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Vagabond, vols. 1 & 2 (by Takehiko Inoue)

OMFG.

Not very articulate, I know. But that was my first reaction after reading these. And actually, I was ooh'ing and aah'ing in the very first pages.

I don't know a lot about manga - this is really only the fourth series I've even started. But I do know a bit about illustration in general. I've followed my favorite children's book illustrators and SF&F cover artists for a couple of decades now (one of my most treasured gifts of recent years was Shirley Hughes' illustrated autobiography, A Life Drawing). And man-o-manischewitz, Inoue can draw! And paint! The artwork, both B&W and color, is stunning.

Plus, the way Inoue's started out this story - a fictionalized biography of legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi - has got me completely hooked. At this point in his life, the famous author of The Book of Five Rings is a thuggishly handsome 17-year-old peasant, with little discipline and barely any sense of honor. He's got a long road ahead.

Volume 1 opens on the corpse-strewn fields that are the aftermath of the battle of Sekigahara (and yes, SDK fans, I found myself wondering how many of those corpses were killed by Kyo, and on which of those hillsides Yukimura was drowning his sorrows in sake, watched by a concerned Kyoushirou). It turns out that two of those corpses aren't dead yet, however: a pair of young men named Takezo and Matahachi, who are friends. It becomes clear, as they limp off the battlefield supporting each other, wander for days in the wilds with nothing to eat, and survive encounters with bounty hunters, that Takezo is the stronger of the two. They are both ill and nearly dying, however, when they are taken in by an attractive widow with a young daughter. These two live by scavenging the battlefields, in defiance of the local gang of brigands, who believe all such spoil to be theirs. There's a lot more to it than that, and I don't want to ruin it any more than I must. Let's just say that Takezo and Matahachi eventually depart the widow's home in pretty much opposite directions, and there's a large pile of corpses behind them. And when Takezo arrives at their home village to tell Matahachi's family and fiancee that his friend is alive but won't be returning home, no one seems very happy to see him. Of course, the squad of soldiers who arrived there at almost the same time - seeking his arrest for killing two of their number at the provincial border - might have something to do with it. The volume ends as Takezo, betrayed by someone in the village, faces a seemingly inescapable trap.

In the first pages of Volume 2, Takezo escapes to the woods nearby, where he has an odd confrontation with tough-looking, cool-headed monk named Takuan. Takuan takes an interest in the entire situation, gaining the confidence of Matahachi's fiancee Otsu, an orphan who is serving in the temple. The captain of the soldiers is getting a little too interested in Otsu, to her disgust - and she's already very upset because of Matahachi's disappearance. Meanwhile, Takezo is having his own troubles even when the soldiers aren't closing in on him: not only is there next to nothing to eat - again - but it turns out that the brother of one of the men he killed earlier is after him. Eventually, Takuan proposes that since the captain and his men are having no luck in capturing the fearsome Takezo, he and Otsu will take a shot at it. How this all resolves - I'm not telling. But it's angst-y and wonderful and a little sad, and I am really, really looking forward to reading more.

I'd really, really like to thank my friend Petrefax for recommending this series.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
meganbmoore
Apr. 1st, 2007 05:18 am (UTC)
Vagabond is amazing. It went on hiatus here for a year or so(Inoue took a 6 month sabbatical and Viz was putting out the books at the rate of about 1 a month and they kept at it until they caught up) and it just about killed me.

There's also a 49 episode live action series that's also loosely based on the book...the first few eps are kinda shakey, but it's excellent, and my favorite dorama(asian live action series)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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