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Manga / Vagabond

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Takezō Shinmen: I left home knowing I'd never go back. From this day on... I'm a vagabond.
Vagabond, volume 1, chapter 6

A seinen manga about the legendary "sword saint" Musashi Miyamoto, said by many to be the greatest samurai of all time. Written and drawn by Takehiko Inoue, the author of the extremely popular Slam Dunk, this series boasts amazing artwork, an engrossing story, and some of the best Character Development seen not just in manga, but in any media.

The story itself is based on the novel Musashi, a semi-historical fictional account of Musashi's life. So while the series is firmly rooted in truth, artistic liberties were definitely taken.

The story starts with two 17-year-olds, Takezō Shinmen — a half-wild loner raised by the sword — and his only friend Matahachi Hon'iden. Having fought on the losing side at the Battle of Sekigahara, the young men struggle to survive until they're rescued by a girl named Akemi and her mother Okō, who make a living by robbing corpses. After Takezō and Matahachi save the two women from the Tsujikaze gang, Matahachi decides to elope with Okō to Kyoto instead of returning home with Takezō to his fiancée, Otsū.


Osugi Hon'iden, Matahachi's mother, refuses to accept this, instead blaming Takezō for her son's absence, which leads to a village-wide hunt for Takezō (not helped by his inhuman aggression and tendency to beat men to death with sticks). He's eventually captured by a monk using cheap tricks—namely convincing Otsū to track him down, knowing he'd lower his guard—and hung from a tree to think on his sins.

Unbeknownst to the villagers, the monk, the legendary Takuan Sōhō, frees Takezō after a few days, rechristens him as Musashi Miyamoto, and sends him off on the journey that changes him into a Living Legend and, eventually, the figure we know today.

Now has a character page that still needs a ton of Wiki Magic.


This series contains examples of:

