I enjoyed being able to explore Inoue’s sports-related manga as part of this Manga Moveable Feast, but I feel like I’ve saved the best for last simply because reading Vagabond 25+ volumes in is such a rewarding experience. I touched a little bit on Volume 9 in the Let’s Get Visual post over at Soliloquy in Blue, but as always with Vagabond I have much more to say.
Vagabond Volume 9
Sometimes I’m hesitant to start collecting long manga series, but the three volumes collected in this particular VizBig edition reminded me how big the emotional payoff can be when you’ve invested so much time in reading the stories of these characters and a dramatic confrontation occurs. You can see just how far Musashi has come in his second confrontation with the Yoshioka sword school. He faces Denshichiro again after a year, and this time he calmly contemplates his opponent, thinking “…It’s a swrod that purports to be proper swordsmanship. It doesn’t call out to me.” Musashi’s the victor, but this battle has just begun as the Yoshioka school begins to plot their revenge. Musashi finally comes face-to-face with his friend Matahatchi after a long separation. Seeing how his childhood friend has become dissolute and unhinged, he reflects “That version of me inside your head…the story you created…it affects the way you act.” Musashi has the self-awareness to realize that while Matahatchi’s actions might have been directed by his internal narrative, he is guilty of thinking the same way about Otsu. Musashi has another reunion with the monk Takuan who observes that Musashi must have gotten stronger because he’s become more kind.
Musashi doesn’t have much time for reflection, as he sees that the remaining 70 men of the Yoshioka sword school are planning on ambushing him. While he has the opportunity to escape, he walks into battle anyway, thinking that since the Yoshioka had the opportunity to cut him down a year ago he is actually repaying a debt of honor. It shows how far the sword school has sunk, that they think 70 against one and plans to attack Musashi from behind are what they need to do to maintain their school. What follows is one of the most grueling and prolonged battle sequences in Vagabond, but as Musashi perseveres through his injuries the reader actually begins to feel sorry for his opponents. Instead of cutting down 70 faceless men, many of them get a few moments to prepare themselves mentally, thinking back over past battles and family obligations. So this isn’t a simple massacre on the part of Musashi. As the corpses pile up, Musashi begins to think that he might be able to leave Kyoto, and “escape this spiral of killing.” Musashi survives and his final thought is of his ultimate opponent, Sasaki Kojiro
Vagabond Volume 10
Volume 9 was notable both for the psychological confrontations as Musashi revisits people from his past as well as the sheer scale of the battle between Musashi and the Yoshioka school. This volume very much deals with the aftermath, both physical and psychological. Matahatchi retrieves Musashi from the battlefield and takes him to Takuan. Otsu arrives to help, and she is so focused on Musashi that she doesn’t recognize her former fiance, rushing past him in order to check on Musashi. With Musashi firmly stuck in one place, she has in a sense finally gotten her wish of being together with him, but she realizes that a With such a high profile battle behind him, Musashi becomes a natural target but he can’t even walk normally due to the scale of his injuries. Takuan urges him to decide to take on a normal life with Otsu, serving as a sword instructor for a lord. Otsu might finally be able to be together with Musashi, but if he’s prevented from following his chosen path, he won’t be living the type of life he wants to. Musashi is imprisoned for his own protection and he starts training yet again, limping around his cell and swinging a stick that his captors give him. The burden of killing becomes a spiritual form that hovers around him, and he realizes that the people he killed have been released from suffering, but he still remains with the burden of an endless fight. Vagabond often incorporates images from nature into the story, but this volume takes a more direct and sometimes surreal turn as the ghosts of the Yoshioka come to Otsu, making her acquainted with all the people Musashi has recently killed. While there might not be any fights in this volume, the Musashi’s internal struggle is the main focus. By the end of this volume, I felt like Vagabond was going to launch a new story arc with a radically changed Musashi as he continues to recover from his experiences.