Vagabond 3 (Big ed.)Posted: May 15, 2009
HOLY CRAP THIS SERIES IS AMAZING. I am convinced that everything that Takehiko Inoue touches turns to gold. I’m sure even Buzzer Beater (weirdly available in its entirety in English on Inoue’s website), a series about humans playing intergalactic basketball, would knock my socks off. But nothing does it for me like Vagabond and Real. Real has a bit more substance and emotional impact, but Vagabond can’t be beat for stunning visuals.
One thing I have to keep in mind with these Big editions is what’s going on from volume to volume. The first two volumes here deal with the duel between Musashi and Inshun. Aside for some running commentary from In’ei and an explanation about what it is that both swordsman lack/what it is that they’re doing, there’s very little dialogue. Their duel is actually an immense standoff that defies all description, but works because the artwork is so amazing. While the two are staring each other down, In’ei talks his way through flashbacks to apply his own experiences on the current battle and to give some background about Inshun, but… there’s a lot of Inshun and Musashi staring at each other. Prior to the fight, there’s a lot of Musashi fantasizing about being run through with Inshun’s spear. It’s really epic.
Their duel takes place at night. Afterwards, it starts to rain, which puts the lamp out. The panels are then done up with an obscene amount of darkness using ink paintings. These pages are literally some of the best comic art I have ever seen. Period. The minimalism, ink painted on top of gray tone, just works so well.
After this, the story moves on to Musashi’s next target, which is the master of the Yagyu sword school. His “challenge” is an interesting one, but it only grants him access to the compound. No swordfights take place. The story is made a bit more interesting by the fact that the Yagyu master was apparently trained by the same master as In’ei, and he’s got a formidable, but likeable, grandson that took a brief shine to Musashi. Also, Otsu is running around here somewhere. Waiting to see what happens when she meets up with Musashi is agonizing.
There’s a brief chapter or two that lets you know that Matahachi is still hanging around. Matahachi is just an irritating guy. He’s still impersonating Kojiro, and uses dirty tactics to get out of duels with other swordsman, and yet has the bravado to say he will challenge Musashi and win. This time, it’s because his mother told him that Musashi ran off with Otsu, who was engaged to Matahachi. Why he is enraged about this is beyond me, because he totally ditched Otsu himself. Maybe he’ll meet a horrible end. I’d hate to think that he’s the guy that will wind up being Musashi’s rival.
I do like the characters a lot in general, though. When he’s not being super-serious about fighting, there’s actually some pretty decent weirdness that goes along with Musashi, especially since he’s got his disciple Jotaro. That little kid’s pretty funny, and I hope he hangs around. He’s not in too good a spot at the end of the volume here, but I wish him well.
I never would have thought I’d like an “art of the sword” historical epic like this. It’s just so intense about the battles, and the artwork seals the deal. I absolutely cannot get enough. I also can’t imagine reading this in individual volumes, since even with three of them bound together like this, the story still rushes by.