Vagabond, story and artwork by Takehiko Inoue was released back in 1998 by VIZ media, with 27 titles translated in the US and #28 set to release April 2008.
The story was adapted from the novel, Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which tells the fictitious exploits of a famous swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi (Shinmen Takezo character).
Looking for a story strong on Japanese history? That also has a hint of romance? I was completely surprised at how much I enjoyed this manga. The foundation of the story is based on real historical events, and wouldn’t you know it, the battle to rule Japan was instigated by the lack of a strong successor?
The graphic novel opens with Takezo (who would later become known as the famous Miyamoto Musashi) and Hon’iden Matahachi, surviving on the battlefield and on the losing side of the Sekigahara battle, that would mark the beginning of shogun rule in feudal Japan.
The two men left their home in Miyamoto village to go off to war to make a name for themselves. The first volume follows Tazeko in his teens and takes up 2 days after the war is over. We see that Taeko has already made a name for himself in his home village. He is brash, arrogant and has a reputation as being a deadly warrior.
Rumors spread around about Tazeko’s “odd” childhood and how he lived in the mountains. He is a survivor and once he is set on his path, he pretty much stays on it. Matahachi and Tazeko have a couple of bandits after them that eventually leads them to cross paths with a couple of beautiful women who steal swords from fallen soldiers on the battlefield for money. Matachachi has a fiancée back home but that doesn’t stop him from falling in love. Matachachi is not as fierce as Tazeko. He is more of a “lover” and not much of a fighter.
Tazeko has a knack for making enemies and has the Tsujikaze gang after him. He shames them by killing their leader and heads back to his home village of Miyamoto, thereby leading the now leaderless gang there as well.
A trap is set for him in the unlikeliest of places and that’s where the story dangles. I only bought the first volume and will have to seek out the rest. The graphic novel does have a hint of romance, a couple of sex scenes and some humor. The artwork is nice especially with the beginning of each story splashed with a couple of pages of color before going back to black and white frames.
I am often no good at deciphering action scenes in graphic novels and the one’s in here weren’t too hard to follow. However, it is terribly graphic and violent in the fight scenes. My favorite character has to be the “granny.” She is very upset to learn that Tazeko comes back home without her son. She blames him for “luring” him into war and leaving him behind.
She gets even more upset when Tazeko comes back home with bad news for Matachachi’s soon to be bride and that is where the story ends – with intrigue and heartache. There are other notable secondary characters that stood out as well. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this graphic novel and I think I might have the second one around here, somewhere. Anyway, my grade, A. Excellent first entry that has peaked my intrerest for the rest of the series.