi stumbling upon the adventure, this time it comes to him, While sleeping, giant spiders break into the tavern and steal the daughter of the innkeeper.  Usagi, Sasuke, and a group of villagers go to bring the daughter back. Here Stan brings us some more words from Usagi's time including Obakemono or haunts as well as Maho, or sorcerery, which Sasuke apparently knows.

As they move on, a single attack by a giant spider, a 'watchdog', shows the difference between Usagi and the farmers. Usagi stays and helps Sasuke fight off the monster. The villagers? They run. In many ways, this showcases some of the standards of fantasy role playing. The characters are often cast as the heroes. Giving them the spotlight helps enforce that.

Usagi learns that Sasuke is fighting Kumo-Onna, the Spider Woman, and this his comrade is a demon queller.  During the fight, Usagi learns that sword skill isn't necessarily as useful as magic when fighting the supernatural. After they complete their 'mission', Usagi notes that he hopes he never meets Sasuke again.

Usagi continues his travels and Stan continues to bring forth elements of a Japan populared by samurai, sorcerery, monsters, and the far more common, very human characters that populate it.

If looking for ideas on how to model NPC's like guards, one could do much worse then see how Stan does it in Demon Mask.