5 out of 5
As hoped, as, I’d say, expected, the purposefully overwrought exposure to Kojiro’s crucible-through-violence we experienced in the last volume is properly contextualized here: the baby-faced fighter is pure, natural force, juxtaposed against Musashi’s cerebral, every-action-requiring-thought approach. It’s a brilliant pairing, since Takezo’s origin was similarly bestial, and he’s firstly had to strip that away, and continues to do so – to learn to live by the sword itself – and now, in these volumes, meeting Kojiro makes him recall relatively simpler times, as a child, when such effortless flows were accessible to him. And none of this would be “worth” it without having seen both men earn their ways to their current mindsets, in their own styles. I’d still stand by my rating for last volume, as I think there were some narrative moves that undermined the story at that point; however, I’ll very much be looking forward to rereading this whole thing with awareness of how it turns out to see if that changes my take on the flow.
The buildup to Musashi’s showdown with Densichiro takes up all of volume 8, with the Yoshioka clan trying to rope Kojiro in as a replacement against him Musashi can square off, hence bringing the two together in some wonderfully clever, and quite charming sequences. Matahachi is also here, and is still one of the most goddamn compelling and hateful characters in existence, always so recognizably human; he’s not the fighter Musashi or Korijo is – he is the person we can probably see ourselves in up to a point, feeling deserving of something greater and having some skill that might merit that… but then running scared as soon as any responsibility lands at his feet. But he becomes pitiable (and perhaps detestable) once he starts squirreling his way into positions above his standing, lying and scheming the whole while, with any moments of self-awareness instantly countered by selfishness.
I was also pleased that the further humor Inoue brought in at the end of volume 7 hasn’t turned out to be a lark, but rather continues in surprising abundance, perhaps signaling an overall shift in tone at this point in the story. There are definitely some very heavy narrative elements, but these flow organically to some sillier ones as well. Lots of farts.
Fantastic art, fantastic storytelling, amazing character work.