In 16th century Japan, Shinmen Takezou is a wild, rough young man, in both his appearance and his actions. His aggressive nature has won him the collective reproach and fear of his village, leading him and his best friend, Matahachi Honiden, to run away in search of something grander than provincial life. The pair enlist in the Toyotomi army, yearning for glory—but when the Toyotomi suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the Tokugawa Clan at the Battle of Sekigahara, the friends barely make it out alive.
After the two are separated, Shinmen returns home on a self-appointed mission to notify the Hon'iden family of Matahachi's survival. He instead finds himself a wanted criminal, framed for his friend's supposed murder based on his history of violence. Upon being captured, he is strung up on a tree and left to die. An itinerant monk, the distinguished Takuan Soho, takes pity on the "devil child," secretly freeing Shinmen and christening him with a new name to avoid pursuit by the authorities: Musashi Miyamoto.
Vagabond is the fictitious retelling of the life of one of Japan's most renowned swordsmen, the "Sword Saint" Musashi Miyamoto—his rise from a swordsman with no desire other than to become "Invincible Under the Heavens" to an enlightened warrior who slowly learns of the importance of close friends, self-reflection, and life itself.
In 2000, Vagabond won the Japan Media Arts Festival Manga Grand Prize and the 24th Kodansha Manga Award in the general category. The series won the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002 and has had over 82 million copies sold worldwide.
Vagabond has been published in English by VIZ Media under the VIZ Signature imprint since April 5, 2002, and in large 3-in-1 omnibuses under the VIZBIG imprint since September 16, 2008. The English release got Takehiko Inoue a nomination for the Eisner Award in the Best Writer/Artist category in 2003. It also has been published in Brazilian Portuguese by Panini Comics/Planet Manga since February 2016.
Some seinen manga, I believe, take the meaning too far. The gore and nudity found in them is simply disturbing, no longer artistic, just omnipresent and absolutely in-your-face.
Vagabond is not like those seinen manga.
From the beginning, Vagabond has this strange allure to it. Drawn to this manga by the promise of awesome fight scenes, [oh yes, I assure you, you will not be disappointed by the fight scenes], you find yourself hooked to this manga.
Absolutely, completely, utterly, hooked.
It starts off with a rather rude and yet beautiful jerk, depicting the scene of a battlefield in splendid watercolor. The manga just rides on from there, rising
from peak to peak. The fights get better, and the character himself grows. He grows realistically, he stumbles, he falls, he falls so hard that he finds it difficult to get back onto his feet, he takes the wrong path, goes the wrong way, makes the wrong enemies, and kills the wrong people, but he gets back up, and the story continues.
It is just so completely believable, so persuasive and so artistic all at the same time that with this manga just feels so raw and yet so real.
The main character, who one will find it hard to identify with on the surface, has something deep within him that every single one of us can possibly understand and aspire towards.
His growth and development, in more ways than just of the sword, but yet at the same time never truly leaving the sword, are so simple and yet so spectacular at the same time. He manages to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others, brushing past some like a whirlwind and crashing headlong into others, leaving behind a trail of death, destruction, and new life. All this happens while he himself is still growing, and while he is nowhere near perfect, there is just something so addictive about getting to know more about him.
And getting to know more about the main character is exactly what this entire manga is about. It is about seeing Miyamoto Musashi through the eyes of the world, through the eyes of others, and through his own eyes.
With a brilliant blend of flashbacks, flashforwards and glimpses into the lives of others besides those who surround the main character, Vagabond paints a rich picture of the samurai scene in the time of Miyamoto Musashi, the main character.
If you have been hesitating about reading a seinen manga, hesitate no more.
Vagabond will open your eyes to a brilliant new genre.
Vagabond is perhaps the very epitome of a great manga. It has everything: action, suspense, excitment, drama and even a little romance - everything that is packed into Eiji Yoshikawa's amazing original story.
That's not to say it is to everyone's tastes. While I personally love Takehiko Inoue's drawings, the imagery at times is very graphic, bordering on grotesque at times. Limbs, guts, heads fly off in the heat of battle, the drawings are literally so good it's sickening. If blood is not really your thing, you might be better leaving this on the shelf.
