To live the true life of a Samurai, one must master not only the art of combat but poetry, painting, illustration, conversation, and everything in between. The road of the warrior does not lead straight ahead, there are turns to make through avenues unexpected that will teach a man to master the lifestyle. Miyamoto Musashi, the greatest swordsman in all of Japan, wrote about this in The Book Of Five Rings saying: “You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”.
What is interesting about the life of Miyamoto Musashi, a famed Samurai and philosopher, is that it was only through years of combat that he was able to come to develop a practice not entirely based on swordsmanship. Some time in his life something had changed him. Whilst a young Miyamoto Musashi would grin at the possibility of combat, an older Miyamoto Musashi would write about why one believes such a situation to be beneficial, or the inverse.
In volumes Eight and Nine of Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, provided to us by Madman Entertainment, the audience is finally given the battle they’ve waited for. A year has passed (in story) and the final days leading up to Miyamoto Muashi and Denshichiro Yoshioka’s fated battle have begun to count down, but what will come after it is something fans of this Manga have never seen before. A war between Musashi and seventy men will mark a turning point in the young Samurai’s life as he begins to realise this way of living should not just be about “creating corpses”, but about experiencing every facet of life.
Volume Eight: Musashi has returned to Kyoto one year after he last attempted to take on the mighty Yoshioka School, and the entire city is abuzz anticipating the rematch to come. When the elder disciples of the Yoshioka discover the unbelievable progress Musashi has made along the way of the sword, they plot to defeat him however they can–even if it means resorting to dishonourable means.
Volume Nine: It’s been one year since Yoshioka Denshichiro granted Musashi a reprieve for a rematch. Denshichiro may have been a better swordsman back then, but with Musashi before him now, he realizes the truly incredible strides his opponent has made in such a short period of time. By sheer force of will, a reluctant Denshichiro moves forward into the fight. And what will the deadly repercussions be for Musashi after this duel that’s all but already won? – Madman Entertainment
Vagabond volumes Eight and Nine are the exact definition of a slow burn. With three standard volumes a piece, the first of the two VizBig Editions only features dialogue leading up to the battle between Musashi and Denshichiro, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just happens to run a little slow by the end. This is a turning point for the series, as I have previously mentioned, so to have it take a slower turn isn’t necessarily detrimental because, historically speaking, that is accurate to the life of Miyamoto Musashi; he eventually grows to step fairly far away from combat. Because this is a Manga, though, you can help but want things to be a little more fast-paced. What makes the first of the two volumes good, despite how slow it could be, was that it happened to be filled with fantastic philosophy that, when compared to historical recounts, is very much true-to-life for the character of Miyamoto Musashi. There’s a lot to be learned about this man within the pages of Vagabond, and Takehiko Inoue is good enough a writer that he can educate audience with or without the use of violence.
Volume Nine takes a huge step to the left of the point I was just making though, and pits Miyamoto Musashi against seventy men. What makes this volume incredibly striking is that you are actually forced to watch this man strike down seventy individual men, with each page playing host to a minimum of one death. Earlier I mentioned that Inoue could educate an audience with or without the use of violence, and it is the combination of these two volumes that proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Throughout this volume-long battle against seventy men, we see a slow, subtle, but ultimately obvious change in Miyamoto Musashi. He begins the battle with confidence, not only in himself but in the path of life he has chosen to walk, but as the battle goes on an almost-detrimental surge of doubt rushes through every fibre of his being, altering his perception of the world, and setting him on his way to becoming the Miyamoto Musashi we now read about in the history books.
In every single one of my Vagabond reviews I mention how masterful an artist Takehiko Inoue is…and nothing will change with this one. This man is the contemporary king of sequential art, with his illustrations being akin to an Akira Kurosawa film only on paper. His linework, though sketch-like, is wonderfully realistic, and he is able to portray emotion in ways the likes of which I’ve never seen before.He understands what it means to illustrate movement, momentum, and combat, once again, in quite realistic ways. Each character, no matter who they are or what their story is, is given a unique look, so as to differentiate them from other background figures. This was very much evident in the battle against seventy men wherein which no two men looked alike. This is a man for every artist to look up to in awe: He has found his own path to walk and, much like Miyamoto Musashi, he has put thousands of hours into honing his skills to become one of the best of his generation…debatably, history itself.
It takes one hell of a Mangaka to pursue such a story as Miyamoto Musashi’s. I’ve said this many times in the past, and I feel as though I’ll say it countless times in the future; Takehiko Inoue may be the only contemporary Mangaka who could handle a story as contradictory as this. Miyamoto Musashi is seen as a legend; history’s greatest swordsman, and though I do not attempt to take that title away from him, he is still a mass-murderer. Miyamoto Musashi would approach schools of Samurai with the intent purpose of cutting each individual down for the sake of his own art, yet…the way Inoue writes him is much the same way he is seen nowadays; somewhat of a hero. Though a dark one at that. Thinner lines have never been tread, and Takehiko Inoue knows how to walk them with grace and finesse.
Each time I open another of these volumes, I am delighted with what I am able to experience within them, slow-paced or otherwise. In the end, each page, overtly pivotal or otherwise, added up to something amazing that made me think twice about many story features and structure choices, forcing me to think; “well, surely this was all planned from the very beginning“, and chances are…it was. Sure, the slow pacing of the Eighth volume would perhaps be detrimental for other Manga, but not for Vagabond. This far into a series, I highly doubt a reader is going to stop following simply because one of the volumes lacked violence in it’s entirety. Any avid reader of this series will know that it leads somewhere, and will continue with it in confidence that it will all pay off…which it absolutely did.