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Comic Book: Usagi Yojimbo
This comic book series by Stan Sakai chronicles the adventures of Miyamoto Usagi, once a loyal retainer of lord Mifune who, after his whole clan was vanquished in battle, walks the earth as a Ronin, meeting interesting people, facing mythological monsters and solving the odd murder mystery too.

Also, he's an anthropomorphic rabbit in an alternative dimension Medieval Japan. And the historical background and strong sense of cultural nuances work so well. As does the addition of tiny dinosaurs.

One of the longest-running comics of all time to be drawn and written by a single person, Usagi Yojimbo has been running (under various publishers) since 1984. It's been noted for its meticulously researched and accurate portrayal of feudal Japan (talking animals notwithstanding) as well as its ability to take readers by surprise by messing with tropes; a seemingly lighthearted story may turn out to be a heartrending tragedy, or vice-versa.

Usagi is often associated with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thanks in part to several crossovers between different incarnations of the properties, and the friendship between Sakai and the Turtles creators. This has permitted Usagi to appear on the screen in both TMNT cartoons as a recurring character, culminating in an episode set in Usagi's world—the closest thing yet to an Usagi animated series. Usagi Yojimbo was also published by Eastman and Laird's Mirage Studios for a time, before moving on to Dark Horse Comics.

A video game for the Commodore 64 based on the comics was released in 1988.

Usagi Yojimbo contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Whenever Usagi appears with the Ninja Turtles, "Usagi Yojimbo" is incorrectly used as his actual name.
    • For the 2003 series, he's misnamed, but in the actual series, he's properly referred to as "Miyamoto Usagi".
  • Action Girl: Chizu, Inazuma, Tomoe Ame. The occasional one-shot story may feature an Action Girl who inevitably dies or is written out of the seriesmarried off.
  • All Just a Dream: When a younger Usagi attacks a sleeping Katsuchi, and smashes his head (really just his clothes set aside with a pumpkin under it), he falls unconscious and dreams of a monstrous Katsuchi trying to kill him.
    • The book "A Town Called Hell" has one where Usagi stays with a peasant family. When they go to sleep, a monster comes in and eats the husband and wife, and kills Usagi. It was all just a dream of the little boy who had eaten too much candy, and Usagi says good-bye to them the next day. That night Jei comes to the door and asks if he can stay the night.
    • Usagi has a terrifying dream where he's possessed by Jei and kills all of his friends (apparently based on a possible Kill 'em All ending for the series).
    • Inazuma has a dream where she's in hell and has to fight an army to get out where she meets Jei, who later possesses her.
  • Alternate Continuity: Usagi's cartoon incarnations. Also, some stories have had changes made between the comic and graphic novel collections — such as Usagi kissing hugging Kinuko after a reader pointed out that kissing was a courtesan's trick imported by foreigners.
    • The story referred to was an earlier one than the Kinuko story, namely Chizu's first instance of kissing Usagi and his utterly baffled response. This has been left as is, as it still fits both their characters.
  • Arch-Enemy: At first, Lord Hikiji filled the role. Later, Jei (or the demon which possessed first Jei and then others) took up the role.
  • Art Evolution: Early installments featured characters with more animal-like appearances, especially in-profile. As the series wore on, however, characters gained more stylized, human-like appearances, while still keeping their key visual animal traits.
  • As You Know: Characters will sometimes explain things well-known to their listener. Egregious in Grasscutter, where the first quarter of the story includes the Japanese creation myth and the history of the eponymous sword - only to conclude with one of the Conspiracy of Eight saying impatiently, "We know all this."
  • Author Avatar: Stan Sakai shows up as a character named Masa in the 141st issue of the Dark Horse run (and number 200 overall) as an artisan who dreamed that creating 200 small statues of a god will save his village from bandits that have taken over. With Usagi's help, the 200th being used upside the leader's head and a mudslide, the dream comes true. His character then states that he'll continue his work after reaching the milestone until he's unable to hold the tools of his trade.
  • Backdoor Pilot: Usagi's guest shot on the original Ninja Turtles cartoon was supposed to be a set up for his own cartoon show, but the show was never made due to Creative Differences between Stan Sakai and Playmates Toys. His appearance on the 2000's TMNT show carried no such aspirations; it was just a treat for the fans.
    • On that note, a Space Usagi pilot was made (they even released an action figure into the TMNT toy line in the likeness of the proposed protagonist), but the project was canned after the failure of Bucky O Hare And The Toad Wars projected its demise.
  • Badass: Miyamoto Usagi.
    • But then, being a comic about samurai, there are almost more Badass characters than there are 'normal' ones.
  • Badass Preacher: Sanshobo, who was a samurai until he took his vows. Priest Jizonobu was also a samurai and still an excellent fighter before he became Jei.
  • Beast Man / Wild Man / Running on All Fours / Primal Stance / Wild Hair: Two primitive-looking characters have appeared as "familiars" to sorcerers, most notably in "Grasscutter".
  • Berserk Button: Don't mess with Usagi's swords. No, seriously, just don't.
    • Or his teacher, Katsuichi sensei.
    • Genosuké could arguably be labelled a walking berserk button. His questionable character traits tend to set off more Usagi temper tantrums than anything else.
