Vagabond Volumes 7 and 8 by Takehiko Inoue
I’ve fallen behind with reading Vagabond, but that makes catching up all the more enjoyable since I was able to read 6 volumes of awesome sword fighting action all at once in these two omnibus editions. This is a series that I sometimes find difficult to write about because it is honestly as close to perfection as I think any manga series can possibly get. I mean, there’s not a whole lot to say other than it continues to be a great comics. The fight scenes in Vagabond are never just fight scenes. Instead they are conversations between two characters who just happen to be trying their best to kill each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than the first two parts of Volume 7, which show Sasaki Kojiro finally fighting to preserve his life as he’s abandoned near a battlefield filled with crazed and starving opponents. Kojiro is finally facing fear and in doing so is transforming his abilities with the sword. He’s past the point of exhaustion, but enters a trance-like state when fighting for his life reveals new aspects of his technique with the sword.
Kojiro is a deaf-mute, so when he fights with his opponents, he can only communicate with his body language and actions. As I was following Kojiro’s fights through the first 2/3rds of this volume, I appreciated the attention Inoue pays to blocking out the fight scenes based on the character’s personalities. Kojiro’s so close to nature that his reactions are primal and instinctual. Musashi approaches fighting with more of a shrewd and calculated brutality. Seeing the contrast between these two rivals as they slowly journey towards each other had me anticipating their meeting even more.
Musashi is showing signs of philosophizing as he journeys towards his confrontation with the Yoshioka School. The reader gets glimpses of the man who will eventually write The Book of Five Rings as he ponders the true meaning behind the idea of becoming invincible. When Musashi kills one of the Yoshioka brothers, the other members of the school want to find a stand-in so they won’t lose the last heir of the school. Musashi’s childhood friend Matahatchi has been posing as Kojiro based on accidental possession of a hereditary document, but when he finds out that the real Kojiro is in town promptly renames himself “Satsaki Koujiro”. Matahatchi is such a weasel he always just barely manages to preserve his life by coming up with a new and inventive lie, which is a different kind of strength.
Vagabond is filled with references to nature. Kojiro’s inner self is represented as a raging sea. The Yoshioka School fight takes place in winter and Musashi struggles to deal with the elements. He doesn’t want his body to stiffen up when he’s outside, so he keeps moving. Musashi and Kojiro meet when they are both staying at the house of a renowned sword-sharpener. The way they meet shows how surprising Vagabond can be. Kojiro starts practicing his technique by swinging a stick at a snowman Musashi made, and the two men soon find themselves battling it out with twigs instead of swords. Seeing these two men develop a camaraderie when they are destined to become rivals is part of what makes Vagabond so rewarding to read. After their meeting Musashi reflects that Kojiro’s instinctive ability is a part of himself that he’s lost somehow along his journey. Musashi concludes that he’s been lucky to survive so far, and he has to work to get back what he’s lost.