Who knew blood and gore could fly off a printed page? The opening three-volume compendium of this international bestseller showcases some of the most graphic (pardon the pun) violence in pen and ink … don’t read this alone at night. Those unblinking corpses hacked to bits will most definitely haunt your nightmares!
Based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, mega-award winning Takehiko Inoue (whose Slam Dunk is one of the most popular manga of all time, which has sold over 100 million copies worldwide!) captures the violent adventures of Miyamoto Musashi, quite possibly the most celebrated samurai ever. Yoshikawa’s classic samurai tale has been the basis of numerous television series and films, including the 1955 Oscar-winning film released as Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto in the U.S., starring none other than 20th-century legend Toshirō Mifune, certainly the epitome of the celluloid samurai (anti-)hero.
But I digress …
Inoue’s first three volumes follow the metamorphosis of a 17-year-old thrill-seeker who still has his given name, Shinmen Takezō, into the philosophizing samurai dedicated “to the way of the sword” hell-bent on becoming “the mightiest of fighters” as Miyamoto Musashi.
His journey begins with miraculously surviving the gruesome Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. His childhood best friend, Hon’iden Matahachi, has also managed to survive; having fought on the losing side, the pair must escape the roaming “refugee hunters,” find shelter and food before they, too, fall dead. They happen upon a widow and her daughter who save their lives. When the ruthless bandits who murdered the widow’s husband return, Takezō discovers a powerful bloodlust that can’t be defeated … but at what cost?
When Takezō returns to his home village alone (don’t worry – Matahachi still lives), he’s a wanted man. Betrayed, hunted, then captured, he falls under the control of a compelling, mysterious monk, Takuan (whose legacy lives on in the pickled yellow radish bearing his name – bit of a dubious honor, huh?), who recognizes Takezō’s physical prowess, but admonishes him for his shriveled heart and soul.
Takuan takes Takezō to the brink of death so that he might abandon his tortured deathwish … and reclaim life as Miyamoto Musashi: “Never forget where you came from, the place you grew up,” Takuan reminds him before Musashi’s journey into the world begins anew. With insight and honor, his plan to become “invincible under the sun” commences …
Inoue adds an “author comment” on the dust jacket flap of the Japanese release of vol. 3, that his manga is “just for entertainment,” but who doesn’t want their history to be entertaining, albeit memorably bloodied? Japan’s Sengoku Period (late-15th to mid-16th centuries) – depicted here – was marked by warring states destroying one another until Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged in the definitive leader and united the country.
The Tokugawa era (also known as the Edo Period) – marked by Tokugawa shogun rule –would last until 1868, when Japan’s so-called ‘modern’-era began with the Meiji Restoration (disintegration of shogunate power and restoration of imperial rule). For further “entertaining” historical manga, be sure to check out the gender-bender Ōoku series.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2008 (United States)
MUSASHI © Takehiko Inoue
Original Japanese edition published by Kodansha Ltd.