Vagabond 5 (Big ed.)Posted: November 16, 2009
Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2009 – 31+ volumes
this Big edition is volumes 13-15
I was mostly successful in my omnibus week, though I still want to read the last two before I call it quits. This had just come in a few days before I decided to read all my omnibuses, and it was a big part of why I decided to do that, since I thought reading Vagabond after finishing the others would be a reward.
Vagabond is, quite simply, amazing. I have no words to describe how wonderful every single volume of it is. A big part of it is Takehiko Inoue’s art, which is fantastic, and more suited to this type of story than it is to Slam Dunk and Real (as much as I like those two as well). More than anything, a big part of that is the way Inoue renders nature, which is almost like a character in the story. No matter what someone is doing, they do it while standing in a grassy field, in a forest, on a beach, or wherever. As they ponder whatever challenge it is they are overcoming, we see them doing so while surrounded by beautifully-drawn backgrounds, which provides context and makes the problems seem that much more real, or immersive, I suppose.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said about the fight scenes, too. While the action scenes in Slam Dunk are still quite well-drawn, even considering the age of that series, they are better here, and I love that Inoue draws the fights with a looseness to the inking that transforms them into sumi-e scenes. It’s just beautiful.
And the story is no slouch, either. Here, the three volumes cover a chain-and-sickle fight between Musashi and an opponent from earlier in the series, and then we (I assume) flash back to look at the childhood of Sasaki Kojiro, a deaf orphan reluctantly raised by an outcast swordsman.
Now, the chain-and-sickle fight was pretty amazing. I loved the challenge posed to Musashi by the new weapon, but the experience wasn’t as transcendent for him as his other fights have been. We see him strategize more than we see him explore himself, and most of the pathos is pushed to the opponent, who lives with the daughter of a man he killed. He learned chain-and-sickle from her, since the two live silently together and she periodically tries to get her revenge with that weapon, the same her father used. The fact that so few words are exchanged is quite lovely, and leaves what goes on between them up to interpretation.
I also liked that we were reminded of who the character was through the use of a one-panel, wordless flashback. I had no recollection of him, but that one panel worked far better than the standard lengthy recap. It’s concise methods are another reason I like Vagabond. It has few words, but still communicates so much through image and emotion alone.
The chain-and-sickle fight was blown completely out of the water by Kojiro’s childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a deaf character in a manga before, especially one handicapped from birth like this. I couldn’t believe how touching and sincere the story was, either.
There is very little Vagabond has to do to succeed. It could succeed by being swordfight after swordfight, but it strives to make the struggles as realistic as possible, and it gives all the characters personalities, so they’re not just braggarts swinging swords. In Kojiro’s case, he quieted down when he clutched his father’s sheathed sword when he was a baby, and the father let this continue for a number of years since he felt very uncomfortable about raising the child. He eventually took the sword away, since he doesn’t want the life of a swordsman for Kojiro, but Kojiro latches on to the sword anyway, and later, it’s revealed that he learns how to use and wield it based on watching others and is almost supernaturally gifted with it.
Kojiro’s deafness, the way the townspeople and his father react to it, and the ways Kojiro adapts, really has been the highlight of Vagabond so far. It’s incredibly sensitive. The quiet reactions as well as the ways Kojiro is treated because of his hearing , his good looks, and the outsider status of his father mix in interesting ways. At the end of the volume, there’s the standard villain that needs to be slayed, and Kojiro and the townspeople all have a role. Kojiro never speaks, and we never know what he is thinking, which make his actions that much more mysterious, or even heartfelt when he shows genuine affection for someone.
I’m really looking forward to more about him. It’ll be a long wait for the next omnibus. And again, I am blown away that Takehiko Inoue can win me over again and again in these series that I have absolutely no interest in. I can’t believe I’m reading a samurai comic and loving every page, but Vagabond… yeah, it’s great. It transcends that, just like Real is more than it seems.