Often, people are quick to tell you that it’s never a good idea to meet your idols. When you admire someone, be they an actor, musician, public figure, etc. there’s always a great chance that they simply aren’t the people you believed them to be. A celebrity’s image is only one of two, sometimes, strikingly different personas that those in the public eye tend to play host to, so that particular warning is not one that goes unwarranted.
During Japan’s Sengoku Period, one’s level of celebrity was not spread through television appearances, or with the release of their latest album. It was through sheer word of mouth, and often those who look up to these legendary few go to their graves never even knowing what they look like, let alone fulfilling their dream of meeting them. For a young Takezo (Miyamoto Musashi), it was Ito Ittosai, the “Sword Demon”, that inspired him to become the renowned swordsman he is today, but when the two finally come face-to-face, it is a meeting unlike every fantasy that swelled within Takezo’s head from a young age.
Thank you, once again, to Madman Entertainment for their continued support which, this time, has come to us in the form of the latest volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond; a series unparalleled in every single way. Volume eleven shows us, the audience, that each human being has the capacity to grow, to change, to become something better than they once were, but before that…it is themselves they will have to face.
As per usual, Inoue will use each and every possible moment to comment on the human condition, and the woes of getting older as he tells the story of Japan’s most famous Samurai; Miyamoto Musashi, and this volume is no different. The path we walk in life is never a smooth one, and it often has many intersecting lanes. This is what makes our time on this Earth hard, but it’s also what makes it all worth it.
After single-handedly defeating seventy bloodthirsty men from the Yoshioka clan, Musashi is at the greatest crossroads of his life—will he head toward the light and live a life among men, or will the allure of the darkness be too strong for him to resist? A chance encounter with the ferocious master, Ito Ittosai, may make the decision to live by the sword inevitable. – Madman Entertainment
It seems as though Takezo will never lay down his sword. Volume ten made the audience believe that Musashi was finally at the end of his Warrior’s Path, but it looks as though certain dogs truly cannot learn new tricks, as he stumbles back into the blood-soaked realm of swordplay. Finally meeting his idol, Ito Ittosai, Miyamoto Musashi realises that, without the sword, he experiences a surreal anxiety that leads him to believe he simply cannot live without it. His war begins to rage once again as he sets off on a new journey, albeit one that is much like his last; the one he swore he would not walk again.
Volume eleven also follows a Matahachi who is, for all intents and purposes, done with his sad, sorry life. He believed that his lies and deceit would get him wherever he wanted in life, but such a belief is one tainted in naivety. After losing his Mother to old age, Matahachi comes to realise that the life he has led is nothing to be proud of, and that even though his old friend now has the blood of many innocent lives on his hand, he is revered as a mighty warrior. This volume, while focussing more on Musashi, does reveal to the audience that this is not just a story being read by us, but a tale being told by an old Matahachi to any who wish to listen. After over two-hundred chapters it has finally been revealed that the story we’re currently experiencing is being told to us not just by Takehiko Inoue but by his character Hon’iden Matahachi.
This leg of the Manga is leading up to what has been described as one of the most critical battles between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro; The Duel At Funajima. Up until this point, Vagabond has been about a man on journey of growth, but in more recent volumes we have seen just how “human” this man can be. Selfishness, doubt, anxiety; these are all felt by Miyamoto Musashi who, up until recently, was thought never to feel emotions of this kind. Matahachi, his complete opposite, was always depicted as a coward and a cheat, but is now being shown as a man willing to change his ways for the better. What I love about Takehiko Inoue’s writing is that he is able to show, in the most subtle of ways, how the human brain works and how, no matter what time period one belongs to, things are never just black or white.
I consider a purposeful backwards step in a character’s overall personality to be quite a clear sign of masterful writing. A Mangaka spends a great deal of their time building up a character, allowing for the audience to watch as they grow, and often they reach a point of almost-perfection that is, for lack of a better word…inhuman. Miyamoto Musashi is not a perfect character. He never has been. For a brief moment it looked as though he had finally grown past his desire to be the greatest warrior, instead looking for a life of peace and tranquility, but as life decision like this often go; it didn’t last long. It is this sense of realism featured in all of Takehiko Inoue’s works that make his characters so relatable, and despite the fact that this story happens to follow a battle-crazed Samurai, we as the audience still feel this intense connection to his struggles.
As per the norm, Takehiko Inoue’s illustrations are nothing less than absolute perfection. His sketch-heavy style lends itself wondrously to a story of this kind, looking almost like that of a film on paper rather than just a simple Manga. His environments are especially intricate, and allow for scene setting to be executed instantaneously. Often I will sit back and marvel at how striking his illustrations are as they continue to knock me off my feet with every new volume. Takehiko Inoue is one of the most talented illustrators of all time, and his illustrations are second only to that of his writing ability.
As mentioned earlier; Takehiko Inoue never misses a chance to lay down some thought-provoking philosophy, and it adds a remarkable layer to this Manga that makes it more than just a story about a talented Samurai. Up until this point in time, I have never seen a dip in the quality of this series, and volume eleven has just proven that the high-quality streak of Vagabond will not end here. After eleven volumes, anyone would start to feel as though they no longer have anything new to say about this series. I feel that way because, put simply, there is nothing I can criticise about Vagabond. In a perfect world, these reviews would be one word long, and that word would read “Invincible“.
Pick up Volume Eleven of Vagabond (VizBig Edition) now through Madman Entertainment’s online store: Click Here