Being the epitome of an excellent art, Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond has it all. A bit of romance, drama, excitement, suspense, and action fill the spices of the manga. All that Inoue has put into Eiji Yoshikawa’s original story amazingly, on the other hand, is by no means to everyone’s taste. Personally, Inoue’s art is graphic and bordering on weird. The realistic depiction of war, mainly traditional Japanese warfare, of flying heads, guts, and limbs in the heat of battle is so good that it is sickening. Therefore, if blood does not belong to the reader, the reader is better off leaving the manga on the shelf. On the other hand, readers who do not mind a little blood should read on and on.
While the manga, at first glance, seems to be just another one based on the samurai era, it has a lot of depth, which is annoying for some readers. In one such case, the reader always sees an all too broad range of characters, namely the bad guys and the good guys. It also applies in a general manga, where people no longer count the numbers. Unlike the characters that appear in general manga, the characteristics of the people who inhabit the world of the manga are mixed emotions, desires, despair, and fear. All of the manga painstakingly realized that, on the whole, it seemed to be an image that Inoue had lavishly painted. All characters have motivations for what they do. They all have good and bad elements to their characters that only add to the realism the images provide.
A Character Study
In a standard fighting story, death and crime are unavoidable for the protagonist. People do not stop to ponder it in too much detail. However, in Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, when Musashi slashes someone, both Musashi and the reader think and question the veracity and art of his actions. Readers feel the death of those who fall. According to Takuan, the monk who appears in the story, all the people Musashi killed were human in one instance. They are pets, children, wives, and families. In essence, they are people who have dreams and hopes and somehow live from day to day. However, the real reason is because of the main storyline.
Musashi’s growth from a reckless youth plunged headlong into the battle of Sekigahara, seeking unrivaled power. In adulthood, he becomes a well-rounded young adult who learns how to pick his battles. The contrast between Musashi and Matahachi, as well as Inoue, is beautifully made. They are two friends who started the manga on equal footing and set out to become one thing that is the best in Japan. However, they soon took different paths to reach their respective goals. Matahachi, on the other hand, digs himself deeper into the problem, while Musashi rises above the setbacks he faces to strengthen himself to unbelievable proportions. After surviving many duels to a bitter end, only one swordsman still stands in Musashi’s path: Sasaki Kojiro, a mute and deaf swordsman who truly lives for the sword.
When readers first see, not only the impression of art, Musashi in Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, people know him as Shimen Takezo. He is strong and can kill samurai quickly. As in the beginning, Takezo and Matahachi wanted to make a name for themselves. He aspires to be stronger than others. In order to become invincible under the sun, he decided to become stronger than everyone else. In essence, he is like a beast and a demon child. People around him said he was a child of the devil from his teenage years.
He took the lives of countless people so that people might know him as unrivaled under the heavens. For Takezo, the sword is his own life. He had nothing else to aspire to; it constituted his whole life. When Takezo is moving from the village elders, the reader sees a monk who will become the most influential person in Takezo’s development, namely Takuan. Takuan tells Takezo, which sums up his character at the time. Namely, he has a cat’s heart. No matter how strong Takezo was physical, he was not a strong person mentally. Takezo did not understand what Takuan was saying and would not understand either for a long time.
The Yagyu Arc
When Musashi goes to Yagyu to kill him, he asks what it means to be genuinely invincible under the sun. If he kills him, he will be invincible under the sun. However, invincibility is just a word. Musashi has taken up the sword to surpass his father, touting him as unrivaled under the heavens. Musashi’s father shunned his son, afraid of his son because he feared that people would oppose his title as the strongest in heaven. His father firmly held the title. However, it causes him and everyone to be against him. The cons of being invincible under the sun, namely that it turns everyone against the reader.
If the reader also takes a deeper look, once again, invincibility is just a word. People often praise Musashi’s father as invincible under the sun. However, Yagyu, even in his old age, was more substantial than him. Musashi’s father sleeps with the sword out of paranoia, while Yagyu defeats Musashi with only the back of the sword. Musashi had realized that the man had something he did not have, which was infinity. Once again, Musashi felt meaningless because he never knew that the world was infinite. So, he looked for another way to be unrivaled under the heavens. Being infinite is a way of understanding his power, even if it slightly changes.
When Musashi first returned to Kyoto to fight the Yoshioka brothers, it was the first time he met another person, Sasaki Kojiro. Musashi has grown stronger, has grown from his evil spirit, and still maintains his spirit to thrive and fight. His hunger never goes away; he still wants to be stronger and grow more. While fighting with one of Yoshioka’s brothers, Musashi suffers an injury. To heal his wound, he met with Kojiro. Kojiro is a swordsman who has perfected the way of the sword.
