Vagabond, Omnibus 3

Creator: Takehiko Inoue
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421522456
Released: April 2009
Original release: 2000-2001
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

The third volume in Viz Media’s omnibus release of Takehiko Inoue’s manga series Vagabond collects the seventh, eighth, and ninth volumes of the original edition. Those volumes were initially published in Japan between 2000 and 2001 and then in English by Viz Media between 2003 and 2004. The third omnibus was released by Viz Media in 2009. Inoue’s Vagabond is based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi, which is a retelling of the life of the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In addition to being an extraordinary adaptation, Vagabond has also earned Inoue a Japan Media Arts Award, a Kodansha Manga Award, and a Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize among other honors. Because March 2013’s Manga Moveable Feast celebrates historical manga, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to dig into Vagabond again.

Along his journey to determine and prove his worth as a swordsman, Musashi confronted Inshun, the second-generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique. Musashi nearly lost his life in the resulting encounter and was forced to retreat. Ashamed that he ran away from the battle, Musashi has been developing his mind and body in the nearby mountains. Surprisingly enough, he is training under the guidance of In’ei, Inshun’s master. Musashi struggles to conquer the fear that the battle with Inshun has instilled in him. As for Inshun, never before having the opportunity to experience mortal combat, he looks forward to the chance to fight Musashi again. Although their goals may be similar, both young men have their own reasons for seeking to become stronger and more powerful.

One of the prominent themes in this particular omnibus of Vagabond is fear and, more specifically, how the characters deal with that fear. Both Musashi and Inshun have their own personal demons to face, but they confront their fears in very different ways. Musashi tends to approach things head on while Inshun subconsciously attempts to bury much of his past. These differences not only influence their personalities, but their martial abilities and fighting styles, as well. Becoming a skilled fighter and following the way of the sword isn’t just about brute strength, a lesson that Musashi is still trying to learn and master. Strategy, awareness, and mental clarity and preparedness are also extremely important. For a fighter, a strong mind is just as crucial as a strong body, especially when dealing with matters of life and death.

Another point that is emphasized through Inshun and Musashi’s conflict is the need to be able to see and understand not only the details of a situation but also that situation as a whole. This is something that is reflected nicely in Inoue’s artwork. In Vagabond, Inoue uses a detailed, realistic style which works superbly with the story’s realistic approach to traditional martial arts. I love the attention that Inoue devotes to the characters’ physical presences—their feet, stances, and grounding. At the same time he conveys the intensity of their mental and emotional states through their facial expressions, eyes, and demeanor. Inoue’s focus on these and other details doesn’t overwhelm the larger picture; instead, it enhances it. Vagabond is a great adaptation but the cohesive vision that Inoue brings to both the story and the art makes it a marvelous work in its own right. I certainly look forward to reading more.

Vagabond, Omnibus 2

Creator: Takehiko Inoue
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421522449
Released: December 2008
Original release: 1999-2000
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

The second Vagabond omnibus, published by Viz Media in 2008, collects the fourth through sixth volumes of Takehiko Inoue’s award-winning manga series Vagabond. These three volumes were originally released in Japan between 1999 and 2000 and were published in English by Viz Media as individual volumes between 2002 and 2003 before being collected into an omnibus. Inoue’s Vagabond is based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi, which I made a point to read before delving into the manga series. So far, I have really been enjoying Inoue’s version of Japan’s legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. And I’m not the only one. Vagabond received both a Japan Media Arts Award and a Kodansha Manga Award in 2000 and then a Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002. Because June 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast focused on the work of Takehiko Inoue, I figured it was a good opportunity to look at Vagabond again.

After Miyamoto Musashi’s duel with Yoshioka Denshichirō is forced to a draw, the walls of the Yoshioka dōjō in flames around them, the injured young swordsman takes the opportunity to leave Kyoto. It is agreed that he and Denshichirō will meet to fight again in a year’s time, allowing them both to recover and improve their swordsmanship, assuming they can survive that long. Denshichirō might not have much of a problem in that regard, but there are several people after Musashi’s life, including Gion Tōji, a highly skilled swordsman from the Yoshioka school who blames Musashi for its destruction. Now more than ever Musashi is determined to become invincible, deliberately seeking out talented martial artists and challenging them to fight. Musashi is a natural-born fighter but when he confronts Inshun, a prodigy of the Hōzōin spear technique, he is forced to realize that brute power and blood-thirst may not be where true strength lies.