    • Several samurai are shown to be very touchy about lower-class people touching their scabbards even accidentally, which contain the swords that contain their souls.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: A lot of people who commit seppuku.
    • inverted: A lot of warriors would rather die in battle than live in misery, rely on lower-classes (see Watanabe Ken, who would rather die than get aid from his merchant son-in-law) or die of illness.
  • Beware the Nice Ones / Beware the Silly Ones: Usagi's very nice but if you're a bad guy he won't hesitate to cut you down.
    • Keiko is a friendly Cheerful Child who also hangs around insane serial killer Jei and anyone possessed by him/it. Jei considers Usagi to be "evil" so when he declares that Keiko is "innocent" it kind of makes you wonder what's really up with her.
    • Tamago is a friendly, tiny, tea-loving elderly wandering priest whose over-sized head is shaped like an egg complete with a crack scar/birthmark he's also a senior member of Koroshi, the assassins guild, has done a You Have Failed Me at least once, and is yet another person who has it out for Usagi (nothing personal, it's just that he's really good at screwing up their plans).
  • Big "NO!": Usually before a dramatic death scene.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Ishida, Koji.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Gen's story ends with Gen discovering that the swords he stole from Oda house's were his father's swords, Gen explain that the only way Oda could have obtained them were killing Gen's father
    • Lady Kiku's story ends with her and Usagi alive but forced to separate, and Usagi not learning that she still cares about him years later
    • Lady Maple's story ends with her and her lord's son being raised safely and anonymously by Inspector Ikeda and his wife, but she's dead because she didn't know Usagi brought a doll in place of her son.
    • "Travels With Jotaro" ends with Usagi and Jotaro being unable to compromise the others happiness by revealing they're father and son, even though they both really want to.
    • "Sparrows" ends with Inazuma being forgiven by her family for running off and dying as herself.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Although blood is present, it is lesser quantities than one would realistically expect.
    • Mostly, it seems to be used in sequences where it has the maximum dramatic effect, such as the story arc where Usagi was poisoned and began to hallucinate that he had become Jei's new incarnation, fighting Tomoe. The sudden, shocking appearance of so much blood drove home just how traumatic an experience this was for the protagonist.
    • In most cases where blood is spilled, but Sakai wanted to keep gore down, he instead drew characters exhaling a cloud with a cartoonish skull (in some cases wit the haircut of the dying character) to symbolize death. The trick (possibly inspired by Stan's work with Sergio Aragonés on Groo The Wanderer) is an iconic part of the series these days.
    • Early Usagi Yojimbo stories also featured a number of on-panel decapitations (many of them committed by Usagi himself), but they were never graphic in appearance, with no blood to be shown and the beheaded characters often having their tongues comically sticking out to lessen the impact of the scene.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Jei. He's a demon who claims to do the work of the gods, and kills several evil people. He also kills innocent people whom he deems to be evil. He does spare at least two people whom he deems to be innocent.
    • Jei's first meeting with Usagi is actually non-violent, initially. Both meet in an abandoned peasants house and agree to spend the night. Usagi is creeped out by Jei, but neither attempt to harm the other and Jei even explains his philosophy. When Jei is asleep, he seems to get a vision from the gods telling him that Usagi is evil, which started their animosity.
  • Body Double: For Lords Noriyuki and Hikiji. Dolls are used for another lord and Lady Maple's son.
  • Body Surf: Jei-san: First Priest Jizonobu, then Inazuma, and currently the only survivor of Inazuma/Jei's rampage on Sanshobo's temple.
  • Bounty Hunter: Gennosuke, Inukai, countless extras, and — occasionally — Usagi.
  • Broken Pedestal: Mainly in Space Usagi.
  • Broken Aesop: Played for laughs by Katsuichi and Usagi, just before Usagi's very first tournament.
    Katsuichi: Do you remember what I taught you?
    Usagi: Yes, sensei. I am here to test my skills, not necessarily to win.
    Katsuichi: And?
    Usagi: "Spirit and inner strength are essential. Winning is unimportant!"
    Katsuichi: And if you don't win?
    Usagi: You'll beat me to a pulp!
    Katsuichi: Hah! You've learned well.
  • Cain and Abel: Noriko and Tomoe, although it's Noriko who gets killed, probably.
  • Call to Agriculture: General Ikeda in "The Patience of the Spider".
  • Captain Obvious: "Follow me, Spot! Our life of peace depends on us staying alive!"
    • In "Blade of the Gods", Jei pins Usagi's sleeve to the wall. Usagi's response? "He's pinned my sleeve!" Take note that he says this out loud. This has happened so many times over the years that it's an apparent personality quirk. note 
  • Catch Phrase: Sasuke will frequently call someone by name without having been properly introduced to them. When they ask how he knew their name, he'll say something like, "You must have mentioned it earlier." The third time (I think) this happens Usagi says "No I haven't."
    • Not quite a "phrase", but everyone has a different yelling style; for instance, Usagi's "RYAAAAAH!"
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Happens to Lord Mifune and Lord Noriyuki's dad.
