Vagabond Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A

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  • Art Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 17 & Up
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 12.95
  • Pages: 248
  • ISBN: 1-59116-034-0
  • Size: A5
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Vagabond Vol. #01

By Jarred Pine     March 04, 2005
Release Date: March 01, 2002

Vagabond Vol.#01
© Viz Media

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

What They Say
Tokugawa Era Japan: a new government has just taken power and the land is in disarray. Amidst the turmoil, a young man sets out on a journey seeking spiritual enlightenment by the way of the sword, prepared to slay anyone who might get in his way! Adapted from the fictionalized biography Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Takehiko Inoue depicts the life and times of real-life "sword saint" Miyamoto Musashi.

At the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara, 17-year-old Takezo and his friend Matahachi—survivors on the losing side—seek refuge at the home of a woman named Okô. Tsujikaze Tenma, the local bandit leader, and his men attack. Takezo manages to defeat Tsujikaze Tenma, while Matahachi sneaks off with Okô and her daughter Akemi. Separated from Matahachi, Takezô returns to his home village of Musashi and finds he is wanted as a criminal! Will Takezo be captured?

The Review
The cover artwork is the same as the original Japanese release, featuring a headshot of our main character Shinmen Takezo, aka Miyamoto Musashi. It’s a really gorgeous cover and I think fans of Inoue’s artwork will definitely appreciate it. The Japanese logo on the top of the page is replaced by Viz’s red translated title logo. It has a calligraphy font style like the original Japanese logo.

The volume is an A5 that reads right-to-left. There are a total of 16 color pages that are just stunning at the beginning of chapters 1, 2, and 7. The end of each chapter has a grey page with the translated logo on one side and a small sketch from Inoue on the other. Often times these sketches feature little words from Inoue that can be quite humorous. A real solid release from Viz and well worth the extra $3 for these first 4 volumes.

NOTE: Volumes 1-4 were originally not a part of the Editor’s Choice label, so there is no logo on the spine. They also were priced at $12.95.

Inoue’s artwork in Vagabond is some of the most breathtaking and detailed that I have seen in a translated release. The lush vegetation and rich forests in the background are so clean and finely detailed, which really bring the pictures to life. Since this is an historical fiction, the character designs remain pretty normal and life-like, and contains so much detail especially with the faces. I was amazed at how Inoue can describe a character’s personality just buy how he draws his eyes. The thick eyebrows and haunting glances of Takezo really brings out the emotionless beast that he is. It is these eyes that intimidate those in front of him and Inoue does a great job at conveying that to the reader. The facial expressions in general are done with a lot of detailed work which really breathes life into the characters.

The action scenes are quite captivating and intense without cluttering the panel with busy artwork. There’s a lot of blood spilt, and the way it is illustrated adds a sense of realism which is really needed to explain and show what kind of character Takezo is, and also how brutal the times were during this period of unrest.

SFX are translated and retouched. With a manga that has such stunning artwork, I would have preferred no retouching at all, but this volume really doesn’t contain many SFX at all. They are mostly small ones that are inconspicuous. The bigger effects are usually out of the way or placed in a position where it doesn’t clutter the rest of the panel. The retouch is really clean too. If you are going to retouch, I would say this is the quality to aim for.

The names are presented in traditional Japanese order, with family name first and given name last. The long ‘ou’ is written as the single ‘o’ with a bar to designate a long ‘o’ sound. The adaptation is done very nicely. The dialogue seems pretty simple in this volume, so there didn’t seem to be too much cultural context to translate. There is a nice mini-glossary at the end of the book that has cultural information about the Battle of Sekigahara and the Yagyu and Yoshioka Clans, as well as a summary of who Miyamoto Musashi was.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
Miyamoto Musashi is no doubt the most renowned swordsmen in Japan. Much of his life is still shrouded in mystery, but it was the historical fiction novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa that turned him into the legend that his is today which has influenced many stories and media. Vagabond is the manga adaptation of Yoshikawa’s novel.