  • Art Evolution: Actually starts in Slam Dunk, but the art, though terrific to begin with, becomes more complex and detailed.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Takezō and Kojirō do this at the Battle of Sekigahara, though both of them probably forgot all about it.
  • Badass Boast: "Invincible Swordsman Under The Heavens Ganryū Kojirō Sasaki", "Number One Martial Artist Under the Heavens Gonnosuke Musō"
    • At least one villager spotting them travelling together ended up noticing the redundancy.
  • Based on a True Story: More like based on what was based on a true story.
  • Blood Knight: Musashi. Ittōsai Itō is even worse, and unlike Musashi, does not get his bloodlust tempered through Character Development.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Musashi is this to Jōtarō at the earlier parts of the story, then to Iori in the latest ones.
  • Bishounen: Kojirō Sasaki, Seijūrō Yoshioka.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Musashi starts off as A Lighter Shade of Black against his opponents and mellows out with Character Development. Though despite that most of his foes are slightly worse, there are some instances where everyone's as dark a shade of gray as he is.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: A major focus of the story as Musashi and other characters strive to match morality with their pursuit of the way of the sword. Musashi uncovering and developing his own moral code as a swordsman is one of the central themes of the story, especially in the aftermath of his duels against the Yoshioka school.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Every character looks so different from the other in terms of body type and facial features that it's pretty much impossible to mistake one for the other.
  • Character Development: Most notably for Musashi and Jisai, but subverted with Matahachi. A good argument could be made that watching the characters grow is the entire point of the series.
  • Character Focus: The first arc featuring Kojirō took up about a third of the then-twenty volume series by the time it was done.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Musashi, who spent his childhood jumping around in the mountains swinging logs and a sword he found on a corpse.
    • Along with having an incredible physical toughness allowing him to survive a ''lot'', a good bit of his survival is from being physically gifted.
    • Even the legendary dual-wielding technique is partially due to this — when he first dual-wields in seeming desperation, his opponent is pleased to see Musashi seemingly splitting his strength between two blades and supposedly weakening himself... only for Musashi's one-handed strike to cleave through his sword. (Considering the surprise at this feat of strength, it's entirely possible that they had experience with others who'd tried to dual-wield without being as strong as Musashi.)
  • Children Raise You: Jisai Kanemaki and Kojirō Sasaki.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Musashi
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Musashi and the Seventy.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Much of Musashi's growth from an immature glory hound to a true Warrior Poet takes place as part of his Inner Monologue. Philosophical themes, such as the nature of battle and the ideal state of the soul, are visited with increasing frequency.
  • Dead Person Impersonation:
    • How Kōhei Tsujikaze transformed into Baiken Shishido.
    • Matahachi Hon'iden interprets that a dead man's name is Kojirō Sasaki and starts using that name. He later fights a bandit, who also intends to employ this scheme to become the 3rd Kojirō.
  • Disability Superpower: Kojirō Sasaki is portrayed as deaf here, which supposedly makes him an insanely skillful swordfighter due to being able to hear only his "inner voice".
  • Doomed by Canon: Most of Musashi's opponents, but specially Kojirō and the Yoshioka school, at least to readers with some knowledge on Musashi's real story.
  • Eye Scream: Happens quite a few times throughout the series.
  • Foil: several characters act like one for Musashi:
    • To Matahachi. Matahachi is a hedonistic man who largely pursues temporary pleasures to fill the hollow void he's left in himself, constantly indulging in self-pity and fuming over the success of others, outright willing to steal other samurai's names in order to better his own lot in life—it's telling that it takes the death of his mother, as well as whole years of lying to her and nearly everyone around him to get him to start manning up. Musashi, on the other hand, relentlessly tries to better himself as a warrior without much concern for how others view him, willing to learn from every single misstep he makes while out on his quest and freely putting himself in less-than-ideal situations all to gain a better understanding of his swordsmanship and his place in the world.
    • To Kojirō Sasaki. Kojirō's a happy-go-lucky Manchild who can easily win the love of an entire village within a day; Musashi's mature, aloof, gruff, and doesn't tend to socialize at all (unless they happen to be particularly skilled swordsmen). Kojirō constantly goes after women without rest, while Musashi's fixated singularly on Otsū. Kojirō grew up loved by his father-figure and was treasured in his community, while Musashi grew up constantly being manhandled by his abusive father and ostracized by those who saw him as a "demon child." But both Kojirō and Musashi love using their swords in battle, are always restlessly searching for opponents to spar with all in the name of bettering their own skills, and are so deeply connected to the sword that the two of them can hold a conversation practically just by swinging sticks at each other in place of blades. Their passion for the sword is the one thing the two have in common.
    • To Tōji Gion. At the start of the story they are both violent and bellicose swordsmen that only want to fight tough opponents. However, after Musashi loses against Inshun in their first fight, he starts looking for deeper things in life than just being the strongest in the world. On the contrary, Tōji after that very fight gets demoralized, thinking that it is impossible to achieve Inshun's level, and he becomes crazy and loses his path, eventually getting killed by Musashi during the Yoshioka arc. Tōji Gion is an example of what would have happened to Musashi if he didn't change his visions about life.
