riddler13: (Tomoe Ame as a kid)
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Although continuity plays a big part in Usagi Yojimbo's world, with recurring characters, arcs that span 4 or more issues, and situations that take years to pay off, there are also a lot of stand-alone stories, in which the long-eared ronin stumbles into a situation and becomes inevitably wrapped into.

The good thing about those kind of stories is that they allow Stan to write pretty much any genre he chooses without having to worry about future repercussions. So he can choose to tell a funny story, or a horror tale, or to tug at the reader's heartstrings (read "A Mother's Love" and cry yourself a river) - all of them a testament to his multi writing skills.

Another good thing about UY is its educational value. According to the introductory notes to the story, "Grasscutter pt. I" was used as a textbook in Japanese history classes at the University of Portland. Others teach you about making swords, soy sauce, transporting ice and so on.

So, this is a short self-contained story in which Usagi is involved in a dispute between seaweed farmers and helps them settle their problem. It was done during the 16-issue Mirage run and, therefore, it's in colour.

6 and 2/3 of a page below.

Usagi is standing by the seaside and I had to waste a page in order to show this bitchin' pose. I'm sure it would make an excellent print.

Behind him is Kichiro, who drops the load he's carrying. Usagi helps him stand up and carry his load to his home, much to the other's surprise (samurai did not usually help peasants in their labours). During their journey back to Kichiro's home, he tells the rabbit wanderer he is not a fisherman but a farmer. When asked about where his farm lies, he points towards the sea.

Back home, Kichiro tells of his current predicament:

The next day, Usagi helps Kichiro in the seaweed farms and learns a thing or two about the process (and so do we!).

Stan always adds some notes at the end of the story in order to clarify some points, go into details in others and sometimes suggest further reading. In this one, he adds (among other things): "Kichiro's seaweed farm is based upon a farm in Tokyo Bay shortly after the turn of the century. The seaweed fences and geta-stilts may have been unique to this time and/or place since I didn't find any mention of them in descriptions of farms further up north".

Next day, the competing farms meet, and hurl accusations at each other:

Usagi and Kichiro go on to sell the seaweed to Yamanaka the broker, who's making a killing with the low seaweed prices. The ronin immediately picks up that Yamanaka is probably the one causing the conflict in order to drive prices down, and so hatches a plan: he tells him that Kichiro found seaweed near the Shark Rock, the point that divides his crops from Bunji's - much to his friend's amazement, since everyone in the region knows there's no seaweed there.

Of course, Usagi's idea is to catch Yamanaka's men red-handed, and he does so. They tell everything and the farmers witness the hired thugs' confession:

Having found out they have a common enemy, the farmers unite and drive him out of business:

(Kichiro was dropped in the water during the thugs' attack).

There you have it. Short and interesting :)

Two additional points for discussion:

1) Yamanaka does come back and hires an assassin to try to kill Usagi. However, the story is focused on the assassin himself, so the seaweed broker is nothing more than a plot device;

2) A throwaway line from Usagi during this story is an endless source of debate among UY fans. Kichiro offers him a job half-jokingly, and Usagi says "Your offer is almost tempting". Did he mean it, and if so, does he really think of stop wandering and holding a steady occupation? I've my own theory, of course, but I'd love to hear yours (and other thoughts too).

You can find this story in black and white in Usagi Yojimbo Saga #1, as well as online.
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