Manga Reviews

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Licensed by Viz

Topic: Historical, Fighting

Warning: Nudity, Gore, Death

Shinmen Takezo is a young man who's run away from his village to join the army in an attempt to forge a name for himself. However, he's turned into a laborer rather than a soldier. At the end of the civil war, rather than return home, he decides to wander the land fighting strong opponents to increase his skills and reputation. Though he has plenty of raw talent, his skills are completely unpolished, and he relies entirely on brute strength and agression, much like a wild animal. Against the polished abilities of the various opponents he encounters, Shinmen must learn control, restraint, and ultimately learn about himself to survive.

Takezo will one day become Miyamoto Musashi, the most famous samurai of all time, but this manga tells the story of how he got there. It's plot is excellent and well fleshed out (given that it's based off reality, there's plenty of material to draw upon). It's a nice change of pace from typical mangas where the protagonist wants to become stronger. In Vagabond, Takezo believes himself to be the strongest and naively challenges anyone he encounters. Through these battles he learns about fear and his own short-comings.

Surprisingly, given the amount of time spent focusing on battles and killing, the manga is very inquisitive about Takezo's nature. It elaborates heavily on his mental state during the battles. Through the battles the readers learn about Takezo's frightening tenacity and strength, but also learn that those are both there to shield himself from the fact that he's actually afraid of death (despite constant statements to the contrary). The side characters are also very well fleshed out and play important roles in the development of Takezo's skills and personality. The author has done an excellent job of choosing and drawing events that had a profound effect on the shaping of Miyamoto Musashi.

The art for this series is gorgeous. Characters' faces and clothing are all highly detailed, and always realistic. The backgrounds are incredibly elaborate, and are able to convey the entire mood of the scene, whether it be one of serenity, one of bloodlust, etc. The battle scenes, while gory, are beautifully rendered, and often devoid of words. It's a testament to the art that the reader is able to follow the battle and the fighters' thoughts without any text to guide the reader. Overall, this is one of the most complete mangas I've ever read.

Rating: 9.0/10.0 -- Reviewer's Choice


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