Vagabond Vol. #14 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Friday, December 23, 2005
Release Date: Wednesday, September 01, 2004



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Takehiko Inoue
Translated by:Yuji Oniki
Adapted by:

What They Say
Miyamoto Musashi is destined to be Japan’s most celebrated samurai, a man revered as a sword-saint. But every great warrior needs a worthy rival and Sasaki Kojiro is destined to be Musashi’s legendary opponent in the most well known duel in Japanese history. This volume goes into the background and childhood of the man famed for his deadly “swallow cut” sword stroke.

The Review
With this volume, the story now changes focus to Musashi’s greatest rival --Sasaki Kojiro.

Packaging:
The production qualities are some of the best I’ve seen from VIZ, and they picked the right title for with to spend the extra effort. The title is presented in the larger A5 trim size, which is nice for a title with such detailed artwork as this. The cover features the original JP artwork, with Inoue’s painted illustration looking wonderful. The English logo is stylishly done to match the feel of the original.

The print reproduction is stunning, really sharp tones and a nice heavy paper. Color plates are also used for the 4 pages at the front of the book. Chapter inserts are also present, which feature a small sketch from Inoue on each. There is a glossary as the back of the book that explains some of the historical aspects of the story, which is a nice touch.

Art:
The artwork of Vagabond is some of the best, if not THE best, I’ve seen in English translated manga. The character artwork is very realistic, using a nice hatching technique to help bring each character’s facial expressions and features to life. There is also just so much detail put into every panel. The backgrounds are lush and plentiful. Inoue has put a lot of hard work into this title and it shows. Wonderful stuff.

Text/SFX:
SFX are translated and retouched, and a nice retouch job it is by VIZ. Since Inoue’s strength is his artwork, I would have liked to have seen the original SFX, but flipping to a glossary or cluttering the panels with subs might have been worse. There are not a lot of SFX, so I found this was the right decision. The retouch is solid and I have no complaints.

The names are presented in traditional Japanese order, with family name first and given name last, although there are no honorifics. The dialogue continues to flow very smoothly, while also capturing the personalities of the characters.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
What happens to a former samurai once his sword, in essence his soul, is broken? Can that samurai pick up the pieces and forge a new life with a new sense of purpose? With the 14th volume of Vagabond, the story sees a big shift not just back in time--set 17 years before the battle of Sekigahara--but also with the focus of the characters. This volume marks the beginning of a multi-volume story arc that will introduce the reader to Musashi’s famed rival Sasaki Kojiro, following his development into the famed “swallow cut” swordsman from toddler to grown adult.

Kanemaki Jisai is a former samurai who was master of the Chujo-Ryu school, but now lives as a hermit on the outskirts of a village by the ocean. After being defeated by a former disciple, future Ito-Ryu founder Ito Ittosai, Jisai now lives a life without motivation or purpose, spending most of the days waiting to wither away and die. A life given to the sword, Jisai now finds himself alone without family and no other skills to make a living.

His life is then forever changed when he receives a letter from one of his former disciples. In the letter, his former disciple talks about making a last stand at a Lord's castle and wants Jisai to watch over his young boy, Sasaki Kojiro. It is this boy that once again gives Jisai a reason to live by learning how to protect and care for this young child. Jisai doesn't quite take to raising a boy at first, as he drops of Kojiro at the neighbors on numerous occasions only to keep returning to take him back once he realizes how his outlook on life has begun to change.

Inside of the boat that brought Kojiro via the seas is a long sword, longer than most samurai could handle, which in essence becomes a substitution for Kojiro's parents. Even from an early age where he is unable to even understand what a sword is, Kojiro hugs it to his body like a teddy bear or warm blanket, crying when it is taken away from him. As Kojiro gets older, Jisai realizes that part of his responsibility to protect Kojiro includes keeping him away from the sword that Jisai believes destroyed his very own life. Jisai hides the sword, which throws Kojiro into a rage, but he continues to secretly train with driftwood with his new found friend, Kusanagi Tenki.

The big twist on history here that Takehiko Inoue has done with the story is that Kojiro is deaf. It is something that Jisai does not realize until Kojiro is about 3 years old. Being deaf, Kojiro is quite the keen observer as he learns everything that he takes in with his eyes. It is through observing Jisai swing the long sword around, in an act of frustration after finding out about Kojiro’s disability, that Kojiro begins to develop the 'swallow-tail cut'--his infamous sword attack.

The more I read Takehiko Inoue’s works, the more I become amazed at how he realistically portrays his characters and really allows their personalities and emotions to shine through, while also properly developing them with a pace that feels so natural. Jisai starts off the book as this depressing, frustrating man who really just wants to die. By the end of the volume, I found myself quite connected to his character as he slowly begins to turn his life around and find that confidence inside of himself once again. I also love how Inoue got me to feel what it is like for Kojiro growing up deaf and only being able to understand what he can see or smell. There are a few sequences where Inoue places the reader inside of Kojiro as he takes in a scene with a much different viewpoint than what is really happening. When he sees the villagers laughing at Jisai, does Kojiro see this as something mean-spirited or jovial? It’s absolutely fascinating what Inoue has done with his characters by bringing them to life.

Comments
This volume of Vagabond marks the beginning of a new arc as the time shifts back seventeen years before Sekigahara to follow the development of Musashi’s greatest rival, Sasaki Kojiro. In typical Takehiko Inoue fashion, this is not going to be just some trivial introduction for the ultimate showdown, but rather the story will start from when Kojiro is a baby and follow him all the way to adulthood over the new few volumes. It is this deliberate pacing that allows Inoue to present real life characters with true emotions and personalities, giving them time to properly develop and allowing the reader to become instantly attached. Another wonderful volume of Vagabond, which will no doubt become a classic manga--if it hasn’t already. Highly Recommended.



Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 208
ISBN: 1-59116-452-4
Size: A5
Orientation: Right to Left