  • Close-Call Haircut: To Katsuichi from Koji during their duel, though no one comments on it.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Ninja mooks abound; the really lethal ones are the named characters.
  • Cool Swords: Less explicate than other examples, but Usagi's pair of swords are truly awesome. He first earns them as a prize for winning a tournament and they're even named Young Willow and Willow Branch. The swords are practically invincible considering they haven't been shown to have so much as a chip after all the things he's sliced with them, and in a few panels they're even shown to have cut into opponents swords during a Blade Lock! Once he even sliced an ogre's club clean in half with some effort. In a series where it's stated over and over how a Samurai's swords are his soul, Usagi's never disappoints.
    • They're very durable: Usagi's descendant wields them in Space Usagi and only "arcane katanas" can be modified with Applied Phlebotinum into Absurdly Sharp Blades. The swords even used to bring Usagi into the future just long enough for the two Usagis to say hi and give him a few goodies to take back so he won't get killed by ninjas
  • Creepy Child: Keiko, after Jei designates her as his "innocent" (acting like a witch's familiar). Although she's quite cheerful about it, which, as Keiko cheerfully bids a polite farewell to the men Jei has just murdered, makes it all the eerier.
  • Cross Over: The comic featured several early appearances by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Usagi is a Recurring Character in the TMNT cartoons.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Kitsune, literally, Inspector Ishida, and Usagi. Jei's original body is an aversion, as he is literally a fox but is not so much "cunning" as he is "pants-shittingly terrifying"
  • Darker and Edgier: Space Usagi has this up the wazoo. To name a couple of examples, Usagi's main love interest is killed shortly after her introduction, and his sensei is revealed to be a traitor.
  • Deal with the Devil, complete with Gift of the Magi Plot: A mediocre artist called Katsushige sold his soul for the ability to create "art the like of which had never been seen before". The dark gods turned him into an ink set. Anything that was drawn with it became real, but still... he's an ink set.
    • Then we have the unfortunate Priest Jizonobu, whose well-meant Deal with the Devil had even worse consequences.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Princess Kiku.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Invoked by the author in order to accurately portray the era and culture of the characters. Certain things considered right and honorable would be deemed harsh and cruel by modern standards. A good example is found in Sanshobo's origin story: Sanshobo (in his prior, samurai life) failed to save the son of his lord from an accidental death, so Sanshobo's adult son committed suicide to make amends.
  • Did The Research: One of the things Stan tends to receive praise for is his careful research into the period the comic is set in. Each collection tends to have a page of historical notes and, sometimes, sources. When he does introduce an anachronism to provide a better story, he tends to note it.
  • Disability Super Power: Zato Ino, "The Blind Swordspig", who can "see" things thanks to his sense of smell — a common trait of the blind being the heightening of their other senses.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In the 2003 TMNT series, Chizu leading the Neko Ninja is made to resemble Karai leading the Foot Ninja.
  • The Drifter: Usagi, Gen, Stray Dog, assorted extras.
  • Due to the Dead: In the story "Broken Ritual" (plot by Sergio Aragonés), a village is haunted by the ghost of a general whose Seppuku attempt is interrupted by a squad of enemy soldiers. The ghost is exorcised when Usagi waits for its next appearance and helps complete the ritual.
  • Dying as Yourself: Inazuma. She even gets to make peace with her family.
    • Also Usagi in a dream sequence of himself as Jei.
  • Ears as Hair: Usagi most often has his ears pulled into a ponytail, or possibly a top-knot. When he puts on a hat or a helmet, they disappear completely.
  • Eternal English: This phenomenon occurs when he appears in crossovers with the Ninja Turtles, and was even lampshaded in the 1987 cartoon; he comes from an Alternate Reality, from a world with a culture that mirrors Feudal Japan, "So, naturally, he speaks English," says Raphael.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Subverted/inverted in "A Mother's Love". Even moms love their bad sons, but sometimes they're just too bad... and must be stopped.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Quite a few of the villains have some standards of honor.
    • At one point, Inazuma realizes that the operator of a lonely roadside restaurant has slipped poison into her tea so he can collect her bounty. She intimidates the man into drinking the tea, watches him die in agony, and then pays for her meal before she departs.
  • Evil Counterpart: Keiko is this to Kiyoko since they're both young girls with no family who become sidekicks of older characters. Keiko's companion is Jei while Kiyoko's is Kitsune. However, they (all) have never met.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The air around Jei-san becomes noticeably chilly.
  • Expy: A TMNT crossover in the comics had a rat sage named Kakera with a suspicious resemblance to Splinter who summons the Turtles through magic. "Kakera" is Japanese for "splinter" or "fragment".
  • Eye Patch Of Power: After losing his eye in the battle that makes Usagi think he's dead, Katsuichi Sensei covers it with a sword guard.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Lord Hikiji and Jesus on the crucifix.
  • The Faceless: Lord Hikiji, for the most part.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Chizu's brother had one before he blew up himself together with the boss of the Dragon Bellows Conspiracy. She thus replaced him as the head of the Neko Ninja. Invoked many times since by Chizu herself as their Badass Creed.
    "A ninja's duty in life... is death!"
