Vagabond 7 (VizBig ed.)Posted: May 27, 2010
Takehiko Inoue – Viz – 2010 – 33+ volumes
this omnibus collects volumes 19-21.
I’m just blown away by the consistency of this series. I never really feel like I’m reading three volumes, I always want more when I finish, and every time it’s more amazing than the last.
Reading this after the volumes of Real and Slam Dunk is interesting. You can see a little of Slam Dunk in Real, though Real does completely different things with basketball. You get the impression that Hanamichi and Nomiya would be friends, though. And in Vagabond, which has nothing to do with either of those series, there’s still a little of the punk school kid in Musashi. Reading that last chapter made me smile, because I don’t think I ever would have picked up on that unless I’d read it immediately after the others. Musashi’s just too serious a guy to really think of in that way, but he acts exactly the same as the others. It also helped that I went from Hanamichi, the most comical, to Nomiya, pretty serious but still funny, to Musashi, who doesn’t have a funny bone in his body.
Anyway. The first two volumes in this collection stick to Kojiro, throwing him into an incredibly elaborate and frightening survival situation. I’m not clear on all the history behind it, but basically the locals think that any strangers they see are part of the invading army that completely ravaged their villages and ruined their lives, so they are hunting down any stragglers in big groups. Kojiro is separated from his “sensei,” and with no way to hear what the people are saying or a method to explain who he is, he is hunted relentlessly for days. He cuts down dozens, even in his sleep. He knows terror, and he must survive.
The second volume narrows the focus down to a group of men who really are soldiers trying to flee. They have the unfortunate luck of running into Kojiro after he’s been fighting for his life with no food, water, or sleep for what may have been one or several days. This scene is stretched out into an entire volume, but covers several different reactions to Kojiro, and he even makes a friend, of sorts. His handicap does figure into all the fighting, and I still can’t get over how interesting it is to structure a psychologically-oriented series on swordfighting and personal motivation around a character with limitations to personal interaction.
This is made even more interesting by the jarring switch back to Musashi in volume 21. Musashi converses with his opponent and himself, and where we’ve been accustomed to silence and reflection in the past several volumes there is now a running commentary. I think it is this transition that made the punk high school kid connection even more solid in my mind, because after Kojiro’s simple way of life (he knows nothing but swordfighting, and enjoys it in a way that he cannot express), Musashi’s obsession with becoming invincible and simply cutting down everyone in his path seems… well, silly. And it didn’t really, before.
Musashi’s back in Kyoto to face Denshichiro Yoshioka. Interestingly, the volume starts with a color sequence where Musashi cuts him down, but given the number of strange premonitions the characters have about death (basically, graphic scenes that are near-indistinguishable from the narrative) I wasn’t really taking this scene at face value. The rest of the volume builds up to their showdown after Denshichiro issues a challenge and date to Musashi. There’s Denshichiro’s preparation with the fellow swordsmen in the Yoshioka school, there’s Musashi’s preparation out in the woods by himself… and then there’s Seijuro. He’s the lazy head of the Yoshioka school, the one who’s preternaturally gifted without having to train. He puts down both Denshichiro and Musashi, and yet he persistently guards his brother under the guise of frequenting a brothel (although, yes, he does do some of that). It’s the fight between Seijuro and Musashi that the volume ends on, with a cliffhanger for next time. I found Seijuro’s devotion to his brother, and his quiet pursuit of Musashi, pretty touching, and it gave me an unexpected appreciation of the arrogant guy.
Notable moments include the very beginning of the fight with Seijuro where Musashi is honestly angry that Seijuro cut his forehead yet again, and a cute scene towards the end of the volume where all the characters (Musashi, Matahatchi, and Otsu) celebrate New Year’s Day in their own separate parts of the country. It’s a little funny, but mostly depressing and very sad, especially from Matahatchi and Otsu’s points of view.
I cannot get enough. I’m torn as to whether this or Real is my favorite Inoue series. Both are very good in different ways… but I think I enjoy Vagabond more, which is fun in these huge chunks, whereas Real gives you more to chew on in each volume.