A Bumpy Road with a Pothole


Knight without Title
I've read Vagabond twice now: The first time a year ago and the second time just last month.

First Read-Through

My first time reading Vagabond was a mixed experience. It felt like it should have been a smooth ride along the cost. I wouldn't have to worry about driving or keeping my eyes on the road, instead I could simply enjoy the view, breath in the breeze and maybe, once arriving at the end, jump into the ocean for a final swim. Instead, I had to have my eyes fixed on the road which was riddled with holes and icy puddles, remind myself to drive onward and not just stop and turn back to enjoy simpler rides - like Berserk.

Afterwards, I wondered why I needed to be so forcefully concentrated and even felt completly out of touch at times whilst reading the manga, but I realized: I couldn't categorize the japanese names and faces in my head. If it wasn't Musashi they were talking about, I literally had to lookup the name again to understand who that person was and what he or she looked like. Same with the faces. As a European, I felt lost. I just couldn't distinguish often enough. At some point, I simply stopped looking up the characters and just, well, "rolled with it" which meant I often had no clue, who is actually doing what. This also led to me not connecting to the vast majority of the characters or the story.

Second Read-Through

My second time felt way better. I could connect the names and faces easily and I had a lot of "Ohh, so that was him!" moments, which made for a very pleasent second ride along the coast, until I hit a giant pothole that threw me off.

Musashi's Journey
(Major spoilers ahead)

Musashi's Invincible Under The Heavens journey really starts with his first visit of Kyōto, where he meets a real prodigy for the first time: Seijūrō, who is stronger and, more importantly, wiser. Musashi here is a wild animal, only driven by bloodlust and ambition, wielding a wooden sword and killing several Yoshioka students by simply smashing them to death. It is also here where he meets Denshichirō and promises to continue the fight a year later, since the dojo was lit on fire now.

Musashi continues his adventure in the Hōzōin arc where, for the first time, he fled from a fight (fighting Inshun). He got humbled and needs to regain his confidence which he does through training with the In'ei. The rematch with Inshun is a battle of spirits and Musashi, now calmer and more attentive, wins the battle with one strike. Musashi briefly reverts back to his old savage self after he won, but a training curve is surely to be observed. He got mentally stronger. Inshun proposes, that the next time they would fight, they should not try to kill each other, which Musashi agrees to. He has become wiser. It is also here where he learned that he himself creates all the enemies around him.


Musashi is off to visit the Yagyū, led by the Sekishūsai. Musashi, like always, fights his way to infiltrate Sekishūsai chambers at night. He briefly meets Otsū here who helps him. Facing the great Sekishūsai, who seems to just be sleeping, Musashi is paralyzed by his own fear that is reflected through the calm nature of the invincible Sekishūsai. The latter throws a wooden backstratcher at Musashi's head which makes him fall to the ground. Musashi lost. After Musashi wakes up again, Sekishūsai delivers his supreme lesson:

"Invincible Under The Heavens is just a word."

This is the core lesson that Musashi learns in this arc. Little by little, Musashi becomes wiser. He is still not wise enough to finally accept the feelings he has for Otsū, and again heads off for new opponents.


On his journey, he seeks someone named Baiken Shishido, who is told to be a master of the chain and sickle. Musashi engages a fight. For the first time, he fights someone that is/was just like him: Someone who attracts death and whose sole purpose is to kill and be killed. I haven't mentioned it yet, but Musashi is reguarly haunted by memories of his father. Throughout his journey and within this fight, he learns that his father, claiming the title Invincible under the Sun, was in fact just a scared, unstable man who even thought that his own son would kill him, just to get the title. His father was haunted by his title and Musashi realizes that. It is in this fight that Musashi makes amends with the memories of his father. Musashi briefly uses the dual-wielding style his father would use and with it win the otherwise lost fight. Musashi determines: He will not be haunted by his father anymore. After the fight, Baiken, who is really Kōhei Tsujikaze, asks for the first time in his life to be rescued. Kōhei has, up until now, only lived to kill. His life meant nothing to him and he didn't care whether he died or lived, since his purpose, killing Tenma, has been completed by Musashi. He explains to Musashi, that his cycle of death has been broken and that he can now live in peace. Musashi learns a lot in this fight.


A year has passed. Musashi returns to the Yoshioka. It is important to understand, that between this and the Baiken arc, 7 volumes were invested into telling the origin story of Kojirō (chapters 128–179). A lot of the reader's time has passed since we last engaged with Musashi. We have read how Musashi has learned and grown so much over the last year, meeting incredibly wise and strong people. Besides the summarized fights, Musashi also learned alot whilst travelling, especially from Soho Takuan, the travelling monk.

Upon his return, Musashi meets Seijūrō again and this is where I hit a pothole on my drive along the coast.

Musashi has learned nothing.


What just happened?
For a short moment, I thought this was a recap to one year back. Musashi seems to have learned nothing. Seijūrō correctly states:

"Maybe you were even wiser a year ago"

I was completly thrown off. I spent so much time seeing Musashi's progression, then a lot of time witnessing Kojirō growing up, and I'm now eager to see what Musashi will be doing differently, given what he learned the past year. Instead, I got this and I can't help but feel that this is all just a cheep revert back to his former self to justify the 1 vs. 70 slaughter. Did I miss something? Was this just a trick to lure out Seijūrō? It certainly doesn't feel that way.

Later on we get the Farming arc, which, don't get me wrong, I liked, but it felt like a repeat of the things he has already learned by now.

The manga finally abrubtly ends without a complete closure and it looks like it won't ever get one.

Just before the end of an enjoyable ride, I got thrown off by a pothole and can't get to the end of the road. It's a shame, but I very much enjoyed the ride up until then.


Maybe I need a third ride.​
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