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The cruel capture and murder of poor, innocent Noodles. His only friends are kept back by corrupt lawmen while the terrified Gentle Giant is tortured, then graphically run through with spears.
  • Fantastic Foxes / Kitsune: Kitsune, although she's just really skilled. Actually magical kitsune have appeared only briefly, and never as named characters.
  • The Farmer And The Viper: Jei-san actually tells this story to a fisherman who saved his life... in order to explain why he's going to kill the poor man.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Inazuma.
  • Fight Magnet/Weirdness Magnet: Usagi has an amazing tendency to attract all the weird and dangerous things in any area he is passing through. He will accidentally bump into an ancient, mystic sword and get himself in the middle of an anti-shogun conspiracy or become number one on a local psychopath’s “to kill” list. No matter how much he tries to avoid it, he always ends up in a fight. If it's not Youkai he has to kill, then a village needs to be saved from a Yakuza. Most of his friends are not ordinary people, either. This happy bunch includes: a bounty hunter, a powerful daimyo, said daimyo’s Action Girl bodyguard, the former head of a ninja clan who would love to get rid of Usagi, a Badass Grandpa Old Master, a Classy Cat-Burglar, and a professional demon hunter.
    • Although many of Usagi's less honorable friends have pointed out that he gets into a lot of scrapes because he can't stay uninvolved when he witnesses people being attacked, bullied, repressed, and the like, so this is at least partially his own fault.
  • Forgotten Childhood Friend: Well, forgotten childhood encounter. Usagi and Tomoe met once as children and although they didn't get each other's names the did think the other was kinda cute.
  • Four Is Death: The quartet of assassins known as "Shi".
  • Furry Confusion: The world is populated with Funny Animals of most species. Horses, lizards (tokage), birds, fish, and insects are excepted to minimize potential Squick value. Lampshaded by Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, since he's from another canon and this is all new to him.
    Donatello: Like... do you guys have tails?
    Gen (offended): Hey! Don't get personal!
  • Furry Comic: A Badass Grandpa that has inspired some of the later fandom.
  • Genre-Busting
  • Gentleman Thief: Kitsune, her sidekick Kiyoko, and Nezumi.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In one story, Zato-Ino is bathing in a hot spring and two women come to join him. He reassures him that he is blind, so they won't have any concerns about modesty. However, by their pleasant smiles at that meeting and the very good moods the women have later, it's hinted that they all had a merrier time in the spring than just some back scrubbing.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Usagi does this for the son of a lord and his courtesan, Lady Maple, when he gives the child to Inspector Ishida. He also did this unknowingly for his son Jotaro, and decided not to tell him for pretty much this reason.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Usagi gets a cut over his eyebrow during the battle of Adachigahara. Not a "scar" per se, but Gen had his horn chopped off.
  • Geisha: In one story, Usagi comes to the rescue of a woman working for a famous Geisha and that Geisha invites him to bunk at her compound on the house. Given the cheap inn he's staying at, he doesn't take that much persuading
  • Gratuitous English: The French translation had absolutely no way of getting the "Are you a god, Zilla?" pun across, so they have Usagi say "Oh my god!" in English, translate that in a footnote, and then have him say "Are you a god, Zilla?" in French.
  • Hero of Another Story: Katsuichi briefly becomes this as he travels the countryside for a time. His exploits are not seen for the most part, but when he encounters Usagi, the recollections of his student indicate that his adventures were at the very least as exciting as Usagi's own.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Saru and Ikeda both do this in Journey to Atsuta Shrine, but for different reasons
    • Lord Noriyuki has a body double — or rather he had one. He never speaks even after being wounded because his voice is different, and a remorseful Tomoe promises he'll get an honorable burial.
    • Lady Maple throws herself in front of a scheming lord's sword to save her son; unfortunately she didn't know Usagi had brought a doll in his place. For double irony points Usagi had already dealt with a doll-double and hated people sacrificing themselves for it.
    • The secret Christians are willing to put their lives on the line to get one crucifix to their followers; if any of them were caught they would've been crucified themselves.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Hikiji as the sole human, something Sakai later regretted doing. Jesus on the crucifix — lion, lamb, human, or something else entirely? Also, foreigners — either the unseen Ruritanians are some family other than mammalian, or ethnicity and nationality just depends on your Wig, Dress, Accent.
    • Sakai has said Hikiji is mostly kept off panel because he feels the character works better as a Sauron-like figure, manipulating things unseen. As far as the Europeans go, his Nilson Groundthumper strips take place in that part of the UY Earth. The characters there seem to be of a wide variety of species. It should be noted the Nilson stories predate the Ninja Turtles by a few years, despite the latter often being given credit for at least partially inspiring UY.
  • High-Pressure Blood: In the beginning, and notably in Tomoe and Noriyuki's debut episode. But keeping in the Usagi Yojimbo style, the blood spurts are quite brief and rather cartoonish in appearance.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: the Snitch in "Snitch" spends the story cheating Gen and Usagi, Stray Dog, and a fugitive thief out of their money to either reveal or hide the location of the thief. At the end of the story, the thief, who has discovered the Snitch had been cheating him out of his money and was attempting to sell him out, catches up to the Snitch, and beats him (possibly to death) to make him give over his now-fattened coinpurse of ill-gotten gains, saying "Robbing honest people is one thing, but stealing from a thief and a liar is another!"