The story begins during the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara, a major turning point in the battle between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi clans for the claim to rule Japan. Shinmen Takezo, the born name of Musashi, and Hon’iden Matahachi are one of a few survivors from the loosing side of the war. The two 17 year old boys left their village in Sakushu to make a name for themselves at this battle by taking a general’s head. Feeling defeated and ashamed, the two now wonder the countryside where they must be careful not to be captured. Along the way they stumble onto a house whose inhabitants are Oko and Akemi, a mother and daughter whose husband/father was killed by the Tsujikaze gang and now try to make a living by living of the spoils of the dead soldiers. Oko takes the two boys in, with plans of her own to use them as protection. Just as the Takezo and Matahachi about to leave, the Tsujikaze gang shows up to take what Oko and Akemi have stolen from the dead soldiers and the two boys are forced to fight back.

After this event, Takezo and Matahachi are split up as Matahachi decides to run off with Oko, and Takezo decides to return to his village to tell Matahachi’s grandmother and fiancée that Matahachi will not be returning. On the way, Takezo has a few run-ins with some soldiers and now he must hide in the forests as the soldiers are looking for him in his village. The grandmother is outraged by this news and refuses to believe it as she is blinded by her family’s pride. She also blames Takezo for running off to war with Matahachi. The grandmother then lays a trap to capture Takezo with the help of the soldiers.

This first volume introduces you to Shinmen Takezo, the young, immature boy who later becomes Musashi. At these early stages, Takezo is really nothing more than a beast. The fights that he gets into are really graphic and violent, which brings out this beast personality in him. He also looks quite emotionless when he is killing. We get a little flashback here of his father who is depicted as someone that Takezo hated, and it seems that his upbringing definitely was a part of the beast that he is. Matahachi starts off as the nice friend of Musashi but really turns into quite the jealous and insecure type as the story moves on. The story with Oko and Akemi reminds me of the Sirens from Greek mythology. Two soldiers wondering aimlessly, entranced by the ding-ding sounds from Akemi’s bell, who end up getting seduced by the older Oko who is desperately looking for a man to protect her. That whole scene and their story is very haunting to me and speaks for just how hard the war was on everyone. At the end of the volume we are introduced to a couple characters from the home village that will play much larger roles later on. The grandmother is an interesting character who is blinded by so much family pride that she refuses to accept that her son, Matahachi, could do anything to besmirch the family name.

First off, let me thank Viz for bringing this manga here to the English speaking world and treating it so well. In today’s market, I would think it would be hard to sell a story about a Japanese legend that is filled with a lot of historical fiction.

The one thing I was trying to determine while reading this book is who would enjoy it. For those who are familiar with the legend of Musashi, I think the story that is presented here is a good adaptation of the novel. The pace is much faster, there are more embellishments, and the characters are definitely much better looking in the manga than they most likely were in real life (Musashi was thought to have been born with eczema), but all in all it’s a good adaptation that fans of the legend will enjoy. For those who aren’t familiar with Musashi but who maybe enjoy samurai/historical stories with lots of swordplay, there’s plenty of that here. The action scenes are breathtaking and intense. Now, what about the people who don’t fall into either of these categories? Essentially what it comes down to is whether or not the story grabs their attention. I think the first volume presents an interesting setup. The characters are not really that likeable at all. Takezo is a beast, Matahachi is insecure and not very honest, Oko is conniving, it’s a very ugly world that is presented. However, the period in which this story takes place is a world that is devastated by war and desperate people, and swordsmen who are out to prove themselves.

Visually Inoue really pulls the reader in as he breathes so much life into each scene and character. I think this is where the manga really shines. I found myself just entranced with how detailed and beautiful the artwork was, despite that harshness of the world behind it. This is the beginning of an epic story about an epic character, and I recommend everyone to give it a shot.


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