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Vagabond, vols. 3-6 (by Takehiko Inoue)

Volume 3 of Vagabond opens with a flashback to four years before. At the end of the events of vols. 1 and 2, the monk Takuan is giving the young Shingen Takezo the name by which he will be known to history: Miyamoto Musashi. Now Musashi, who has been training in the backwoods, has arrived in Kyoto with the aim of improving his swordsmanship. During the course of this and the next few volumes, the elite Yoshioka School of swordsmanship will be utterly destroyed, Musashi's old scapegrace friend Matahachi will reappear and find himself on the run, and Musashi will have some very disturbing (and educational) encounters with a self-appointed Yoshioka School assassin and with the current and former masters of the Hozoin School of spear fighting.

The artwork continues to blow me away. The color pieces are just ravishing: intense, bold, often completely in your face (I have to keep vol. 5 turned face down ...). There's a real feeling of place in the line drawings of rooms, villages, towns, monasteries - you can even see how structures are put together. The same care goes into people's clothes and, for the most part, their faces (although all the women tend to look rather the same ... maybe this will improve as the series goes on). But the fight scenes, emotional reaction shots, and so on are vividly simple, and the action sequences are easy to follow.

Vagabond remains vivid, exciting, and filled with carnage.

One of the weird things for me about this series is how much my brain is willing to go to manga-land for the story's sake. Normally, if I had read a scene in which a man loses both his hands to a sword stroke (which happens to one of the Hozoin monks when he gets cocky with Gion Toji, the self-appointed Yoshioka School assassin), I'd be really flipped out and full of empathy for the poor guy. After all, in this day and age, he's going to be dependent on others for all sorts of basic, humiliating things for the rest of his life - no sophisticated muscle- or nerve-activated prostheses are available in Tokugawa Japan. But when I was reading Vagabond vol. 4 , my brain just gave a fatalistic little shrug: that's what happens when you get your pride riled up by a guy armed with a sword, dude. I mean, he did give you the option of having him switch to a bokken.

Regardless of Toji's ruthless treatment of the obnoxious monk (and in fact, just about all the Hozoin monks were being really crude and obnoxious in that scene), I like him. He's blunt, forthright, and not without humor. In fact, he makes me think of a more real-world take on Samurai Deeper Kyo's titular hero/antihero: at one point, he tells Musashi, "You're just like me. We can only speak through our swords." He's also the only one of the Yoshioga School adepts who takes Musashi at all seriously - he actually volunteers to take him on as a student if he defeats enough of the others who are challenging the youngster. I'm not sure what's going to happen between him and Musashi - Toji is supposedly tracking him down to kill him for the destruction of the school - but I hope they come to some sort of understanding.

I like the older and younger Hozoin masters too. The older one, In'ei, is Yoda in human form (and the translation gives him Yoda's diction, too!). He actually starts to get through to Musashi on the ideas of meditation and self-awareness. The younger one, Inshun, is strangely innocent and pure, and takes everything with a sort of wry, amused surprise ... an interesting contrast to Musashi.

On the other hand, Matahachi is a walking, talking embarrassment - I really have a hard time reading his sections of the story. He's meant to be the comic relief, I guess, but he just makes me ashamed for him and impatient.

Well, I'm looking forward to vol. 7 ... Inshun is on his way to his old master's place, looking for a rematch with Musashi!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 18th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
I like Gion Toji a lot. In the live action Musashi series, he's played by Abe Hiroshi, who's probably my favorite japanese actor.

Vagabond is pretty good at letting you go "oh well" to people losing limbs and such.
Apr. 19th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)

Yeah ... so much about the series is more real-world than SDK or Saiyuki that I had a hard time believing I wasn't more freaked out about what happened to Agon and his hands. But he was being such a prick (um, perhaps a little too appropriate a choice of words there ...) moments before ... .

You know, limbs don't get lopped off in SDK very often, do they? Amazing, considering how many fights there are. Haira vs. Yukimura is the only fight I can recall where it happened. (And of course, Yukimura was all Yuki about it: "You must be be one of the Twelve - I meant to slice off your head!")

Apr. 19th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
I think Yukimura put it best there...SDK guys tend to move in for the kill, and they're generally very, very good at killing.

And people are rarely being nice when they get hacked in Vagabond. There's only one part where I recall sympathy for the guy getting hacked, but it's actually a fairly touching story and, in a way, makes his life better.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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