  • Honest Axe: Subverted. The woodcutter in the story freezes to death because a golden axe is useless to cut firewood
  • Honor Before Reason: Reconstructed. Usagi has no problem using trickery, usually to help the underdog. Characters who mistake honor for weakness frequently come off the worse for it. Also played straight, averted, and subverted, depending on the character and occasion. For instance, if a character takes a stand in this series and says, "I am adamant!," you will know that nothing, especially death threats, is going to make them change their mind.
    • As in Real Life, most samurai would prefer to die in an assassination attempt on their lord's murderer, rather than live and let the murderer get away with it.
    • Watanabe Ken would sooner die from fighting the police than live comfortably with his daughter after she married into the merchant class.
    • An entire fortress of samurai kill themselves to protest the Shogun's orders to give the fortress to their enemy.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The main villain, the shadowy Lord Hikiji, is a human in a world otherwise populated by anthropomorphic animals; the only other human-looking character with a speaking part is really a flesh-eating monster. However, none of the main characters (and few of the minor characters) have seen Hikiji's true face, nor has his species — something that Sakai later regretted showing — been pinpointed as the reason for his evil.
  • The Hunter: Sasuke the Demon Queller
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Only for stories that take up whole books:
  • Implacable Man: Jei-san, Inazuma, and Inazuma after she gets possessed by Jei — presumably also Jei as Hama.
    • After being (seriously) wounded in one fight, Inazuma reassures Keiko that it's "merely a flesh wound".
      • The possessed Inazuma isn't quite as implacable as original!Jei, though - she doesn't get better when you make large holes in her.
    • Usagi does a brilliant job of this with General Fujii, to boot (with appropriate Nightmare Sequence), but as The Hero, this is Determinator.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Usagi provokes a bandit into demanding that Katsuichi-sensei perform a near impossible feat of cutting a seed of Usagi's nose. Katsuichi calmly replies that this is near impossible, and asks the bandit to release Usagi. The bandit refuses. Katsuichi kills the bandit. When Usagi comments that Katsuichi couldn't/didn't cut the seed, he does so to teach Usagi not to shoot his mouth off.
    • Also, any time a character strikes an arrow or shuriken out of the air with a sword. Which is apparently only a middling-difficult technique. Usagi's been known to block three at a time.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    Kinuko: "I just aimed at everything except the target!"
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Mainly due to "the foreigners and their black ships" and a major cause of "better to be killed than to die". General Oyaneko suffers from this and dies of it after Usagi refuses to duel him, as does a bounty hunter/ronin searching for the "Demon Mask" killer he's killed by the killer, who hates ronin for killing his son, and an old lord who tricked Usagi into bringing his enemy's son so he could avenge his real son's death and get the honorable Usagi to kill him as a bonus (he doesn't).
  • Inexplicably Tailless: Possibly. This is a Shrug of God area. One convention exclusive ashcan story has Usagi encounter an evil skunk who used his tail as a weapon, but the canon-status of the adventure is undetermined.
  • Instant Expert: Inazuma had an "instant affinity" with swords after she was forced to become a performer and soon surpassed her samurai husband's skill.
  • Jerk Ass Facade: Gen, Stray Dog.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gen, which Usagi amusedly calls him out on.
    • Also Inukai, who regularly donates large part of his earned money to an orphanage and seems to genuinely enjoy it.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Downplayed. While Usagi obviously favors his personal daisho for fighting, he is the first to concede that it is not suited to weapons with superior reach, like spears. That is part of what makes Jei so dangerous considering he is a master of that weapon.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Noriko to Tomoe (twice), Noriko to the laborers.
  • Kid Samurai: Usagi during the flashbacks, Jotaro, Gorogoro, Motokazu.
  • Killer Rabbit: HAW! (though, only when necessary)
  • Knight Errant: Usagi travels the musha shugyo — the warrior's path.
  • Lack of Empathy: Kiyoko, Kitsune's apprentice, seems to have become a Parker expy (it's also possible she's just screwing with Usagi).
    Kiyoko: I overheard a plot to kill Merchant Motooka.
    Usagi: WHAT?!
    Kiyoko: I bet we can sell this information to him.
    Usagi: A person's life is in peril. We can't make a profit from that!
    Kiyoko: Why not?
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Sergio Aragonés' Groo The Wanderer and characters from Mark Crilley's Akiko have appeared as background characters from time to time— the former may in fact count as a Yuppie Couple. Also Morpheus shows up in line for noodles in the short story 'Noodles.' (As do Jei and Keiko.)
  • A Lesson In Defeat: A young Usagi is given a lesson by his master. He's ordered grow some carrots from some seeds. Usagi cannot make them grow at all, and considers stealing some carrots from a neighboring farmer, but his honesty gets the better of him and he reports his failure, expecting to be thrown out. His master was testing Usagi's honesty; the seeds had been boiled and would never have sprouted.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Oh, boy. Easily into the hundreds of characters just from the ones who are named.
  • Love Triangle: Usagi, Mariko, and Keniichi.
    • Katsuichi, the rival dojo's sensei's daughter, and the rival dojo's second-in-command.
