Comic Picks By The Glick

Vagabond vol. 34

March 15, 2013

The last volume of this came out... wow, over two years ago.  Normally such a long delay would be frustrating in the extreme, but not this time.  While the actual delay in creating new chapters has been down to mangaka Takehiko Inoue’s health problems, we’ve still been getting a steady stream of work from him in the ongoing English release of “Slam Dunk” and the annual volume of “Real.”  However, the real reason I’m not bent out of shape about the delay is because the series has been running hot and cold with the quality of its two storylines right now.  That trend continues here as the exploits of deaf swordsman Kojiro Sasaki are still more interesting than those of the title’s actual main character, Musashi Miyamoto.

Now that Kojiro has arrived in Buzen Kokura and is about to be presented as the next potential swordsmanship instructor for the castle, he finds himself unknowingly thrust into the middle of their intrigues.  In order to determine his worthiness, the head of the Hosokawa clan proposes to have the newcomer fight through the other four instructors of the castle.  This is secretly part of his plans to rein in the ambitions of the eldest instructor there.  However, Kojiro’s first match pits him against a most unconventional opponent -- the instructor named Kaede.

It’s interesting to see Kojiro stride through Kokura Castle blithely unaware of all the scheming around him.  This also has the added effect of captivating those around him as he tames a wild horse through no real effort and makes a huge fool of himself and his opponent in the opening moments of their duel.  Much as the deaf swordsman’s actions have appeal, Kaede quickly became the center of my attention as I was wondering how someone like this became a sword instructor in the Edo period.  I would’ve thought that someone like Kaede was unable to attain such status, let alone even take up the sword in this era.  The fact that this person is also made out to be as slovenly and unkempt as possible, possibly to spite the snarky onlookers, makes for a new character who I want to see more of in the future.

Unfortunately, before we can get a rematch the focus abruptly shifts back to Musashi who is still travelling the land, dealing with the fallout from his slaughter of the Yoshioka school, and being really emo about his current state.  It’s hard to have any sympathy for him while he’s like this as his period of moping has gone on for too long to maintain any dramatic interest or tension.  His storyline does show signs of perking up a bit as he even smiles at one point, and winds up acting as a surrogate father to a young boy, Iori, whose father has just passed away.  The high point of this mini-arc so far is Musashi lecturing Iori, who has stolen his sword to get back at some kids who were teasing him, on how to properly hold a sword while attacking someone in front of said kids.

So even though it might be somewhat entertaining there’s zero forward momentum on Musashi’s side by the end of the volume.  It ultimately feels like filler as we all know that the series has to end with the two swordsmen fighting each other and there’s virtually no indication that they’re going to get to that point anytime soon.  Except for the fact that Inoue has said that he plans to wrap the series up in the near future, so maybe Musashi will be whisked away to Kokura Castle to meet Kojiro face-to-face for the second time.  I’ll pick up the next volume when it comes out, but this one didn’t leave me with any real anxiety about the potential wait involved in that.

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