5 out of 5
I realize I’ve expressed a similar sentiment regarding Vagabond before, but one marker of success to a comic book, to me, is when I can’t wait to reread it. With each passing volume of Vagabond, the way it builds on its characters – admittedly mainly Musashi, but Matahachi and Sasaki as well – keeps affecting this feeling more and more.
Volume 11 is clearly moving toward our endgame: Musashi is burning through the last remnants of the guilt and hatred that’ve fueled much of his warrior’s spirit, still trying to understand what the ultimate dedication to a life by the sword must mean – how the spiral of killing can lead to peace. The urge to reread is especially palpable here because of the way Inoue has consistently visualized these internal feelings, and so the way we’ve seen Musashi change in reaction to these symbols is powerful, and I’d love to reexperience that from the start. Musashi faces off against another powerful swordsman while in his wandering Ronin-type state, then stumbles on a way to further connect with Sasaki – and nature, and himself – by plugging his ears up while practicing. These segments are quite beautiful, and segue well to Musashi’s time with a wood-carving family, calling himself Takezo and going even further back to basics.
Inoue then commits what’s often a jump-the-shark move but, of course, he does it well: the flash forward. Matahachi is now an old man, telling stories of Musashi and Sasaki to listeners. The way Matahachi – Inoue – tells it, though, gives the final steps of drawing the two different-but-same warriors together for their confrontation added grace, and mystery. It’s accepting the inevitability of it, which fits in with the book’s themes, and then also allowing Matahachi the storyteller to take his time in reciting the tale, enjoying the buildup, and reveling in its more character-defining moments, such as when we check in with Sasaki (in Matahachi’s telling), playing a game with children while managing to battle it out with a whole town’s worth of disgruntled warriors at the same time. It’s fun stuff, and also wholly fitting for Sasaki’s “voice.”
A perfectly balanced collection, and an exciting and powerful buildup to our final chapters.