  • Luke, You Are My Father Averted Jotaro shouts this to Usagi, but he's too far away to hear
    • And they both know of Jotaro's true paternity, but they don't know that the other knows.
  • Magic Knight: Sasuke (not that one) the Demon Queller.
  • Mature Animal Story
  • Mauve Shirt: Kimi is the only named Neko ninja who isn't a leader or dead. She was part of the band of ninja attempting to retrieve the Grasscutter sword, most were killed, but she survived with a broken arm. She's also one of the very few, if only ninja still loyal to Chizu, she discovered a poisoned Chizu, and prevented the other ninja from finding her.
  • Meaningful Echo: For a while, Usagi has a pet tokage he calls "Spot". Later, Jotaro befriends a tokage and names it "Spot", without prior knowledge of Usagi's. In the Space Usagi spin-off, Kiyoshi also names a tokage "Spot".
  • Meaningful Name: Usagi means "rabbit" in Japanese. Kitsune, of course, is "fox", even if hers is a nickname given by her mentor in the art of thieving.
    Kitsune: 'Kitsune'? The trickster fox? I like it!
    • Several examples of this trope. For example Inushiro's name means "White Dog."
  • Medieval Japan: Practically identical, besides the Funny Animals. And magic and creatures of myth are real. (albeit not an everyday thing)
  • Milky White Eyes / Uh-Oh Eyes: Jei-san and anyone he/it possesses, and technically all other supernatural beings since it's a black & white comic.
    • Except the Mirage issues and Color Specials.
  • Miyamoto Musashi: The inspiration for Usagi.
  • Mood Whiplash: Not only does the story itself do this, but the art style is very suited to quick, seamless transitions from detailed dramatic images to humorous cartoonish ones.
  • Multitasked Conversation: When Inspector Ishida meets Kitsune, he realizes that there's a lot more to this simple street performer. Since he has no evidence of wrongdoing, he can't do anything about it; and they're out in public, so he doesn't want to make a spectacle. When he talks to her, he compliments her on her talents and asks if she's staying long, but to Kitsune the message is very clear: "I know you're a thief, now get out of my town!"
  • Murder, Inc.: The Koroshi (assassin's guild), as well as the Komori and Neko (ninja clans).
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Captain Torame from "The Dragon Bellows Conspiracy." It's upheld as a tenet of 'righteous' samurai.
    • And to some extent, Kenichi. After Hikiji killed the old village headman (Usagi's father), he appointed Kenichi in his place. Initially taking the assignment out of fear, Kenichi now serves out of duty (though Hikiji probably doesn't pay much attention to the town). Usagi sometimes feels guilt that Kenichi has shouldered burdens Usagi felt honor-bound to walk away from.
  • Never Found the Body: Jei's first and second appearances in his last appearance no one actually saw him disintegrate, and he's a spirit anyway; teased for the ex-Neko Ninja chunin unfortunately the giant explosion from the gunpowder he was sitting on probably rules this out. Tomoe has a nightmare that Noriko escaped the explosion/cave-in at the end of "Mother of Mountains", but Usagi assures her that even if they don't find a body she probably didn't survive.
  • Ninja: The Neko, Komori, and Mogura clans of ninja. Chizu of the Neko clan is an important secondary character.
  • Obake: Many Japanese creatures appear in UY, from kappas to obakenekos, nues, onis and so on.
  • Obliviously Evil:
    Jei: It is a nigh impossible task... to eradicate sin.
    • Somewhat explained in the backstory for Jei: the priest to the 'dark gods' points out to Buddhist priest Jizonobu that while they both work to fight "evil," their respective definitions for evil are not necessarily the same. The evil and sin that Jei is fighting is defined for him by the demonic gods he serves
  • Old Master: Katsuichi-sensei.
  • Operation Jealousy: Kitsune tells Tomoe that she and Usagi have "shared so many adventures and... other things" but she's just trying to get rid of the heroes while she's running a con.
  • Out of Focus: Lord Hikiji, Kenichi, and Mariko were prominent in the early years, but rarely enter the story anymore.
  • Painting the Medium: Odd speech balloons and/or text usually mark a supernatural being. Jei and certain haunts/monsters have jagged word balloons and mixed upper- and lower-case font. Ryoko, the witch from the Grasscutter arc, spoke in italics.
  • Pet the Dog: Jei-san and Keiko, Gen and Stray Dog's acts of kindness.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Since Gen's taste for sake couldn't be adapted to the second TMNT cartoon, he was made a gambler instead.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Grass-Cutting Sword, one of Japan's imperial regalia (which is nearly as important to Japanese legend as Excalibur is in England), is the center of a whole story arc.
  • Punny Name: Some throwaway secondary characters have names that are somewhat funny when translated from Japanese.
  • Put on a Bus: Ino, once he succeeded in his I Just Want to Be Normal quest.
  • Recurring Extra: The omnipresent woodcutters. Groo, on occasion.
  • Recycled INSPACE: Space Usagi features descendants of the main characters and puts them in a Space Opera setting.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Gen and Usagi; Noriko and Tomoe.
