Vagabond vol. 3 (VIZBIG Edition) – Takehiko Inoue

4 out of 5

Upfront – this is only docked a star due to presentation: the VIZBIG Edition, at least the copy I have, frequently cuts the edge off of dialogue panels that bleed to the edge of pages, suggesting a margin of artwork was probably cut off as well. Very possibly just a limited printing error that didn’t affect everyone, and it’s not so drastic as to remove whole words, just partial letters at the start of each line, but nonetheless, it’s present and accounted for.

The content is otherwise as perfect as ever.

There are some stunning things Inoue is doing here, beyond his masterful choreography and characterization, and the gorgeous and deep quality of the artwork: while Musashi’s tale of rogue to honored swordsman is a familiar one, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily following familiar beats. It’s amazing how Inoue is able to bounce back and forth between enlightenment and churlishness for Takezo, naturally, and without dressing it up as massive “lessons” each time. His extended battle with Inshun is nearly all mental, but it’s as intense as any physical fight, and in another example of ducking expectations, we see how others may learn indirectly from Takezo along the way, whether or not they best him in battle.

The next arc finds Musashi back on his path to learnings, juggling his bloodthirst with his growing awareness and seeking out audience with the master of the Yagyu school, which also happens to currently house Otsu. The near misses with Otsu are charming; Musashi’s obsession with the Yagyu master’s sword stroke used to cut a flower stem is fascinating, and telling of his newfound focus.

Inbetween, Inoue twists the knife even further on Matahachi’s storyline, and pursuit of his bluff as being the feared Sasaki Kojirō. He pledges to square off against Musashi. Man, we are going to love to hate this guy.