For those who don't mind a bit of blood however, read
on, because while Vagabond at first glance just seems to be yet another manga based on the era of the samurai, this manga has a great deal of depth that literally sucks the reader in.
For example, in countless manga involving fights (and in particular, American comic books as well) the reader is presented with a rather generic range of characters - the good guys... and the bad guys. This isn't the case with the characters that appear in Vagabond however. The characteristics of people inhabiting the world of Vagabond, their emotions, desires, despairs, fears etc. are all painstakingly realised that Vagabond on a whole seems to be a lavishly painted picture. All characters have their reasons for what they do, they all have both good and bad elements to their character which only further adds to the realism that the drawings provide.
In your stock-standard fighting story the death of the "bad guys" is inevitable, and one does not stop to ponder this into too much detail. However, in Vagabond when Musashi cuts someone down both Musashi and the reader are left to think and question the "correctness" of his actions. You really feel for the deaths of those that fall. As Takuan, the monk appearing in the story, says, all people killed by Musashi were just that, people. They are people with families, wives, children, pets, they are people who had hopes and dreams, or people who just somehow lived day to day.
However the real reason Vagabond is a favourite manga of mine is because of the main story thread, the growth of Musashi himself from a reckless 17 year old youth who plunges directly into the battle of Sekigahara seeking unparalled strength, to a well rounded young adult who learns how to pick his battles.
The contrast between Matahachi and Musashi is beautifully done. Matahachi and Musashi, two friends, start the manga off on the same footing and set off to be one thing -"Tenka Musou" 天下無双 ('the best in the land'). However Matahachi and Musashi soon walk down separate paths to acheive this goal. Matahachi chooses to pursue frivolous momentary pleasures, while Musashi instead chooses to devote himself to bettering himself.
Both make mistakes and suffer setbacks along the way, and both have their own ways of dealing with this - Matahachi digs himself into further into trouble while Musashi rises above the setbacks he faces and strengthens himself to unbelivable proportions.
After surviving numerous duels to the bitter end and overcoming many internal conflicts (the decision to leave his one true love, Otsu to pursue the life of the sword), only one swordsman still stands in Musashi's way...
Sasaki Kojiro - a deaf and dumb swordsman who literally lives for the sword...
While the story does drag at times (the Yoshioka arc), on a whole Vagabond is packed full of both emotion and gut-wrenching sword battles. It's relatively short on dialogue, but the images Inoue presents speak volumes. A picture is really worth a thousand words and this manga is a manga that attests to this. If only other manga could be this deep as well. Every single volume of the manga really leaves the reader pondering about what they've read for a long time after the manga has been put down.
Put simply, there is not a manga that I could recommend more.
Vagabond is, in my opinion, one of the most important titles in recent manga history, and perhaps ever. It is, in many ways, one of the most ambitious manga ever created, and although it's impossible to measure individual effort, it wouldn't surprise me if Takehiko Inoue worked twice as hard as most mangaka.
Vagabond follows the exploits of Shinmen Takezo, who would eventually become the legendary sword-saint Miyamoto Musashi, and his childhood friend, Hon'iden Matahachi. The two start off as very different people to begin with, and their inherently different natures set them off on completely different life paths. Though based on a famous novel
by Eiji Yoshikawa, it diverges from it in numerous ways to the point that it can stand on its own quite comfortably.
There isn't much of a "plot" to speak of; Vagabond's entire hook and storytelling style is based entirely on the characters and their growth and development over the course of many years. This is in no way a bad thing because the character development present in Vagabond is some of the absolute best in any manga. Musashi grows from an immature, amoral gloryhound into a spiritually enlightened philosopher, warrior, and artist and it's incredibly fascinating and engrossing to behold. The rest of the characters get a fairly good amount of fleshing out, more than enough to make them distinct and memorable in their own right.
