Recently I’ve been engaged in some research of a type for some work I’m planning on conducting over the Christmas Holiday period. This research nudged me towards manga graphic novels and I did a Google enquiry into the best on offer. A site Google recommended claimed to list the 25 best ever manga novels and stories, and at the top of this list was a series called Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue.
One of the first things to hit me from the novel (let me stress at this point, I’ve only ready the first of the Viz publications (three parts) and I’m about to embark on the second) was the way Inoue uses his art to create the narrative. In graphic novels of the West, and indeed the comics of this part of the world, a narrative voice is still employed: i.e. text informs the reader what is happening alongside the image, the illustration and art. Inoue dispenses with this and the story loses nothing as a result. Although I would argue, as a prose-writing storyteller myself, Inoue’s work gains from it. As a reader I found my mind working overtime, soaking up each image in turn so as not to miss any aspect, any nuance, any slight of hand the artist might deploy. I loved it.
Charles Solomon in his critique of Vagabond (http://herocomplex.latimes.com/books/vagabond-takehiko-inoue-creates-a-samurai-masterpiece/) points to Inoue’s talent as a draughtsman and his use of black and white, pen and ink wash, deliver crisp and compelling visual storytelling. As Solomon observes: “Even when he (Inoue) draws a close up of a foot touching the ground, the reader senses the weight of the entire body and the intention behind that step.”
The volume I traversed is filled with rich incidental images that add narrative colour to the story: leaves falling, birds taking flight, the wind in the boughs. And the background detail of buildings and fauna and flora are breathtakingly beautiful. Solomon also observed Inoue possesses the ability to depict the human form in any pose, in any angle, and this puts him among the very best in the art form. The imagery of the characters, central to the plot or otherwise, are amazing. Even the ugly brutes are sumptuously crafted.
Vagabond is an amazing read, and thoroughly entertaining and enlightening. When I picked up the first volume from my bookshop, I was surprised, and somewhat dismayed, by the thickness of the tome. However, I flew through its leaves like a katana through wood, as Inoue would depict it. The characters, as well as being well-crafted, possess depth and width and carry the tale onward in their individual ways: from Musashi’s desire to surpass his father, to the vengeful mother of Musashi’s best friend, Matahatchi, and his ex-fiancée, Otsu. The psychology is there, the need, the desire, the hate and love that fire the greatest adventures of literary history.
The next volume is sitting on my shelf, waiting, and I’m itching to get started on it.
Picture Credits: (1) https://latimesherocomplex.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/vagabondset.jpg?w=600&h=277; (2) https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/d0/88/14/d08814297611b30258989d44bf7dc362.jpg; (3) http://www.skullknight.net/griffith/inoue.jpg;