In essence, he is one with the sword, the pinnacle of a swordsman. He loves the sword, or more than such a thing, which is to love the way of the sword. He could see the path of the sword even with just a twig. The sword’s path is Kojiro’s only goal in life, one with heaven with a sword. Musashi understands that Kojiro has something that Musashi no longer has, which is his connection to eternal life. He has spent his life from the beginning of the story to become stronger. As Musashi grew up, he had lost something he had as a child. Namely, his connection with eternal life was severed. When he looked at Kojiro, he saw someone he aspired to be with a sword.
In short, Musashi’s patterned life is that his whole life is useless, killing, and dead. When he meets someone, he will always fight and kill him. The cycle keeps repeating and repeating, doing everything to gain strength. However, he contemplated his whole life what he was doing now. After all, what he is doing now is the same as what he did before in his life. Murder and death become a force in his mind; the only time he becomes stronger is when he learns and matures as a person. Killing a different man did not make him any stronger at all. He had descended deep into a death spiral, not making him more robust than before. Of course, he achieved invincibility under the sun.
However, as a result, he became paralyzed after escaping with a deep wound in the leg after carrying out Yoshioka’s massacre. In essence, he reached the end of the spiral of murder and death. Every time he tried to dodge, there was no need to chase to reach the end of the spiral. He always has and will always do that; it does not make him happier. Musashi became paralyzed as a result of his hunger in order to become stronger. The path he took made him paralyzed, the reason he would not be able to continue the journey. In his mind, he had prayed to the way of the sword. However, he had been seriously injured by the prayer, reaching the end of the spiral, only hurting him more and more.
The Legacy of Miyamoto Musashi
In short, Miyamoto Musashi’s focus on himself is part of what makes Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond so interesting yet full of art. He is a truly enigmatic figure, and one should consider the reasons primarily in the outer sphere of media adaptation. In addition to Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi basing the manga on semi-fiction works, which were serialized in the 1930s, it has become one of the essential storytelling of iconic figures. Another example is Hiroshi Inagaki’s famous Samurai Trilogy in the 1950s, specifically Yoshikawa’s novels based on the trilogy.
That could be partly because of how it dramatized Musashi’s story and filled a gap in history. Even though the reader does not know all the intricacies and details of Musashi’s story, out of the spotlight, the empty part itself allows the audience to fill in the facilitation of the narrative. The most facing aspect of Musashi’s legacy is his book, The Book of Five Rings. It is a text about fighting in general and swordsmanship. Apart from being more than just a battle guide, the book offers many morals and valuable lessons about conflict and life. What also shows the reader is the real-life Musashi’s direct and unconventional approach to war and life.
The Spiral of Life
In many examples of the medium, artists often portray Musashi as arrogant and mediating. It is because of the impression he gives in his book, taking a very pragmatic approach when describing battles. For him, the only thing that mattered was a victory. So, honor and aesthetics are obsolete for such purposes. Folklore also always talks about his deviation from tradition and the successful application of tactics that seem unknown. One example is the legendary duel between Musashi and Kojiro, where he arrived late for the duel they had set against each other. In some accounts, it states that a cheerful Musashi overslept.
Others also agree that he did this to make his opponents restless and impatient. The unconventional behavior that made him famous would become common in Japanese society at the time. Known for his extraordinary sense of honor and social norms, Musashi’s spiritual and personal success, despite being the odd exception, makes him an enigmatic Japanese figure. In addition to having many rules, people also respected him widely, whose legacy endures to this day. Once again, the spiral gave Musashi a purpose. However, it did not make him happier. Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond fills the art of life and makes him smile. He is happier and prefers to celebrate the spiral of life.
Explanatory, Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond itself has a representation of classical Japanese painting and art. Most Japanese manga artists use a pen with ink as a medium for drawing comics. Apart from pens, Japanese manga artists also commonly use various types of brushes to create fine lines to enhance the natural lines of the drawing. Such a drawing technique was prevalent in the Edo period, called suiboku-ga or ink wash painting. One of the many celebrated artists of the Edo period was Miyamoto Musashi, an artist with a distinctive feature of monochrome ink painting. He paints in a strong illustration style with excellent brush strokes.
It can also be seen in the manga’s depiction; Inoue depicts illustrations with strong ink strokes, accompanied by subtle shading on the illustration objects so that the illustrations look real. Artists try to bring the characters to life more through sweeping lines that are sharper than before. Inoue dramatizes the illustration with more dominant shading. Monochrome with the characteristic ink stroke has a varied and varied panel appearance. Also, on the panel display, the illustration includes vertical shading lines and diagonal shading lines on the illustration shading, and black blocking on the illustration background. The objects in the story give a solid and complete impression so that the illustrations on each panel stand out.
- Bryce, M., & Davis, J. (2010). An overview of manga genres. Manga: An anthology of global and cultural perspectives, 34-61.
- Berndt, J. (2020). Deviating from “Art”: Japanese Manga Exhibitions, 1990-2015. Munson, K., ed. Comic Art in Museums, 178-191.