Story/Art: Takehiko Inoue
Translation/Adaptation: Yuji Oniki
Touch-up & Lettering: Steve Dutro
What They Say
Striving for enlightenment by the way of the sword, Miyamoto Musashi is prepared to cut down anyone who stands in his way. Vagabond depicts the life and times of the most celebrated samurai of all time!
Musashi battles a different type of foe when a devastating famine threatens to ravage a remote village. Musashi attempts to help an orphaned boy enrich the soil of a barren land. But can anyone single-handedly take on the forces of nature in the manner that Musashi defeated the seventy swordsmen of the Yoshioka dojo?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Having defeated the seventy swordsmen of the Yoshioka dojo, Musashi wanders, bereft of spirit and purpose. He comes across an orphan boy named Iori and agrees to help him plow and turn a barren field into a rice paddy. However, the approach of winter, a lack of knowledge about farming, and the land itself stand in Musashi’s way, and an entire village may die of starvation before Spring arrives.
Based on the epic novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Vagabond Volume 36 continues the fictionalized chronicle of the very real Miyamoto Musashi—Japan’s greatest samurai. The book chronicles Musashi’s life from wild youth to his rise to the status of sword saint, and the manga appears to move along the same trajectory. Although both the novel and manga take liberties with the life of the historical Musashi, they aim to tell the entire story of the man, so anyone coming to this title looking for wall-to-wall sword-slinging action will be disappointed. The only time Musashi draws his sword is when he needs to clear his mind. His main weapon this time around is the hoe.
The main antagonists in this story are the environment and Musashi’s doubts about his path. The manga presents several scenes where the samurai deals with nagging thoughts such as, “Why am I farming? I’m a swordsman….Don’t make me do what I don’t know.” These thoughts manifest in and around him as a dark miasma that takes the rough form of a human, or a demon. Together, these two forces combine to make a powerful enemy, and even though we know that Musashi survives this moment in his life (I don’t consider anything that happened to a real person hundreds of years ago to be a spoiler) there does exist a real sense of danger and uncertainty.
This ability to make quiet, mundane obstacles into a tense, compelling narrative illustrates how good a writer and artist Takehiko Inoue is. After all, anyone can make a sword fight feel tense, but it takes a true artist to make life that way. The manga moves at a plodding pace, wearing down the reader as much as the hunger and work wear down Musashi and the villagers. Inoue creates an oppressive atmosphere through his images that places us in the situation, making us rejoice when they triumph, and despair when they fail. And he does it all in a style that is gorgeous, unique, and clear.
One of the main issues I find with manga is that the artists often get lost in the details, making for panels and pages that look like the visual equivalent of word salad. It’s like my brain can’t process what the artist tries to convey. I never have that problem with Inoue. His art is stark, clear, and beautiful, fitting the epic, historic tale he draws.
Vagabond Volume 36 is another strong chapter in the retelling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi. Inoue does a great job of filling this work with a real sense of drama and tension, and his art is absolutely gorgeous. While this is hardly the place for a new reader to jump onboard, I will say that this title consistently impresses and those interested in a fictionalized account of Musashi’s life could definitely do worse than pick up Volume 1.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 17+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: October 21st, 2014