As Vagabond progresses, Musashi is slowly growing and developing not only as a swordsman, but as a person. Takuan Sōhō, the monk who in many ways is responsible for saving Musashi’s life when Musashi was still known as Takezō, advises the younger man that he needs to truly understand and accept himself before he will be able to accomplish anything else, something that Musashi hasn’t yet been able to do. Much of Musashi’s drive to fight and defeat strong opponents is due to the fact that he can’t see his own strength. The only way he can prove his worth to himself is by directly comparing his skills to those of others through battle. While Musashi may be naturally talented when it comes to fighting, he is still young, immature, and rough around the edges. He puts his entire self into and behind his sword; his fights not only forge and hone his physical skills but his very soul.

One of the things I love most about Vagabond is Inoue’s phenomenal art. It tends towards the realistic and his figure work is fantastic. The artwork also helps to emphasize and enhance Inoue’s storytelling. As might be expected from a story about a legendary swordsman and his rivals, there are plenty of fights in Vagabond. However, these confrontations don’t occur just to be forgotten. The characters learn from each other and their battles. Wounds, both physical and mental, aren’t sustained just to simply disappear after the fight is over. People have to recover from their injuries and that takes time. A bruised face may take several chapters to heal while graver injuries take significantly longer. They may even leave a person more vulnerable in later fights. How the different characters choose to deal with these consequences is fascinating; all of the prodigies, while intense, come across as just a little strange. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Vagabond.

Vagabond, Omnibus 1

Creator: Takehiko Inoue
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421520544
Released: September 2008
Original run: 1998-ongoing (Weekly Morning)
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize

Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond is a series I have been looking forward to starting for quite some time now, but I promised myself that I would read Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical novel Musashi first since the manga is loosely based on that work. Now that I have read Musashi, nothing is holding me back from reading Vagabond. Vagabond is a popular and highly regarded series in Japan, winning both the Japan Media Arts Grand Prize and the Kodansha Manga Award in 2000 as well as the 2002 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. The manga began serialization in 1998 and although it is currently on indefinite hiatus it is up to thirty-three volumes. Viz Media began publication of the English translation in individual volumes in 2007 as part of their Signature line. In 2008, they began releasing the series in an omnibus edition, each collecting three volumes of the original manga along with a bit of additional bonus material. It’s a nice format for someone just starting to read Vagabond as it makes the long series a little easier on the pocketbook. (We do miss out on some of the nice cover art, though.)

Takezō Shinmen and his best friend Matahachi Hon’iden left their home to make a name for themselves as warriors and samurai. Instead, the young men are put to work clearing roads for the army. After the Battle of Sekigahara they find themselves alive but seriously wounded and, perhaps even worse, on the losing side. Shamed, Takezō and Matahachi begin their journey home. Matahachi is from a good family and has a fiancée waiting for him. Takezō on the other hand has nothing but bad memories and is disliked and feared by most of the village. Pursued by the authorities and having killed many in the process, his homecoming is less than welcome and he goes into hiding in the nearby mountains. It isn’t until the monk Takuan Sōhō, close friend of the local lord, becomes involved in the search for Takezō that any progress is made quelling the violent youth.

Inoue is a phenomenal artist and storyteller. Although Vagabond is based on Yoshikawa’s Musashi, Inoue has made the story his own. While the core elements remains the same and some scenes have been taken directly from the novel unchanged, Inoue isn’t afraid to make changes to the story’s pacing, characters, and plot to better suit his medium. And of course, it is always different seeing something visually presented rather than only reading about it. I adore Inoue’s illustrations. Using a realistic style and beautiful figure work, he brings the characters of Vagabond to life and quite a few of them to their death as well. Vagabond is a very bloody, graphic, and violent work. Throughout the manga, Inoue uses interesting and dramatic points of perspective for his artwork. And beginning in the second volume he begins to incorporate more traditional looking ink brushstrokes to emphasize certain people and panels.

Each of the characters in Vagabond, whether primary or secondary, have unique designs and personalities and are easily distinguished from one another. And Takezō? Holy hell is he scary; completely deserving to be called a demon by the others. He is incredibly strong but extremely undisciplined as a younger man. He doesn’t hesitate at all to kill another person, sometimes even delighting in it. Even after the three year break between volumes two and three he seems incapable of restraint. While he does appear to have gained more control and focus, Takezō (now going by the name Miyamoto Musashi) still lacks in maturity. I do wonder if Inoue will explain what happened in those three years or if he’ll just let things stand as they are. I also want to know what happened to the characters who don’t reappear in the third volume. However, I am confident that that will be revealed in subsequent volumes. Vagabond is definitely a series I will be following to its end; I look forward to experiencing more of Inoue’s fantastic artwork and storytelling.