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Shinmen Takezo/Miyamoto Musashi
The series protagonist, Takehiko Inoue's take on the lengendary sword saint Miyamoto Musashi.
- Blood Knight: At first, but gradually grows out of it as he becomes more enlightened.
- Can't Hold His Liquor
- Combat Pragmatist: In keeping with both his characterization from the novel (as well as historically) Musashi occasionally eschews fighting purely honorably in favor of using what simply works. For example, he begins his fight against the seventy Yoshioka swordsmen by incapacitating/killing them with unarmed blows before attacking with weapons he has taken from his opponents, and attacking from the shallowest direction (that is, that with the fewest swordsmen between him and his target)... and he doesn't hesitate to resort to the Groin Attack either!
- Fastest Gun in the West: A samurai version of this trope. As his reputation grows, ronin hoping to make a name for themselves seek him out and try to kill him. Needless to say, they all fail.
- Handicapped Badass: Becomes this for a while after suffering a near-crippling injury to his right leg during the battle with the Yoshioka.
- Mook Horror Show: The Yoshioka battle, full stop.
- No Badass to His Valet : Musashi comes across as either a savage killer or peerless warrior, depending on who you ask, but his Trickster Mentor Takuan Soho sees him for what he really is: A frightened, confused youth with something to prove. Despite how easily he could maim or murder the monk, Takuan continuously criticizes and taunts Musashi from their very first meeting, utterly unphased by the latter's empty threats.
- Oedipus Complex: He had a complicated relationship with his father, Shinmen Munisai, to say the least. Takezo tried to kill him several times as a child, and as a young man he became obsessed with surpassing him.
- One-Man Army: Musashi cuts down about seventy highly trained and nationally respected Yoshioka swordsmen — that is, the entire school membership, after diving right into their center at the start of the conflict and mortally wounding their leader. This single-handedly catapults him to a national figure and doubles as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Slipknot Ponytail: Sometimes during fights.
- To Be a Master: Deconstructed. His driving motivation is to become "unrivaled under the sun", but the closer he gets to achieving this goal the more realizes how little the title means, especially when his massacre of the Yoshioka school ends with him crippled and forced to crawl away past their already-rotting corpses.
- Took a Level in Badass: Keeps getting more and more Badass over the course of the series.
- Villain Protagonist: Starts off as an amoral thug, who challenges people to death matches for the sake of personal glory.
- Walking the Earth: Musashi lives as a vagabond, seeking out the strongest opponents all over Japan.
- Warrior Poet: Paints, carves Buddha statues and practices calligraphy.
Takezo's childhood friend who persuades him to leave Musashi village and join the war, thus setting of the events of the story. A decent person deep down, Matahachi continually lets himself and others down due to his very weak moral fiber.
- Can't Catch Up: Not that he really tries anyway.
- Character Development: Subverted time and again. Finally played straight after the death of his mother.
- Cowardly Lion: Tragically subverted. Whenever Matahachi is faced with a adversity or danger, he feels compelled to save the day or take a stand. He never does, and it haunts him every time.
- Dirty Coward: And it fuels his inferiority complex to Takezo.
- Foil: To Musashi naturally. They both start out at the same place. Musashi pursues martial perfection, often living like an ascetic and choosing to live in privation even when better options are available. On the other hand, Matahachi ends up wallowing in worldly pleasures, taking every advantage of every opportunity to make himself more comfortable.
- Glory Seeker: Leaves Miyamoto village and go to fight in the battle of Sekigahara to make a name for himself. He fails pretty badly.
- Jerkass Woobie: He's a Dirty Coward through and through, and a petty, wretched lowlife to boot. His envy, self-pity, inferiority complex and laziness are his defining characteristics. Yet he's also a deeply frightened, guilt-ridden, self-loathing fool with a childhood of ostracism and an overbearing bully of an adoptive mother. Overshadowed by his best friend and spurned by his childhood crush after abandoning her for someone else, his entire life has been highlighted by inadequacy and misjudgment. He brings most of his own trouble on himself, but he's just a sad, weak man looking for validation in all the wrong places.
- Miles Gloriosus: He borrows Kojiro's identity for a while to live of his reputation.
- The Hedonist: Pretty much every time Matahachi sees an opportunity for immediate satisfaction, he takes it. It ends up biting him in the ass every single time.
