Most young millenials will remember Slam Dunk, an incredibly compelling basketball manganime from the 90’s that enforced the idea that you can tell a great story with a sports background. Its author, the beastly Takehiko Inoue -who is well known and revered as one of the best mangakas of all time- wouldn’t just stop there, starting with Vagabond in 1998. Based on the novel Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa, Vagabond tells the story of the young samurai Miyamoto Musashi, probably the greatest swordsman who ever lived in Edo Japan. Being well aware that most of what was told of the ronin are probably only legends, the manga chooses to not be 100% historically accurate with the ‘true story’. This fact, while probably coming off as annoying for historicists and real history fanatics, makes for a far more interesting retelling of this amazing story which is a joy to read, even if you usually stay away of manga for being ‘childish’.
As you probably can tell by the panel above, the artstyle in Vagabond is stunning to say the least. Inoue truly masters both the human form and the background details in a way very few artists can, but even more impressive is the fact that he published this in a weekly basis. There’s currently 327 issues of Vagabond (it has been in a hiatus for two years now), and the quality remains impolute in 99% of situations. From the use of shadows and texturing to the fluidity of the movement, this comic is a real visual treat and your mouth will be dropping every couple of pages in.
The story itself is masterfully told as well, with great character developing and world building. The best thing about it is how real everything feels. These people take a lot of chapters to change their mentallity and evolve, injuries heal very slowly and, when in battle, every blow looks deadly. The reader is really able to feel the various situations as if he/she was there, and thus Vagabond achieves a level of inmersion few can. I can’t really express it with words as it’s something you should experience by yourself. The dialogue is really compelling as well, and while the series deals with lots of philosophy it never feels forced. The cicle of life and death feels very natural and there’s nothing wrong with it: You learn alongside Musashi as he grows to be a better swordsman, a better man, and a better artist as well.
The attention to detail is insane. For example, in the middle of the series Sasaki Kôjiro -Musashi’s biggest rival in his lifetime- is introduced. Most authors would be content to show him in a few flashbacks to hype up the battle, but Inoue fleshes his backstory in more than 60 chapters, showing his infancy and character arc in-depth. Then, when the epic duel finally comes, you’ll care that much more. Other returning characters remain important to Musashi even after being cut down, which helps build the phsycological ins and outs of Musashi in a way that other series more focused on the sheer violence just can’t.
All and all, Vagabond is a simple -yet incredibly deep- story with breathtaking art and a great sense of pacing. It depicts the ‘way of the sword’ lifestile in great detail and it entertains as much as it makes you think. It’s one of the best works I’ve read in my life and one you shouldn’t pass. Snatch it up here or at least check it out.
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