The manga has been serialized in Kodansha's seinen Weekly Morning magazine since 1998 in Japan, with translations to English by VIZ Media. As of May 9, 2010 32 tankōbon volumes have been published in Japan, with 31 of them translated for the United States. Vagabond has, to this date, sold more than 22 million copies throughout the world.
Growing up in the late 16th century Sengoku era Japan, Shinmen Takezo is shunned by the local villagers as a devil child due to his wild and violent nature. Running away from home with a fellow boy at age 17, Takezo joins the Toyotomi army to fight the Tokugawa clan at the battle of Sekigahara. However, the Tokugawa win a crushing victory, leading to nearly three hundred years of Shogunate rule. Takezo and his friend manage to survive the battle, and afterwards swear to do great things with their lives. But after their paths separate, Takezo becomes a wanted criminal, and must change his name and his nature in order to escape an ignoble death. Based on the book "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa, Vagabond is a fictional retelling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, often referred to as the "Sword Saint" - perhaps the most famous and successful of Japan's sword fighters.
- Miyamoto Musashi: The main character
- Sasaki Kojirō: The archrival of Miyamoto Musashi
- Takuan Sōhō: (1573-1645). A Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk
- Hon'iden Matahachi: Childhood friend of Musashi
- Tsujikaze Tenma: A brigand and head of a gang
- Tsujikaze Kōhei: Younger brother of Tsujikaze Tenma
- Ukita Hideie: Daimyo of Bizen and Mimasaka
- Otsū: Childhood friend of Takezō and Matahachi
- Jōtarō: Musashi's first apprentice
- Kitabatake Tomonori: Ruler of Ise in Mie Prefecture
- Tsukahara Bokuden: Founder of the Kashima Shinto-ryū style of sword fighting
- Itō Ittōsai: Founder of the Ittō-ryū style of swordsmanship
- Musō Gonnosuke: Founder of the Shintō Musō-ryū school of martial arts which mainly utilized the wooden staff
- Honami Kōetsu: Famed artist and calligrapher
- Yoshioka Kempō: A swordsman during the Sengoku period
- Yoshioka Seijūrō: Yoshioka Kempō’s oldest son
- Yoshioka Denshichirō: Seijūrō’s younger brother
- Ueda Ryōhei: One of the senior Yoshioka disciples
- Gion Tōji: One of the senior Yoshioka disciples
- Agon: A student in the Hōzōin art of spearmanship
- Inshun: The second-generation master of the Hōzōin spear technique
- Myōei: A student in the Hōzōin art of spearmanship
- Hōzōin Kakuzenbō In’ei:Founder of the Hōzōin art of spearmanship
- Yagyū Sekishūsai Muneyoshi: The founder of the Yagyū Shinkage Ryū school of sword fighting
- Kamiizumi Ise no Kami Hidetsuna: The son of Kamiizumi Ise no Kami Hidetsugu, the lord of Kamiizumi Castle in present-day Gunma Prefecture
- Sakushū: Province also known as Mimasaka; currently the northern region of the Okayama Prefecture.
- Higo: One of the old Provinces of Japan located in present-day Kumamoto Prefecture.
- Owari: One of the old Provinces of Japan located in present-day Nagoya and its surrounding region.
- Kaga: One of the old Provinces of Japan located in the present-day Ishikawa Prefecture.
- Echizen: One of the old Provinces of Japan and is currently the northern portion of the Fukui Prefecture.
- Sangen'in Temple: part of the large Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto
- Hōzō-in Temple: a sub-temple on the grounds of Kōfuku-ji in Nara
- Himeji Castle: Japanese castle complex located in Himeji in Hyōgo Prefecture
- Yagyū Territory: Region surrounding Kyoto, Osaka, and Owari.
- Yagyū Castle: estate of the Yagyu clan.
- Rengeōin Temple: Located in eastern Kyoto.
- MIYAMOTO ARC: Chapters 1-21 (Volumes 1-2)
Before Takezo becomes Miyamoto, we see him as a man who can draw the fear out of anybody, who lives on his wits and will quickly kill anyone who crosses him. This gets Takezo into big trouble, where he has to live in the mountains cut off from all but the hunters from his village who come to try and kill him.
Eventually, the monk Takuan and Miyamoto's childhood friend Otsu help to capture Takezo, and his capture results in him being hung from a tree for several days without food or water (with the exception of when Otsu comes to try and feed him rice balls on a bamboo pole). During this time, Tsujikaze Kohei, the younger brother of a bandit that Takezo killed, comes to claim his revenge on Takezo (but only because Kohei wanted to kill his brother first). Takuan scares him away, but we have not seen the last of Kohei.
At the end of the arc, Takuan takes Takezo out to a remote area surrounding the village and talks to Takezo, and at the end of the fifth manga we learn that Takezo has now (for the moment) shed his rage and has become a more graceful person - Miyamoto Musashi.
- KYŌTO ARC: Chapters 22-32 (Volumes 3-4)
Miyamoto Musashi travels to Kyoto to look for strong fighters to challenge. He immediately heads to the Yoshioka school of swordfighting, where his father's name was well known. Before he gets there, he unknowingly encounters the current leader of the school, Yoshioka Seijuro, who is cavorting with the many geisha in the town. After a few words, Seijuro says "You're dead," and Musashi looks down in horror to see that Seijuro's sword was at his neck, and if Seijuro wanted to kill him, he would have never seen it coming.