    • To Baiken Shishido. Similarly to Tōji, Baiken is an example of what would have happened to Musashi if he didn't follow the light and instead chose to follow the downwards spiral of death.
    • To Ittōsai Itō. Similarly to Tōji and Baiken, Ittōsai is an example of what could happen to Musashi in the future if he becomes an accomplished swordsman but remains extremely violent and without seeking spiritual growth.
    • To Hyōgonosuke Yagyū. Both are stated to be very similar in terms of ability and understanding of the sword. The difference is that Hyōgonosuke likes to indulge in sex pleasures, while Musashi is strictly a Chaste Hero.
    • To Jōtarō and Iori. Their enthusiasm on following the path of the sword and being his apprentices is a reminder of when he was a kid like them and wanted to live by the sword, but still was innocent and not tainted by the evilness of the world.
    • To Sekishūsai Yagyū and In'ei Hōzōin. When the two old masters were young men, they were hotblooded and vehement like him. They started to change their ways after meeting the master Hidetsuna Ise no Kami Kami'izumi, who didn't even need a weapon to fight because he was one with earth and heaven. The two old masters are an example of what would Musashi become if he follows the right path in life.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you've read this page, you know what happens when Musashi duels Kojirō, which hasn't happened in the manga yet.
  • Friendly Enemy: Kojirō and Musashi. Bordered on Ho Yay at times, what with them thinking about each other at odd moments and all.
  • Gentle Giant: A downplayed case in Denshichirō Yoshioka, although he shows enough signs that by the time his rematch with Musashi starts, he comes off as the more sympathetic figure. (It helps that despite expelling his "third brother" Ryōhei Ueda for trying to protect him, he also stipulated that if he were to die, that Ryōhei was to be reinstated and succeed him in leading the school.)
  • Hot-Blooded: Musashi's defining element in his early parts.
  • Informed Attribute: Hyōgonosuke Yagyū is said to be a natural genius born with a gift for the sword, but we never get to see him in a real fight.
  • Ink-Suit Mangaka: the monk Takuan is the manga's author, Takehiko Inoue, inserted in the story! Seriously, look how he was drawn with quite a resemblance to Inoue.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Subverted in Musashi's rematch with Inshun. At first it looks like Musashi was pounding the unconscious Inshun with his wooden sword, but from another perspective we see that he was just hitting the ground next to Inshun in manic celebration of his victory.
  • Lack of Empathy: as a big part of the manga deals about the customs and beliefs of Feudal Japan, a great deal of Character Development lies on how the characters, at the start little more than glory-seeker swordsmen that only care about fight and being famous, progressively start to care about people. The biggest example is in the protagonist Musashi. Jisai is also referred to have been numb to others, previously to his fall from grace when he was defeated by one of his students. Antagonists like Inshun and Baiken are also shown to have lack of empathy as one of their fatal flaws.
  • Living Legend: at the start of the story, some characters are already famous as experts in their field:
    • Takuan Sōhō, In'ei Hōzōin, Sekishūsai Yagyū, Kanemaki Jisai, Ittōsai Itō, Sadakore, Kōetsu Hon'ami, Katsushige Itakura, Tadaoki Hosokawa, Ujiie Magoshiro.
Over the course of the story, some more characters make a name of themselves:
  • Musashi Miyamoto, Seijūrō Yoshioka, Inshun Hōzōin, Hyōgonosuke Yagyū, Baiken Shishido, Kojirō Sasaki.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: as expected from a manga inspired by the Musashi novel which spans 900 pages.
  • Magic Realism: There are a few spirits here and there who sort of interact with the characters.
  • Manchild: Kojirō, surprisingly enough.
  • Meaningful Rename:
    • Takezō Shinmen is renamed Musashi Miyamoto by Takuan: "Musashi" is an alternate reading of the Japanese characters of "Takezō", and Miyamoto due to Musashi's birthplace being the Miyamoto village.
    • In a flashback, the baby Mataichi is adopted by the childless Osugi Hon'iden to have a heir, she renames him Matahachi, with the hope that his horizons will expand, just like the "hachi" character.
    • In a flashback, the boy Shinnosuke Mitsuda witnesses his parents being murdered and is adopted by In'ei Hōzōin who, using the first character of his name, renames him Inshun.
  • Mook Chivalry: Sometimes justified; would truly honorable samurai gang up on you? Yes, if they're the Yoshioka school, but in their defense, they tried the honest way first and failed horrendously—they were desperate at that point.
    • Ironically, they failed at the ganging up the because they still had the chivalric mentality and overall retained an individual warrior mentality — allowing Musashi to fight "one against one, seventy times." The only group of them to (almost) succeed in contrast "got it," but hesitated at the fateful moment when their leader held Musashi down for his men to drive their swords through them both. As it happened, they hesitated so long that Musashi broke the neck of the squad leader and got up.
  • Oh, Crap!: the face that numerous fighters put when they realize they are going to die and that they made a big mistake getting on Musashi's way.
  • Old Master: quite a few characters, fighter and non-fighter alike, have elements of this in the manga:
    • Takuan Sōhō, Munisai Shinmen, Kenpō Yoshioka, In'ei Hōzōin, Sekishūsai Yagyū, Hidetsuna Ise no Kami Kami'izumi, Kanemaki Jisai, Ittōsai Itō, Sadakore, Kōetsu Hon'ami, Gakupe Iwama, Katsushige Itakura, the wood carver father, Iori's father, Tadaoki Hosokawa, Ujiie Magoshiro, Shūsaku.
  • One-Man Army: Musashi cuts down more than 70 highly trained and nationally respected Yoshioka swordsmen. Basically the entire school. And that's after he took out their leader, nominally the best of them, at the start of the battle, by diving right into their center. This single-handedly catapults him to a national figure.
