4 out of 5
We continue with Sasaki Kojiro’s growth, up through his traveling to the Sekijahara battlegrounds. This, of course, allows for a cute “crossover” with a character we already know and love – which, unfortunately, allows for Inoue to very briefly step off the rather difficult path he’s been beating for his book for several chapters now, highlighting the only reason I knock this collection of the always-excellent Vagabond down a peg: Takehiko has given himself the challenge of “narrating” a story from Kojiro’s POV; Korjiro, who is deaf and mostly mute. Not that compelling stories can’t obviously be told with this setup, but it’s very much a redirect from the swath of internal thoughts we’ve previously gotten from various characters, and Inoue has further chosen not to “cheat” by telling the story via Sasaki’s imagination – almost everything that happens happens on the page, and with the challenge of communicating Sasaki’s understanding of events without some usual comic book tools. And this is very difficult, especially since the character is somewhat of an enigma, smiling at violence he’s afflicted, and occasionally having others – such as his newly acquired sensei, Ito Ittosai – speak for him. For the most part, Takehiko’s patient approach to this, slowly nudging Kojiro from out of Kanemaki Jisai’s oversight and into the sword-wielding arms of Ittosai, is masterful, but it’s also a little slow, and a little oblique, and doesn’t offer the same sense of attack-retreat-and-grow as Musashi’s initial arc: Kojiro just keeps trudging forward, ready to fight; some of this can be a little repetitive.
The way this wraps back around to that crossover moment is that Takehiko can’t prevent himself from giving that other character a moment of their own thoughts – even though we’ve been with them at Sekigahara before, though at a slightly different point in time. It’s just a little too cute, and any deviation away from the way we’ve been focusing on Kojiro automatically reduces the impact of the above-discussed rather strict approach.
The rewards of the same far outweigh its learning curve, or this slight misstep, and I can’t deny getting a thrill from experiencing the crossover, so the temporary POV temptation is understandable.
Definitely eager to see how far this thread is continued until – or if – our focus is once again altered.