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Vagabond Vol.2
Left-Right Manga
240 pages
Takehiko Inoue
VIZ Communications
An excellent manga, presented with noticeable care, and sold at a lower-than-average cost. If you're a fan of Japanese history, you need this in your library. It's that good.
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
Vagabond Vol.2
By Patrick King

I must confess, I really liked Braveheart. I know it's historically inaccurate, but it was a great story and something that was immensely fun to watch, regardless. I'm not sure about the proximity of Vagabond to the truth, but just like Braveheart I don't really care; this is a fantastic manga series. Based upon the book, Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa, Vagabond tells the story of the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi - a character featured in numerous books, games, and movies in Japan. At this point in the story, he is nothing more than a wandering swordsman recovering from a bitter defeat at the battle of Sekigahara. An excellent killer, Takezo (as he is called) does not have much of a purpose in life. He tried fighting for his ideals, but they sadly were slaughtered along with countless other unfortunates at the aforementioned battle. On the verge of death, a family of women, salvaging weapons from the battlefields, saved Takezo and his childhood friend, Matahachi. In this volume, Takezo meets Takuan, a monk who just may end up saving Takezo's soul...

Physically, this book is perfect... It's unflipped, fairly large (average manga size, the same as Ranma 1/2 or most of Rumiko Takahashi's other works), cheaper than average ($12.95 US / $20.95 CAN), and contains color pages every once in a while. I didn't catch a single grammatical error, and the dialogue flows well and reads cleanly. Sound effects have been translated, and that's the only major change I can detect. This is how manga should be done. Even the cover art is beautiful.

It's obvious that this book is not for children. It's bloody, and there's a bit of nudity, but nothing is gratuitous - every image has a reason. No, it's not the graphic nature of this work that excludes kids from enjoying it, but rather the level of maturity required to follow the engaging plot. This is historical fiction at its best. That's not to say that there isn't much action in Vagabond - far from it. There is an impressive amount of incredibly rendered fight scenes, an action packed story full of love and intrigue, and some very funny scenes here, but more than anything, this is the tale of a man on a journey of enlightenment. This is the story of a violent, uncouth, brutish man that transcends his animalistic past to become a true hero. Books like this are wonderful - even more so when based upon historical fact - for they show that no matter where we start in life, each person has the potential to be an excellent example of humanity. If this all sounds too romantic for you, then it's probably because I'm not doing the story justice - Takezo's transformation into Musashi is not an easy one, nor is it one that will come without considerable strife. As optimistic as the plot sounds, it is far more realistic and that is why it's so compelling. This is one of the most interesting stories I've ever read and it's told with obvious skill.

The artwork for Vagabond ranks among the best of what I've seen. Every character is extremely unique and lifelike, lending even more realism to the work. Characters actually look Japanese - a rare occurrence in most manga that we see today - and it sets this work in its own stylistic niche. There is never very much white space in these volumes - backgrounds are usually drawn and details are abundant. Patterns in clothes, leaves on trees, facial hair, and more are all painstakingly rendered for the readers. Each scene is beautiful enough to be framed and displayed with pride in any home.

If you're interested in Japanese culture, this is a must-buy for you. The story is fast-paced; the artwork a feast for the eyes, and it's all presented in a standard-setting format. This is one of the best works of historical fiction I've ever read, and I'm no stranger to the genre. It will certainly tide us over until Rurouni Kenshin is finally published domestically...

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