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Vagabond, vols. 7-8 (Takehiko Inoue)

After months of training, both on his own and with eccentric Master In'ei, Musashi is about to have his re-match with Inshun, the Second Generation Master of Hozoin Temple, who is a genius with the spear. But first, we have to have lots of flashbacks ... and they are wonderful. These two volumes weren't just exciting and interesting and artistically beautiful - they also made me smile.

Vagabond 7-8 (review)

On the evening before the battle with Inshun, it's pouring rain, and Musashi is dreaming. He dreams of his father, and remembers his childhood, and Otsu. In fact, he's so worn out with nerves, that when he finally sleeps soundly, he sleeps almost through the next day - so he ends up meeting Inshun in the twilight. He is still armed with his bokken (wooden practice sword), but Inshun is armed with a fine spear that belongs to In'ei. The two opponents end up standing off each other for ages ... waiting. It should be boring, but it isn't - we get to share their thoughts, and those of master In'ei, as he watches.

Then the scene shifts to Otsu's story, where she's working for the the Yagyu swordsmaster Muneyoshi - who had once encountered Master In'ei - and we meet Gion Toji again. And Toji makes Muneyoshi remember how he and In'ei both individually challenged the master swordsman Ise no Kami.

All of this gives us little hints about what it is to be a master of a martial art and gives perspective on the two young men, Musashi and Inshun, who are already, without moving, challenging each other for their lives.

They finally charge each other. Inshun gives Musashi a nasty wound across his cheek and ear - and Musashi strikes him squarely on the head with the bokken. Inshun drops - and Musashi loses it. He starts beating Inshun's prone body ... and soon Inshun is dying.

As his spirit starts to leave his body, Inshun remembers his past, including his childhood. It's a very sad story - he witnessed the deaths of both parents, and immediately before, the rape of his mother. (It's all shown pretty explicitly.)

But Inshun decides that he wants to live ... and soon both opponents are lying side by side, bandaged and unconscious, in Master In'ei's house. They will both live to fight another day. They have both learned some very important things ... and they part as friends. (Awww, I'm getting a little teary just thinking about it!)

That's not quite the end. We learn a little bit more about what Matahachi is doing in the meantime. The bum is still impersonating samurai Sasaki Kojiro. He runs into his mother (except I thought she was his grandmother, but never mind ...) who is traveling with a companion from the village to track down Musashi and Otsu. He lies to them, too. When some men overhear them talking about Musashi, they join in the conversation. Matahachi finds out what his old friend has been up to - and he's not pleased. He boasts that he will defeat Musashi. (Idiot.)

Even though it ended with that sour note, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story arc.

And yes, I have been working on my shoujo manga reading project - really, truly! The next thing I write up will be Ouran High School Host Club.

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