Classics: Vagabond

“Focus only on the leaf, you will never see the tree. Focus only on the tree, you will never see the entire forest.”

Takehiko Inoue made himself a household name in his line of work with Slam Dunk. He would prove himself that he had more to share for us and his next working title would be Vagabond. Vagabond is yet another series that I found my brother reading, but rather this was one of the older series he found and started to read. This was around, my middle school years before he went off to college. This was the penultimate series he would read as far as I know, he hasn’t been reading anything that isn’t related to Berserk as of late.

Vagabond is the manga “adaptation” of the novel “Musashi” that focuses on the life of the legendary samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. I wouldn’t call his story an epic like the Geatish Hero Beowulf or the Babylonian warrior Gilgamesh because he was pretty real so I can’t really find a “suitable” character of relation. He’s a folk hero and I only have a few people (the one in my head being Korean) that would be comparable. But Korean folklore ain’t the most popular in the world compared to the Japanese and Chinese folklore (regrettably) anyways, I digress

“There is no light for those who do not know darkness.”

The series opens up with Honiden Matahachi, a survivor of a recent war sulks in his failure. He is joined by his friend Shimen Takezo, another survivor who comes to help him to get moving. They are found by hunters but Takezo easily kills all of them while Matahachi watches, in both fear and amazement. The two vow to make a name for themselves and become better people but they later faint in starvation. They are rescued by 2 female thieves that give them a place to stay. However, after some events concerning bloody fights, they decide to go back home. But not after a substantial battle between a bunch of gangs. Takezo charges in while Matahachi tries to regain some courage. However one of the thieves more or less seduces him and when Takezo comes back, he realizes that his best friend has now run off, what’s worse is that he has a fiance waiting for him back home as well. Takezo returns home alone but the government is after him and when the villagers learn this, Matahaci’s mother is furious that Takezo has returned home alone without her son with him. Takezo calms her down, she shows some restraint, but it was all a trap as officers storm into Takezo’s bathtime. Being the “demon” he is called so often, he easily murders the entire crew sent to kill him, he has no choice to flee but then he meets Takuhan, the witty monk. Takezo however gets caught up with more soldiers to kill. Eventually he is caught by Takuhan’s idea of using Otsu, Takezo’s childhood friend and Matahaci’s fiance. Takezo is hung up on a tree (around his body so it’s not a hanging) and for three days he is hung up. He is later cut down by a gang leader’s brother who he had murdered before. He frees him and he flees and Takuhan decides to give Takezo his last wish to chose where he shall die. However, Takezo is told by Takuhan that he is deemed worthy to live. This gets Takezo some meaning to live life as he was shunned, hated, and abandoned at birth. Takezo then dies, and the persona of Miyamoto Mushashi is born within him. His destiny. To become the strongest man in all of Japan.

From then on, Musashi would travel to Kyoto to challenge the Yoshioka school. He gets past around 4-5 disciples and then is challenged by one of the heads of the school, Ueda. Before they actually get into a prolonged fight, Denshichiro shows up and so does Seijuro, the master of the school. Seijuro quickly beats Musashi, but Musashi still yearns to fight. Seijuro leaves to go off on his hedonistic lifestyle while his stoic brother, Denshichiro decides to fight Musashi. Musashi deals some damage but the fight is soon ended when Matahachi who has been living in the brothel (he was manager with the thief girls) accidentally sets fire to the school. Denshichiro tells Musashi to come back in a year for a formal rematch. Musashi leaves but not before he faints and a suprised Matahachi carries to him to saftey. After being taken care off by Takuhan and a young child who wishes to train under Musashi, he leaves to the Hozoin Temple to challenge Hozoin Inei, a master of the spear technique in order to gain strength. Many battles would be fight, many lessons to be learned, and many glorious triumphs by the man who shall one day become legend.

“The more one tries to look away, the more one gets preocupied.”

Characters. Because it is not like Slam Dunk, there is much for you as the reader to find out. I will leave the reading to you, and I will keep the character list very short.