  • Out of the Inferno: Played with in the fight against the villain Yūgetsusai Fudō, who first steps out of his house because it's on fire, then goes back in again because he forgot his sword, only to walk out as described in the trope.
  • The Perils of Being the Best: The manga spends a lot of time exploring this theme. Any swordsman who makes a name for himself becomes a target for every glory seeking wannabe around. The psychological weight of constantly being attacked and constantly having to kill takes a frightful toll on several figures. Examples include Munisai Shinmen, who became unhinged and paranoid to the point where he treats even his young son as a competitor looking to overthrow him, and Baiken Shishidō, who goes from being a Blood Knight to becoming so completely burned out on fighting and killing after he was challenged by many samurai that when he is defeated and maimed so that he cannot duel again he is thankful for being maimed, etc. Musashi himself only barely avoids this, and only because he realizes the pitfalls of the trope and he tries really hard to avoid being a slave to his reputation after he becomes a national figure, even when that means avoiding challenges and living as a peasant and farmer for a time.
  • Really Gets Around: Matahachi, Seijūrō, Hyōgonosuke and Kojirō.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni
    • Musashi and Kojirō. Variation in that Kojirō, while calmer than Musashi, is also much more cheerful.
    • Musashi's entire character arc is about undergoing a transition from the impulsive, Hot-Blooded, Blood Knight version of himself as a youngster, (definite Red Oni) into a calmer, more philosophical, more caring man who is saddened by a life of violence and killing and starts looking for ways to avoid needless death.
    • The Yoshioka brothers consist of the bigger, more impulsive, and physically fearsome but kinder Denshichirō, and the superior, Brilliant, but Lazy, pint sized Aloof Big Brother Seijūrō.
    • For a brief time, Blood Knight supreme Ittōsai Itō formed such a pair with Kojirō, which only lasted until he tried putting Kojirō through a version of sink or swim training, and Kojirō responded by not only besting Ittōsai in a duel but also cutting off his right hand so that only the ring and pinky fingers remain, forever leaving it unable to hold a sword.
  • Scenery Porn: Where to begin? This is the manga equivalent of calligraphy.
  • Screaming Warrior: Hoo boy. This trope is extremely plentiful throughout the series, although it's pointed out several times that the fighter who is screaming is usually trying to fight off their own fear, (and probably lessening their ability to fight effectively because they're causing their entire body to tighten up) while the fighter who is calm usually has the upper hand.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Ueda. His trademark attitude is smoking his pipe and ponder. He is introduced this way when Musashi first comes to the Yoshioka dojo and is killing many disciples. But this attitude becomes truly evident during the Battle of Ichijōji, when he is seriously wounded with half of his face cut and he rests under a tree, calmly smoking his trademark pipe while ravens flock to eat his flesh.
  • The Storyteller: Eventually it's revealed that the story of the manga is told entirely by an elder Matahachi, who incidentally charges for every story.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: When Musashi and Seijūrō duel, both of them think "What's the worst that could happen", followed by a mental image of being cut in half.
  • The Ace: a few characters in the story are stated to be natural geniuses blessed with an innate gift with the weapons:
    • Seijūrō Yoshioka
    • Inshun Hōzōin
    • Hyōgonosuke Yagyū
    • Kojirō Sasaki
Others, while never explicitly stated to have been born with such a gift, are shown (or stated) to be formidable fighters nonetheless, some of them having even won the title Invincible Under The Heavens:
  • Musashi Miyamoto
  • Munisai Shinmen
  • Kenpō Yoshioka
  • In'ei Hōzōin
  • Sekishūsai Yagyū
  • Hidetsuna Ise no Kami Kami'izumi
  • Baiken Shishido
  • Jisai Kanemaki
  • Ittōsai Itō
  • Yūgetsusai Fudō
  • Sadakore
  • Koun Igaya
  • Tadaoki Hosokawa
  • Ujiie Magoshiro
  • Title Drop: when at the start of the story, Takezō tells Matahachi, Okō and Akemi that he will become a vagabond, Wandering the Earth and challenging strong fighters.
  • Tranquil Fury: In one instance, while Kojirō is visiting a prostitute, another client that fell in love with her (Kōhei Tsujikaze) walks in and starts berating and abusing her, and ends up killing her pet frog. Kojirō confronts the man with a calm, flat expression on his face (contrasted with his usual joyous expression), and cuts him open with a tsubame gaeshi in a blink of the eye.
  • True Companions: The Yoshioka swordsmen very much had this going on.
  • Vagabond Buddies: as expected in a work with that title.
    • Takezō and Matahachi
    • Musashi and Jōtarō
    • Osugi Hon'iden and uncle Gon
    • Otsū and Jōtarō
    • Kojirō, Ittōsai and Gonnosuke
    • Musashi, Iori and Toyozaemon
  • Younger Than They Look: Many say that Takehiko Inoue draws Musashi in a way that he looks older. At the start of the story, when he is 17 years old, he looks like he's in his late twenties, due to his long limbs, tall height and big muscular frame (the Real Life Musashi Miyamoto is also said to have been a strongly built man even at an early age). A little after, when he returns to Miyamoto village, he has let his facial hair grow and wears his hair loose, making him look like he is in his mid thirties. 30 volumes later, by the time he is in his late twenties, he looks like he is in his late fourties. That being said, Musashi's also noted by his fellow swordsmen for being considerably young for a man of his ambition and skill.
    • Lampshaded by Akemi, who in chapter 2 says she thought he was 30 (he is 17).
    • Justified because, in those times, people aged rapidly due to the harsh life and the lack of the technology complexity we have now.


How well does it match the trope?

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