Vagabond Volume 4 by Takehiko Inoue
I’m surprised that more manga bloggers aren’t writing about Vagabond. Maybe everybody already read the series when it came out in the single volume versions? Or perhaps it is just so obvious that Inoue is great that it is redundant to talk about how awesome this series is? As this volume opens Musashi faces off with the Yagyu clan, determined to kill their master as a sign of his growing strength. One of the many things I like about Vagabond is that the fight scenes aren’t just fights. There’s a mental component as well since Musashi uses battle to come to realizations about himself in his quest to become stronger mentally as well as physically. He takes on a group of Yagyu alone but the real battle comes when he faces down the bedridden head of the clan. The old man is only armed with a backscratcher but his presence is enough to stop Musashi in his tracks.
Musashi flashes back to memories of his father as he tries to define the meaning of “invincible.” The elderly Yagyu sword master becomes an unexpected teacher. Musashi’s old companions begin to come together in unexpected ways. Otsu has been serving the Yagyu clan, and when Musashi sees her he is struck with the knowledge that she’s grown up and turned into a beautiful woman. He leaves her behind as he furthers his quest to become the strongest swordsman but Otsu is determined to track him down. Matahatchi, Musashi, and Otsu all converge from different directions at the remote mountain home of the legendary master of the chain and sickle.
Inoue’s art is just exquisite, capably rendering Musashi’s inner turmoil and dynamic battle scenes. One of the things I was struck with in this volume was the intensity of Musashi’s facial expressions. Just when you think he couldn’t look like more of an intimidating badass, Inoue draws him to look even more focused and determined. It is easy to believe that Musashi’s opponents perceive him as having an aura of fire. The larger VizBig format works well for the epic sweep of the story. It is very satisfying to read three volumes of the series at once.
Vagabond Volume 1 by Takehiko Inoue (amazon)
I read the first volume of Vagabond years ago, but I never picked up the rest of the series. I guess I was afraid to commit to a 28 volume long saga of the fictionalized life of Miyamoto Mushashi. Fortunately the Vizbig edition came along and it gave me a chance to reexamine this series. I’ve been curious about these omnibus editions. I’m not going to buy the big editions of series I’ve already collected like Rurouni Kenshin or Hot Gimmick, but these Vizbig volumes seem like a great value for someone who hasn’t already collected the regular editions.
Vagabond volume 1 contains the first three books of the series. Mushisi is known by the name Shinmen Takezo as the story opens. He’s wandering around a battlefield with his somewhat flakey friend Matahatchi when they fall under the care of a group of sisters who are making their living by stripping corpses. Takezo is determined to become the most invincible swordsman under the sun. When he runs into a local gang he manages to do an extraordinary amount of damaged when armed only with a rock and a stick. Matahatchi runs away with one of the women, Oko, instead of supporting Takezo in a fight. Takezo heads back to his hometown to tell Matahatchi’s mother and fiance Otsu that Matahatchi is still alive. Takezo doesn’t want to reveal that Matahatchi has run off with Oko, which shows a more sensitive side to his personality from someone who spends most of the story chopping up enemies.
Takezo is greeted as a vicious animal by his village. No one is happy to see him except for Otsu. Matahatchi’s mother plots against Takezo and an intervention by the monk Takuan submits Takezo to a grueling ordeal that results in him being reborn as Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi heads towards Kyoto and the famous sword-schools there, even more determined to make a name for himself.
Reading Vagabond made me think about how often I’m reading manga with middle-of-the-road art. I don’t usually tend to mind, but the art in Vagabond is simply spectacular, making other series suffer in comparison. There are detailed character designs for each character, and the action scenes are incredibly dramatic and gritty, if occasionally on the gruesome side. This is definitely a series for mature readers. As the story develops the art gradually incorporates more symbolic elements. When Takezo fights an enemy in the forest images of a spider and praying mantis are incorporated into the action.
The production quality of this volume is great. The paper stock is of better quality than what you find in the typical manga. I think all the color pages from the original Japanese manga are reproduced in color. When reading larger editions I worry about losing some of the artwork in the gutters of the book. This was only an issue for a few of the splash pages. Vagabond is widely acclaimed as a classic, and this edition of the work does it justice. This should be an essential buy for anyone’s manga shelf. I’m just a little worried about storage space at my house because I think a complete run of this series would likely fill up a whole bookshelf.