- Grade Level: 4 - 6
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Dark Horse; Gph edition (May 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1569715238
- ISBN-13: 978-1569715239
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Demon Mask (Usagi Yojimbo, book 14) (v. 14) Paperback – March 27, 2001
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Stan Sakai features, every few issues or so, medieval craftsmen sharing their methods and techniques with Usagi. In this issue, a potter and his wife are delighted with the samurai's skill after just a few days. It's a wonderful introduction to Japanese crafts, and shows how well Sakai researches the life and times of Usagi Yojimbo.
Perhaps the easiest way to summarize Demon Mask (volume 14) is that it builds upon and enriches a variety of successful styles that Sakai implemented in earlier volumes. "The Inn on Moonshadow Hill" and "A Potter's Tale" are absolutely two of Usagi's greatest stand alone stories, both done in classic Usagi style, but both adding unique and endearing twists to make them a little more clever and charming, a grade above Sakai's usual standard of excellence. While spending time on these one-shot stories, Sakai nevertheless manages to maintain a running continuity and sense of impending action as he delivers two well-executed back stories, "Deserters," which introduces a tragic new complication for Chizu of the Neko Ninja clan, and "The Missive," which marks the long anticipated return of two favorite characters that haven't reared their heads since volume 6 (no spoilers here).
"Demon Mask," the three part adventure for which the volume is named, borrows from and builds upon the careful balance of action and mystery that Sakai experimented with throughout the previous volume, delivering a thrilling story that contains two incredibly clever mysteries, both of which Usagi unravels with expert logic by the end. Even without Inspector Ishida, this story manages to surpass those wonderful detective thrillers from the previous volume.
Finally, this volume concludes with two important stories. "Kumo" introduces Sasuke, the Demon Queller, Stan Sakai's answer to Doctor Strange who is resourceful, dangerous, and thoroughly enigmatic. Like Inspector Ishida in the previous volume, Sakai risks turning the story over to a new character, and it pays off remarkably well. Both Ishida and Sasuke could easily maintain their own monthly titles if Sakai had the time and energy. Above all others, Sasuke is my personal favorite character in Usagi's world, and it's not hard to see why after reading this story.
"Reunion" unites Usagi, Gen, and Sanshobo for the first time since Grasscutter and sets the stage for its obligatory and arguably superior sequel, Grasscutter II, which begins in the next volume.
All in all, Demon Mask reflects serious growth in the Usagi series as creator Stan Sakai falls back upon a number of favorite themes and devices, using each more successfully than ever before. A lot of newcomers to Usagi make the mistake of beginning with Grass Cutter (volume 12) and then jumping right to Grasscutter II (volume 15). I think this is a tremendous mistake when there is so much genius and wonder contained in this volume, let alone several important points of continuity that will affect the events of Grasscutter II and at least one major storyline that follows it.
Take my advice: Even without a major storyline running through it, Demon Mask is not a volume to skip.