An orphan raised at the temple in Miyamoto village, Otsu is a childhood friend to both Musashi (Takezo at the time) and Matahachi. She was originally betrothed to Matahachi, but then he broke it off after he decided to run away with Oko and not return to Miyamoto village. She instead fixates on Takezo/Musashi (it's implied that he was actually the one she was in love with all along) and leaves Miyamoto to go after him when he heads out to make his name as a swordsman.
- Adaptational Badass: Otsu in the original novel was pathetic and needy, with a very weak constitution, often to the point of getting physically ill over emotional matters. In the manga, she is much more self-sufficient and even takes lessons in self-defense from the Yagyu.
- Arranged Marriage: Was originally betrothed to Matahachi.
- Insistent Terminology: Continues to refer to Musashi as Takezo, long after he has officially changed his name.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Otsu is more than capable of fending for herself in the rather less-than-safe byways of Japan, especially after she takes some pointers from the Yagyu on how to defend herself.
- Single-Target Sexuality: Otsu is fixated on Takezo and won't give anyone else a second glance.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: A bit more rugged than the usual version, due to her traveling, but many characters who meet her often comment on her poise and beauty, even in unusual situations.
Musashi's rival. Portrayed as a Bishōnen, deaf mute.
- Adaptation Deviation: The historic Kojiro was rumored to be fully or partially deaf in one ear, though nothing of the sort was suggested in the Eiji Yoshikawa novel. Vagabond is loosely inspired by history and the novel, but deviates heavily from both in that Kojiro is completely deaf and mute.
- Adaptational Heroism: Book!Kojiro is much darker than his happy-go-lucky Manchild counterpart. The original novel portrays him as cunning and sadistic, although courageous and not without nobility.
- Blood Knight
- Character Focus: The first arc featuring Kojiro took up about a third of the then-twenty volume series by the time it was done.
- Chick Magnet: Receives a lot of female attention even at a young age, and is frequently caught in women's beds by other characters.
- Dissonant Serenity
- Handicapped Badass : Deaf, mute, and easily one of the most talented and lethal swordsmen in the entire series, which is saying a lot.
- Manchild: He's very socially unaware and does things impulsively. Characters are frequently frustrated at his disregard for societal norms.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: Kojiro is introduced in this fashion. His father had him sent by boat from a besieged castle to be raised by his master, Kanemaki Jisai. His mother had been swept overboard and killed during the voyage and he would have suffered the same fate if Jisai hadn't saved him.
- The Unintelligible
- What Beautiful Eyes!: Random robbers have been struck by thoughts of how Kojiro's eyes look beautiful and too innocent for him to have killed anyone. There is a lot of focus on his eyes in general, as being deaf has led to him having very sensitive, perceptive eyesight.
- My Beloved Smother
- The Resenter
- Revenge Before Reason
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!
- Selective Obliviousness: Refuses to acknowlegde that Matahachi was the one who betrayed Otsu.
Yoshioka SeijuroThe second genration master of the Yoshioka Kempo's school of swordfighting in Kyoto. While a superbly talented swordsman, he is also hedonistic and carefree, though he can and will be serious and take appropriate measures in times of crisis.
- Adaptational Badass: In the novel, he really is little more than a hedonistic pretty boy, who is actually inferior to Denshichiro in swordsmanship.
- Aloof Big Brother
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy
- Big Brother Instinct: While he remains an Aloof Big Brother, he still ultimately cares for Denshichiro. He even tries to kill Musashi in a sneak attack to prevent him from fighting Denshichiro, having already known that Musashi would win... unfortunately for Seijuro, Musashi had surpassed him too.
- Combat Pragmatist: Not above ambushing people. See Big Brother Instinct.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
- Iaijutsu Practitioner
- The Hedonist: Prefers spending time in the pleasure quarters over running his dojo.
Yoshioka DenshichiroThe second son of Yoshioka Kempo.
- Adaptational Badass: In the novel, while he was considered the more competent of the two brothers, Denshichiro wasn't all that much better than Seijuro overall.
- The Big Guy
- Can't Catch Up: As hard as he works he can never match Seijuro in swordsmanship. And in the year leading up to their rematch he utterly fails to keep up with Musashi, who makes the most of the year and grows into one of the very best swordsmen in the land.