  • The Reliable One: Mariko chooses Kenichi over Usagi because while Usagi was off serving lords, becoming a ronin, and having wild adventures, Kenichi was raising Jotaro.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Lord Hebi is a giant snake; Orochimaru appears in the "Grasscutter" prologue; tokage may fill the role of dogs and cats but if they're hungry enough they won't hesitate to eat people (they're also eaten but only as a last resort).
  • The Resenter: Kenichi.
  • Ronin: Usagi and many secondary characters.
  • Samurai: Usagi, Tomoe, and so many extras besides.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Usagi, either first or second hand, to several young people who think the life a wanderer is glamorous.
  • Scars Are Forever: Usagi is consistently drawn with his scar from the battle at Adatachi Plain (even if other such scarring he acquires eventually heals). Katsuichi loses his eye and wears an eyepatch (made from a sword guard) from that point on.
  • Scooby-Doo Hoax: "The Inn on Moon Shadow Hill".
  • Secret Test of Character: Katsuichi-sensei is prone to do this.
  • Seppuku: Appears periodically, usually when a character needs to atone for an earlier shame.
  • Shamu Fu: At one point, Usagi defends a fish merchant from a armed gang attempting a protection racket with nothing more than that day's catch.
  • Sheath Strike: Part of Gen's style of swordsmanship. Gen usually carries his sword over his shoulder, rather than in his belt, and holds the scabbard in his left hand when fighting. Usagi uses the style after meeting Gen, usually when heavily outnumbered or not willing to kill his opponent. Zato-ino holds his scabbard while fighting, because it's also his cane, but never uses it.
  • Ship Tease: Until the Mother of Mountains arc, this was the only thing Stan did with the romantic tension between Tomoe and Usagi.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "The Outlaw". Hilariously the "shot" is done by Stray Dog.
  • Short Cuts Make Long Delays: Gen is prone to offer this to Usagi when they're travelling together, and Usagi follows. They end up in a predicament. Every single time, Usagi yells at Gen during or afterwards: "You and your shortcuts!"
  • Shout-Out:
    • Many characters are shout outs to Chanbara heroes — the Lone Goat and Kid is a nod to the Lone Wolf and Cub, Zato-Ino the blind masseur pig is a thinly-veiled version of Zatoichi, Lord Mifune references the actor Toshiro Mifune, and so on.
    • Jei's name is a shout out to the Friday the 13th film series ("Jei-san")
    • In addition to a ton of Star Wars shout-outs in Space Usagi, the Bugg Planet is a shout-out to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
    • Not to mention that one swordfight of Usagi is an almost exact adaptation of the first-bokken-then-swords duel from Seven Samurai.
    • Tomoe Ame is named after a brand of candy. This is why her name is kept in Western order, surname last, while everyone else's names are in Japanese order, surname first.
    • "Are you a god, Zilla?" Usagi later creates a fully-grown "Zilla" to battle some his kaiju enemies created by a cursed ink set for the real "Zilla's" 50th anniversary.
    • At one point Usagi gets doused in green dye (there's a roguish rabbit in the Star Wars expanded universe and I'm pretty sure he was also green); Gen thought he was dead and tells Usagi to get out of the dye vat and "stop grinning like some joker".
    • "Wings of Blood" — "Holy flying furballs, it's bats, man!"
    • "The Treasure of the Mother of Mountains" (though the plot is more similar to a previous story, "Slavers").
    • The last chapter of the "Grasscutter II" arc is called "In the Realm of the Senses" because the rest of the chapters have a five senses theme, there's no sex, strangling, and penis chopping here.
    • Inazuma, possessed by Jei, assures Keiko that her injury is "just a flesh wound" (it actually isn't, she's not as durable as Jei).
  • Shown Their Work: Stan Sakai may research some aspect of ancient Japanese life, from pottery to seaweed farming or geishas, and render it lovingly on the page or describe it in detail in the afterwords. In fact, Sakai's research and presentation of this stuff is so on the money that he won a Parent's Choice Award for the comic's educational value.
  • Single-Stroke Battle
  • The So-Called Coward: Usagi is polite and does not seek fights needlessly, so this trope comes across him often.
  • Space Whale: Giant space turtles! (in Space Usagi)
  • Speech Bubbles: There is a speech bubble for death, with a skull in it.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers / Anchored Ship: Usagi has rotten luck with women.
    • Usagi and Mariko: They're both separated by duty and honor - she to her husband, he first to his lord and later to the warrior's road.
    • Usagi and Kiku: She was about to enter an Arranged Marriage, plus they're different social classes.
    • Usagi and Tomoe: He'll never serve another lord, even one as nice as Tomoe's; she's been marked for an Arranged Marriage to an older lord — in the tea ceremony chapter there's even a stone marker that means "path forbidden". (Though Sakai has advised concerned readers that a bad or tragic ending is not a Foregone Conclusion)
    • Usagi and Chizu: Originally, it wouldn't work out because she was working for Hikiji. Now there's a different problem - she's a nukenin, almost every other Neko ninja is out to kill her, and she would endanger Usagi if they had a relationship. This is an Ironic Echo of the problem Usagi has with his other potential love interests.