Vagabond is one of the most genuinely japanese comics I have ever read, and not in the stereotypical anime/manga way either. There are many moments and actions in Vagabond that in any other manga would have been the subject of judgment; being a seinen, it does not shy away from graphic violence, nudity, and other similarly adult content. However, these events are presented much more matter-of-factly and through an entirely different lens than most stories. While this can potentially alienate some people, I found it very fascinating, as if I was looking through something that was made by a person who is very different from me.
Of course, I would be remiss in also mentioning the incredibly important part that Vagabond's art plays into its excellence. Simply put, Takehiko Inoue is arguably the most skilled manga artist in Japan today. He has achieved a level of draftsmanship that is far beyond most comic book artists in general, whether they be eastern or western. The character designs in Vagabond have a ridiculous amount of effort put into them; not only are they all completely distinct from one another, but they are very detailed and realistic, much moreso than 99% of other manga. Takehiko Inoue has such a strong grasp of proportion, form, shape, perspective, line weight, and every other artistic fundamental to a degree that I really don't see outside of the best art instructors in the world. A big point in Vagabond's favor is that unlike other similarly well-illustrated works such as Berserk, Vagabond's art *starts off* really strong to begin with and only becomes BETTER as time goes on.
This growing expertise is perhaps best represented by the challenge Inoue took up in using a brush to ink his work as opposed to traditional ink pens. Using a brush is ridiculously difficult and requires a lot of control, but the results are self-evident: Vagabond gradually develops extremely lush and beautiful illustrations that would only be possible with this tool. His masterful use of the brush is one of many testaments to Takehiko Inoue's expertise.
Any flaws Vagabond has are mostly nitpicks; a lot of the story is not based on action, but on spiritual and philosophical musings by Musashi and the rest of the cast. Generally these moments are insightful and even almost spiritual, but very occasionally they can be a little pretentious. While I like Kojiro's character, i'm not sure if his portrayal as a deaf person is very sensitive to the deaf community or how they would respond to it. As of this writing Vagabond has been 'almost over' for a few years, and it's not really clear when Inoue is going to come out of hiatus.
regardless, even if this manga is never finished, it is still a seminal masterpiece in the industry that everyone should read. the amount of artistry, research, and raw passion that went into it are undeniable. It is one of the only manga i'd ever give a 10/10 to.
I read Vagabond to see what all the fuss is about. It's a very fast read. There are huge image panels and barely anything happening per chapter, which flows well if you're reading straight through but hellish if you're waiting chapter by chapter. The art is simply gorgeous - probably the best I've ever seen in a manga - but stands in stark contrast to the lack of actual story... sort of like special effects in a movie.
The "story" appears to be the warrior's drive to be the best, err, I mean "invincible under the sun." This results in such battles as the infamous "lets
duel next year when our dojo isn't on fire" incident, the exhilarating stare down with Aang from Avatar, and the riveting stand off with the sleeping guy. It got a bit more interesting after Musashi killed enough people for their friends to start caring about it and gaining motives other than perfecting their skills, thus inspiring a semblance of sympathy and emotional investment in battle outcomes... but this didn't last long.
Over 50 chapters of spoon-fed philosophizing ensued. Triggered not by a sincere, voluntary revelation, mind you, but by circumstances that physically prevented the character from pursuing the goals he otherwise would continue chasing after. Over time the endless conversations and bouts of schizophrenia just glazed over in their repetitiveness for me.
Many of the characters also clung to highly romanticized notions of "honor" which made their motives/actions unrelatable and at times unrealistic. Sometimes they even got confused over conflicting honor codes and nearly sabotaged what their goal was in the first place. Other times they switched gears from a genuine emotional reaction to some intellectualized bushido ideal so quickly that I wanted to slap them. There was much facepalming on my end over this.
The 70-man battle should've been exciting, but it instead served as a perfect example of action over substance. Chapter after chapter of countless sword swings and I didn't care about any of these people. I love action, I truly do, but action only has meaning for me when there's something more at stake than just fighting stronger guys later. That's why my favorite fight, and the highlight of the series, was the twig battle between Sasaki and Musashi. It's sad when a twig battle is more exciting than a 70 man bloodbath.