Sep 12, 2014
Dietrologia (All reviews)
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.