    • Space Usagi and Tomoe (who's a rabbit like Mariko and a samurai like Tomoe) do hook up unfortunately she's killed in the next story arc.
    • Katsuichi and his girlfriend whose father was a rival dojo's sensei, and the rival dojo's heir who lied to his sensei that Katsuichi only wanted to marry his daughter to take over the dojo and later tried to ambush Katsuichi at night. Unfortunately he accidentally killed the girlfriend (and promptly blamed Katsuichi because if she hadn't in love with him she wouldn't have been there), and then Katsuichi killed him.
  • Story Within a Story: Usagi's told two: "My Lord's Daughter" where he battles an army of oni to rescue his lord's daughter his Lord Mifune didn't have a daughter and "Momo-Usagi-taro" with himself as the legendary hero and (interestingly) Partially Civilized Animal sidekicks, not anthropomorphic ones like himself (maybe because one of them's a pheasant and there aren't any bird-people).
  • Suicide by Cop: Watanabe Ken, a destitute ronin who'd rather die in battle then live with his merchant son-in-law.
  • Swipe Your Blade Off: After every blood-drawing battle. Usagi is regularly depicted as cleaning his swords, however, so perhaps it's to minimize how much he has to clean later.
  • That Man Is Dead: Inversion:
    • In "Vendetta" a young samurai is looking for his father's killers and has official permission to execute them. Three of them became bandits and were caught in the first part while the fourth was genuinely sorry for what he did, chopped off his topknot and became a monk. He accepts that all the good he's done as a monk won't wipe out the past but Usagi convinces the vengeful samurai to accept the topknot in place of his head.
    • Orphan-maker, Noriko's brutal enforcer, is blinded by Usagi. A few stories later he meets Usagi again (though if I recall correctly he doesn't recognize him) and tells him that getting blinded made him a better person and he's grateful for it.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: The story "The Death of Lord Hikiji", where Usagi runs into a couple of other former vassals of Lord Mifune. They are planning to kill Lord Hikiji to avenge Mifune's death, and Usagi has to decide whether or not he wants to join them.
  • Trick Dialogue: In trying to get out of the rain, Usagi came across the swordswoman Inazuma telling her life's story to some of her friends. By the time she is finished, the rain has let up, so Inazuma bids them farewell and heads out. Usagi makes an aside about the story to one of the "friends"... only to discover that all four of them are dead — bounty hunters who had been trying unsuccessfully to kill Inazuma.
    • Usagi goes to return a small trinket to a fellow member of Lord Mifune's army. The trinket was a good-luck charm; Usagi tells the man he is sorry he was unable to return it previously, then leaves it on the top of the man's gravestone and walks away.
  • Unexplained Recovery: Jei-san somehow recovers after being vaporized by lightning (he was originally a one-off character) and being impaled by his own spear and chucked off a cliff. Getting run through by Kusanagi destroyed his body for good, unfortunately he's a disembodied spirit. He doesn't recover as well in Inazuma's body, maybe his current one will be tougher.
    • The second time he meets Usagi, Usagi actually comments on his survival. Jei claims he actually did die but the gods sent him back because his work wasn't finished.
  • The Unfavorite / Bastard Bastard: Noriko. She's shunted to her aunt's after her mom dies because her uncle is actually her biological father (mom and aunt are sisters). Aunty doesn't like her very much and then bio-dad straight-up tells her he'll never accept her as his daughter, so she kills him and poisons her "step" father for being weak. She reveals all of this to her The Favorite cousin Tomoe while beating her to the ground (on top of having worked a day in Noriko's mine). For Noriko, it's a very satisfying beating.
  • The Voiceless: Noriyuki's body double. He couldn't imitate his voice so he didn't speak, even after being fatally wounded.
  • Voice of the Legion: Jei-san and anyone possessed by him/it.
  • Walking the Earth: Gen, and several others. Usagi falls more into Knight Errant: Chizu into Flying Dutchman.
  • The Watson: Inspector Nii serves as one to Ishida, respecting him, and not being as corrupt as his superiors.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Usagi's old master Katusuichi, pretended to be a Mooching Master, making Usagi do all manner of chores for over a year before he even let Usagi touch a bokken. Turns out he was actually testing Usagi's patience and resolve to become a swordsman.
  • Wham Line: Gen: (Sakura) doesn't have a brother.
  • Whip It Good: Sakura.
  • Worthy Opponent: Captain Torame in "The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy". He's so loyal, he'll stay with his lord even though he knows his plans are evil.
    Torame, trading Bushido sayings with Usagi: "Is there ever a circumstance when rebellion against one's lord can be justified?"
    Usagi: "Never!"
    Torame: Ah, but it can be justified, if the rebellion succeeds!
  • Yakuza: Many antagonists.
  • Youkai: Usagi regularly encounters spirits, ghosts, and demons.
  • You Killed My Father: A samurai gets permission to kill the four bad guys who killed his father; Usagi in Space Usagi for both his lord and himself.
  • You Monster!: Usagi calls Fujii a monster.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Normally played straight, but subverted at least once, where the bounty hunter slashes his hostage, but only cuts her bonds, and allows her to go free. He does kill her when she attacks him later on.
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alternative title(s): Usagi Yojimbo
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