  • Miyamoto Musashi (Takezo): Takezo has natural strength, it was a matter of time of when and how he trained to use that strength. Takezo has been shunned by his father, abandoned by his mother, and hated by the villagers he had lived with.  He has not seen his friends since their parting back at their home. After finding a new light in his life, he decides to become the “invincible”. He would challenge the Yoshioka, the Hozoin Ryu, the Yagyu, Shisido Baiken, and the Yoshioka once more. Musashi is our hero through his tale of hardship and work. He strives to become the best and he has come far from his bloodthirsty self. Musashi is just awesome, he’s such a great character and
  • Honiden Matahachi: Musashi’s best friend who runs off with the girls that saved them. He later takes up the aliases of Sasaki Kojirou (instead of Kojiro, this is because he finds out the man he was pretending to be was deaf and he needed an excuse). Matahachi regrets that he didn’t help Musashi when he had the chance and he would become a straight out loser. But I do feel for him though.
  • Otsu: Otsu is Matahachi’s fiance and Musashi’s friend and love interest. After seeing that she was betrayed by Matahachi she decided to leave her village as well. She ends up as the attendent/caretaker of the Yagyu clan’s “leader”. She is a vital part of Musashi’s life and training as he sees her as one of his reasons to go on living.
  • Takuan (Takuhan): Takuan is a wise, smarty, and witty monk that befriends Musashi during his early years. He was responsible for giving him his new name and gave him the wise insights to fight on.
  • Jotaro: Jotaro is a young boy who sees Musashi as the strongest man and follows him to become his disciple.
  • Yoshioka School: Seijuro, Denshichiro, and Ueda are the top three swordsmen who teach Yoshioka Kempo’s style of the sword. They are the first opponents of Musashi and after the incident with fire, they decide to hold a rematch in one year, little did they know of their lives irony had in store for them. Gion Toji is one of the men that hangs around them and he follows Musashi around to try and kill him.
  • Sasaki Kojiro: “Ganryu” Kojiro is the fated arch nemesis of Musashi. However he is not introduced until halfway around the series. We get to see a little bit of his story and past. But I personally find Musashi’s more interesting. Kojiro is a rather childish man with childish whims and wants. In the manga he’s deaf and mute. His strength however, will prove to be the ultimate challenge to Musashi in their fated battle.

As much as I wanted to go more in depth with this series like I did with Inoue’s Slam Dunk, this series is obviously not a sports centered manga. It has a plot and its message is gained through reading it. This series is quite a turn from Slam Dunk, there are swords and blood everywhere. The art style still remains remarkable. It has the extremely realistic art style, the funny faces (when necessary) and the portrayal of emotion. I have more or lessed summarized the story (lacking a little bit of detail on the side stuff so I still recommened you to read the entire thing) up to BEFORE the Hozoin Temple arc.

So many things in this world cannot be expressed with words. Some things can not be be explained. They must be experienced.”

Theres a reason why I haven’t said everything I wanted to say about every character. As I am typing this line, I feel the want to write more on the characters because that’s what I usually do in classic reviews. The true lessons that are given in this series is mainly the beginning and after the first Yoshioka arc.About Musashi… Musashi is literally like Sakuragi, both have great potential and it takes many lessons and failures to finally make them recognize what they need to do to become stronger.

There are not many samurai series out there especially realistic ones at that. Vagabond is storytelling  in it’s purest form. The series feel so real with its interesting cast of characters and its beautiful settings. The series embraces humanity and how everyone has their story to tell, one of the many things that Musashi realizes in his journey for strength and inner peace. Musashi is just human like you and me. He makes mistakes, lots of them, maybe too much, but he still finds the will to correct his life. In a lot of series that depict samurai’s, lets say for example Champloo and Gintama (cause the most badass thing about that series is that Gin and his 3 other friends kicked everyones ass in the beginning), theres the generic bad guy they kill. Champloo barely has any notable bad guys that we relate with but the series is still awesome for its style. Gintama basically promises us an epic fight between Takasugi and Gin one day. That fated battle can be related to the final battle Musashi will eventually have with Kojiro. But Gintama has a few enemies that we see are defeated in its rather serious arcs given some light and story that make us feel sorry for a villain. That comes to this point right here. Almost everyone that Musashi meets, talks to, learns from, and finally duel with, will eventually die. It truly gives us a feeling of an “empty” kill as the character we related with and known for so long on friendly terms is now dead.

Another one of the fine points of the series is Matahachi and Musashi’s contrast and how they go about their lives starting from their fateful day. BUT that has to do something with the story so I will not speak of it. I shall leave you fine people to read it and found that out yourself.

Inoue gave us an inspirational and meaningful lesson with Slam Dunk. Vagabond, albeit bloodier and a lot more maturely themed, gives us yet another lesson that anyone could use.

The samurai story in its purest form. If you can deal with mature themes and all the blood and enjoy a good series that displays emotion and life: Read it.

(I apologize for my bad grammer and my inconsistency at times, but if you got this far, thank you for reading!)

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