Vagabond implements powerful, highly-detailed art to bring alive Inoue’s interpretation of the life and trials of the greatest swordsman in Japanese history, Musashi Miyamoto.
Writer/Artist: Takehiko Inoue
Translation: Yuji Oniki
Adaptation: Yuji Oniki
What They Say:
Real-life figure Miyamoto Musashi was the most celebrated samurai of all time. The quintessential warrior philosopher, Musashi authored A Book of Five Rings, a theoretical guide to military strategy still used today by modern-day businessmen. But the path to enlightenment in feudal era Japan was fraught with peril. At 17 years of age, Musashi - still known by his childhood name Shinmen Takezo - was a wild young brute just setting out along the way of the sword.
What We Say:
I cannot say enough good things about this version of Vagabond. Viz released this under its VIZBIG imprint, meaning the first three volumes combined together in this A5 sized 728-page tomb. The print quality is excellent throughout the entire book. Inks are solid across high-quality paper of a surprising thickness. This same paper is used for multiple sections of color, much in the same way Dark Horse has been releasing the color versions of Oh My Goddess!. My only complaint is a little alignment issues with some text on the outer portion of some pages. The text is almost cut short, which makes me wonder if this VIZBIG edition is slightly smaller than the original releases. This small nitpick is really the only reason I couldn’t give an A+ for the ‘Packaging’ grade.
Extras include a glossary with historical terms, character sketches, a Viz interview with Inoue in 2007, and author comments about each of the three original volumes included in this VIZBIG edition.
Inoue’s art in this title reminds me a lot of Goseki Kojima’s art in Kazuo Koike titles like Path of the Assassin and Lone Wolf and Cub. Both artists illustrate powerful fight scenes set in the feudal era, with beautiful landscape scenes. While I feel comparing Inoue’s art to Kojima’s is a compliment to Inoue, I also feel Inoue is a better artist. Inoue and Kojima can both capture the power of a battle and the desperate facial expressions of characters facing death, but Inoue does it with much finer detail. Highly detailed eyes and plenty of crosshatch shading give the sensation of watching a movie.
The translation/adaptation for this book reads well and does a good job moving the story forward. The only instance I noticed the translation was the use of ‘machete’. I understand there were multiple versions of the machete in feudal eastern Asia, so why use ‘machete’ in the translation? I would have preferred whatever Inoue might have used in the original with a translation in the ‘Glossary’. SFX are translated and overlain.
Contents: (Spoiler X-ing)
Vagabond opens on the carnage strewn fields of Sekigahara. Miyamoto is seventeen and he still goes by his given name, Takezo. He and his friend Matahachi, have just survived fighting for the losing side, no small feat for two young foot soldiers. Unfortunately, their tribulations are only beginning. Now they have to escape the area while avoiding the ‘Refugee Hunters’, men from the winning side that are hunting down and killing all enemy survivors.
Of course, Takezo and Matahachi don’t make it far before they are attacked by a group of Refugee Hunters. This is the reader’s first exposure to Takezo’s never give up attitude and signature phrase, ‘If you’re gonna try to kill me, I’m gonna kill you!’ True to his words, Takezo turns out to be a brutal and resourceful fighter. He kills three fully armed samurai with nothing but a couple stones and a stick.
Takezo and Matahachi eventually end up living with a widow and her teenage daughter. Despite having a fiancé back home, Matahachi is completely enamored with the older woman, Oko. Bandits killed her husband and ever since, the bandit leader has been trying to marry Oko. Things don’t go well when the bandits find Takezo and Matahachi hiding out with Oko and her daughter. After the boys get separated, Takezo rushes into battle with the bandits trying to save Oko and Matahachi. Unfortunately for Takezo, Matahachi has forsaken him for a chance to sleep with Oko. This effectively ends their friendship, sending Takezo home while Matahachi wanders off with Oko and her daughter.
I don’t know if Takezo has feelings for Matahachi’s fiancé, Otsu, or if he somehow feels responsible for Matahachi’s choice to abandon his duties. For whatever reason, Takezo returns to his home village to tell Matahachi’s family that he is alive but never coming home. Since Takezo was always an outsider, the village quickly blames him for Matahachi’s failure to return. The local samurai leader of the village sends his men and the villagers after Takezo. Instead of abandoning his home, Takezo sticks around in the hopes of telling Otsu to move on because Matahachi has married someone else.
Eventually the monk Takuan becomes involved in the manhunt. Along with Otsu, they easily capture Takezo, who is nearly starved to death. Takuan doesn’t allow Takezo to die right away, instead he hangs him from a tree. Days with no food or water leave Takezo begging for a warrior’s death. This is where Takuan’s brilliance shines through. He forces Takezo to face the ghosts of all the men he has killed. Nightmares fill both Takezo’s nights and days. His only relief comes in the form of an angel bearing food, Otsu. She has received a letter from Matahachi explaining his marriage to Oko. The news shattered Otsu, but she never blames Takezo and she even tries to sneak him food when no one is watching.
Takuan eventually allows Takezo to die, but only in spirit. The death of Takezo allows for the birth of Musashi Miyamoto and what Takuan hopes will be a new respect for life. Miyamoto heads to Kyoto with the intention of challenging the strongest swordsmen in the land. However, will he revert to killing? Will all of Takuan’s hard work come to naught? What about Otsu, what will she do? Will Miyamoto ever see that scum of a childhood friend Matahachi?
I have always wanted to read this series, but just never got around to it. I had even reached a point of shunning the title because of the number of volumes released to date. Therefore, I am really excited to see Vagabond receiving the VIZBIG treatment. Not only does this edition give the reader three volumes for the price of 1.5 books, but it also retains the color art from all the original Japanese releases. There are seven different color sections in this book! Much as Dark Horse has done (and probably other publishers I haven’t seen yet), Viz colorized the regular pages of this book, effectively avoiding the cost of glossy pages.
The story itself does an excellent job of drawing in the reader. I read the entire book in one sitting, which is surprising because it usually takes me two sittings to read a regular-sized manga (just too much other stuff to do). Vagabond has action, suspense, betrayal, sex, and a self-realization episode at a surprisingly young age for the protagonist. However, I’m not completely convinced Miyamoto has become a new man after his brush with death and the monk Takuan. Even more reason for me to keep reading this series.