“An emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function, and ultimately a change in behavior…”, is the official definition of fear. It’s a feeling that exists within all of us. The strong and the weak both find themselves afflicted by its crippling grip. It’s an invisible force that can turn the most confident of people into the most meek and if volume two of Madman Entertainment’s ‘Vagabond (Vizbig Edition)’ taught me anything, it’s that nothing can stop it.
‘Vagabond’ is a Manga series written and illustrated by famed Mangaka Takehiko Inoue who’s most famous for his Shonen sports series ‘Slam Dunk’. Based off of the novel ‘Musashi’, ‘Vagabond’ tells the story of real life figure Miyamoto Musashi; the worlds most well-known and masterful samurai. Volume two continues Miyamoto’s journey through Japan. Already storming his very first samurai school but making it out barely alive, he decides to continue on path of the blade thanks to his ignorant and stubborn nature. Heading to Nara, he intends to take on the Hozoin Temple. This place, doubling as a samurai training camp, is well-known country wide as the number one producer of powerful spear users. These monk-like men practice the spear arts which gives them a huge advantage against warriors that use more ‘up close and personal’ styles of combat: The samurai.
Miyamoto, knowing this but refusing to stray from his journey to becoming ‘immortal under the sun’, challenges the temple but there he meets another roadblock. The school’s genius student and the head of the temple challenges Miyamoto to a duel. One that will finally show the ‘unbeatable’ man that fear is not something he can dodge forever or at all. Volume two shows readers a new side of Miyamoto Musashi. If you’ve read the very volume, you’d know that Musashi has quite a strong head: He believes he can do no wrong, he believes he cannot be beaten and he believes he will be the best. Constantly he’s referred to as a beast. he relies on animal-like instincts and primal rage, alongside his freakish brute force, to cut down all who stand in his way. This particular battle does not exactly go that way.
At the very start of the volume we’re introduced to a Miyamoto Musashi that actually feels love. He can’t seem to stop thinking about his childhood friend Otsu, a woman he never imagined he’d fall for and neither did we, the audience, seeing as when she was around he was nothing but cold. Takuan, the eccentric monk, helps Miyamoto come to the realization that distraction will inevitably lead to death and we finally see a sense of true and deep concern in the man who, up until that point, had only shown us aggressive side. Inshon, the Hozoin Temple head, mentally destroys Miyamoto even more by showing him the true form of human fear. What I liked more than anything, story-wise, about volume two was that it didn’t continue to show us the unbeatable Miyamoto Musashi. Yes, in the past he did have trouble in battle but it never got to the point where he was on the verge of true demise and, even if that was the case, the younger Miyamoto Musashi wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
A little bit older and, to a certain degree, a little bit wiser, Musashi finally realizes that death is always just around the corner for him. Something he said he’d thought about when he started on this path but something he clearly didn’t. This alone is the sign of a beautifully written character that has clear growth and it’s simply exciting to see. What makes ‘Vagabond’ even better is that its story is lined with beautiful lessons and morals. One of which, in this volume, happens to be that of overcoming fear…clearly. Miyamoto Musashi, the real Miyamoto Musashi, eventually wrote the book ‘The Five Rings’ which describes a great deal about how to properly look at life and how to live the life of a true warrior so it’s not odd that, through the Manga, readers are coming to understand some of what is detailed in the book.
We’re also given a chance to check up on Miyamoto’s old friend Matahachi who, coming as no surprise to me, is still acting like somewhat of a charlatan. It’s amazing, both men are basically living terrible lives: One travels around the country killing most people he comes across, and the other is so dishonest that he’d go as low as to take another man’s name because of the popularity that comes with it. What’s truly funny is that we’re all on the side of Miyamoto Musashi even though he’s doing things that are just as terrible as his friend. Once again, this is just another sign of great writing. Good or bad, we’re meant to like the main character and ‘Vagabond’ almost forces us to like the bloodthirsty Musashi.
Takehiko Inoue continues with his brilliant artistic style. Nothing has changed from the first volume in that regard but it still doesn’t make it any less impressive. This Mangaka is truly royalty in the industry. He’s a master at dynamic illustrations and panel layout as well as facial expressions and impactful shading. Something I actually noticed in volume two more than in volume one was the way Inoue draws facial shadows. He often draws extreme closeups of characters and the cross hatching style he implements adds so much more depth to what would normally be just an average drawing.
Inoue’s much more than just an illustrator though, he’s a brilliant painter and a wonderful environmental artist. At the start of each new volume we’re given the gift of full-colour pages which have clearly been done with oil paints. The way Inoue goes about painting these panels is very interesting to say the least: He uses very soft strokes and light colours which work well in contrast to the dark and gritty line work he implements throughout the rest of the Manga. I’d go as far as to say that it even indicates the calm before the storm because it isn’t often that Inoue depicts combat in the painted panels, instead he chooses to show the lead up to what will be a fierce battle. The contradiction of rough lines and soft paintings really makes for impactful starts to volumes and does well getting you into a mindset that is perfect for reading through a story of this kind.
‘Vagabond’ has proven to me, in only two volumes, that Musashi Miyamoto’s life is one that, though filled with death and carnage, can inspire many people even to this day. What is even more amazing is that this Manga hosts enough substance to inspire change in people. Not only is it an exciting story filled with mind blowing visuals but it’s also filled with life lessons and morals that, so long as you look a little deeper, can actually be be relatable. Yes, there’s no normal persona who SHOULD find inspiration within a story about a man traveling the country killing people but what lies beneath that is the story of a young boy, ruled by naivety, realizing his true path in live and eventually growing into a man that seemingly has it all figured out. This is something that we can all relate to and I’ve found no better way to learn about something as arcane as life than through a piece of visual media of this caliber. Whether or not you think I’m over exaggerating is only something you’ll know for sure once you pick up this book and read it for yourself. Then, and only then, will my statements not seem ridiculous.
The story of Miyamoto Musashi is an exciting and thoughtful one. Head to Madman Entertainments official online store to pick up ‘Vagabond’ now: Click Here