- Happily Married: Shown briefly to be a devoted father and loving husband.
- Honor Before Reason: He insists on fighting his rematch with Musashi even though he is clearly outmatched and stands nothing to win.
- He also expels Ueda Ryohei, his de facto brother, for trying to protect him by arranging for Musashi's demisenote .
- Over Shadowed By Awesome: Skilled and dedicated swordsman, but hopelessly outranked by his brother and eventually Musashi.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Very much so. Seijuro is a carefree pretty boy blessed with supreme talent and confidence, and Denshichiro is a stern, hulk of a man, who works hard trying to be as good as his brother.
Ueda RyoheiA senior disciple of the Yoshioka School. He was raised by the Yoshiokas and is almost regarded as a brother to Seijuro and Denshichiro.
- Combat Pragmatist: Hopes to ambush Musashi rather than fight honorably.
- Like a Son to Me: Yoshioka Kempo considered him his third son.
- Spirit Advisor: Becomes one to Otsu and Musashi.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Is banished from the Yoshioka school by Denshichiro, but Den dies a day later with his will stipulating that Ueda is to be readmitted to the school and made headmaster.
A temple of spear wielding monks. Musashi seeks them out after leaving Kyoto to challenge their master.
Tropes shared by the Hōzōin monks:
Hōzōin In'eiThe first generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique. Has retired from teaching the spear technique and now lives as a farmer near the temple.
InshunThe second generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique.
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Not as much of Jerkass about it as some others, but he certainly doesn't hide his supreme confidence in his own abilities.
- Blood Knight: As with many of the most prominent fighters in the series he loves to fight strong opponents.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia
- No Social Skills
- Near-Death Clairvoyance
- Slasher Smile: Frequently sports one.
- Wake-Up Call Boss: After fighting Inshun it really dawns on Musashi that there are still fighters much stronger than him.
AgonA skilled spearman of the Hōzōin. He takes pride in his ability with the spear, but is otherwise reserved and deferential to In'ei and Inshun.
- Catch Phrase: "You have had/will have the privilege of being defeated by Agon of Hōzōin."
- Spared By Adaptation: In the original novel, Musashi never fights Inshun, but ends up killing Agon with a single blow...with a wooden sword no less.
- Badass Pacifist: Holds Musashi off with a backscratcher while bedridden and completely saps Musashi of his will to fight without even being fully conscious at the time.
- Heroic Neutral: The Yagyu clan have always kept out of the conflicts of the greater clans.
- Old Master
- Obfuscating Insanity : A light example. He has become a bit absent-minded and strange in his old age, but he's seemingly every bit as sharp as he was in his prime, still as dangerous as any young swordsman and certainly much wiser than the majority of the other characters. Observe how he defended himself from Musashi in his sleep and stared down the vicious swordsman Ito Ittosai, deterring both without even having a sword on his person. Later inverted on his deathbed, when his mind genuinely begins to slip.
- The Magnificent: Other swordsmen consistently refer to him as "the invincible Sekishusai".
Yagyu HyogonosukeSekishusais favorite grandson and heir.
- Adaptational Heroism: In the novel he sentences Takezo to three years of imprisonment before christening him Miyamoto Musashi
- Badass Pacifist: "He cut me down with his mind!!"
- Bullying a Dragon : A middle-aged Buddhist monk who mercilessly mocks, scolds and even challenges a violent young swordsman who practically leaves a path of corpses everywhere he goes. Most of his shenanigans are actually just an unorthodox approach to guidance, as he actively seeks to help Musashi realize who he really is, but that doesn't make it any less brazen. This is true to history, as Takuan Soho was respected by warlords and samurai for his frank, astute advice, but his acerbic honesty made him plenty of enemies as well.
- Cool Old Guy: Only 36, but definitely gives off this vibe.
- Trickster Mentor: To Musashi.
Kanemaki JisaiAn old, retired swordsman who's washed up and raises Kojiro as his son after his parents die.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: He's so devoted to Kojiro that begging the villagers for food doesn't bother him.
- Parental Substitute: To Kojiro.
- Old Master: Though he's rather washed up at the time the story begins, he is eventually treated this way by the villagers after he cuts down old man Fudo. He explicitly refuses to teach Kojiro, wanting him to have a peaceful life, not that it stops him.