Undaunted, he still heads toward the school and challenges the owner, but first he is forced to face many of those who train at the school, after being insulted by some of the lower class members. Musashi kills five members of higher and higher rank, until finally Yoshioka Denshichiro, the more serious of the two sons of Yoshioka Kempo, decides to kill Musashi himself. In a very dramatic battle, one that Seijuro intervenes in once to give Musashi the scar on his forehead, Musashi also manages to dislocate Denshichiro's shoulder, but neither of them stop each other from fighting - instead, we learn at the same time that Musashi's old friend Hon'iden Matahachi has been staying with the ladies (Okō and her daughter Akemi) that they rescued from Tsujikaze Tenma, but heads to the Yoshioka school because he hears the fighting going on. In fact, after bemoaning the 'inevitable' death of his newfound hero (for standing up to the Yoshioka, as Gion Toji had usurped him with Okō) he ends up drinking much of the sake they store in the basement, passing out drunk, and lighting the school's building on fire, forcing the duel to end... after which Denshichirō told Musashi to come back stronger within a year for a (fateful) rematch.
Musashi escapes with his life, and Matahachi realizes that Takezo/Musashi, was the one who challenged the school—he would decide to try to put his life back together, but this would also become the beginnings of an inferiority complex (and would-be rivalry) which would influence his life from here on out.
- HŌZŌIN ARC: Chapters 33-76 (Volumes 4-8)
Takuan encourages Musashi to be more serious about training and not throw away his life so easily, but Musashi still has a lot to learn. During this time, Musashi splits up with Takuan and goes to visit the Hozoin temple for its famous spear technique. (Takuan goes to visit the Yagyu clan, where he correctly believes Otsu is currently staying.)
Gion Toji, having appointed himself as the Yoshioka school's assassin and seeking to kill Musashi, arrives at the temple first. There he cuts both hands off a monk who challenges him in battle. He proclaims that he will come back everyday and do the same to the others, until he finds Musashi, throwing the temple into turmoil and unease.
Musashi appears at the temple the next day and picks a fight with Agon, one of the higher level monks at Hozoin, who is outside the temple training his technique. Musashi seeks In'ei, the old and legendary master of the school, who he does not know has retired. Agon recognizes that this must be Musashi, and seeking both to end the turmoil that Toji has caused and defend Hozoin's name, he fights Musashi. Musashi learns much of the technique and at one point finds himself without a sword but, quick to act, he manages to dodge a thrust from Agon, and get in close enough to punch Agon in the face with his fist, breaking his nose and ending the fight. At the end of the fight we see Gion Toji watching from the shadows.
Gion Toji picks a fight with Musashi, but before they can begin, Inshun, the new master of the school and a child prodigy at the spear, comes and breaks up the fight, wanting to battle Musashi himself. Toji backs off, and Musashi has an all-out battle with Inshun. In this battle, Inshun has an experience he has not had yet - a battle where his life is on the line. Musashi becomes tired and distraught, and badly beaten, flees from Inshun. (Jotarō, a boy who'd come to accompany him, abandoned him for this.) He winds up later in the care of In'ei, the same monk and spearmaster he had journeyed to Hozoin to fight.
The elderly In'ei, it turns out, feels that while Inshun, his greatest student has brilliantly mastered the physical art of spear fighting, he has not mastered himself and his soul. He believes Inshun needs a powerful rival, one on his own level of mastery to do this, and begins training Musashi so that he can be that rival.
In the end, Musashi gets a second battle with Inshun, with only In'ei and Agon witnessing it. Inshun is wielding a true spear this time, the Hozoin Cross Spear, and not a training spear with a blunt end. Nonetheless, Musashi has learned a lot from his training, (although the most important things turn out to be what he learned about himself, and his demons), and overpowers Inshun's spirit with his own. Musashi manages to dodge Inshun's attack and knocks down Inshun with a strike to the head from his own self-carved sword; after this, he reverts to his savage self, and starts beating the ground and the fallen Inshun with his sword repeatedly. Inshun's spirit detaches itself from his body, and we learn a bit about Inshun's past, how he came to the Hozoin school.
Both Musashi and Inshun are treated for any injuries at the Hozoin Temple, after which Musashi was issued finer robes and a pair of swords, and they leave with the vow of trying not to kill each other the next time they meet.
- YAGYŪ ARC: Chapters 77-104 (Volumes 8-11)
Musashi, with Jotarō in tow (after leaving Musashi after he retreated from Inshun but later reconciling and fully accepting Musashi as his master), proceeds to travel to the residence of Yagyū Sekishūsai, a swordsman of great renown. Meanwhile, Matahachi is making quite a living for himself by posing as Sasaki Kojirō (whose certification in Chujō-ryu swordsmanship he took from the mortally wounded Kusanagi Tenki, who'd wanted him to give it to Kojirō). Matahachi is asked for a match by Kai Shojiro, a wandering swordsman with 35 years of experience. Matahachi grants Shojiro this request, but upon deciding Shojiro is a swordsman capable of killing him in combat (as opposed to another swordsman who'd seen through Matahachi's disguise—only for Matahachi to visualize "Takezo" as his opponent, refocus and kill him), distracts him and flees. Matahachi runs into his mother and uncle Gon at a marketplace during his flight, and states that Sasaki Kojirō is a pseudonym he uses instead of his actual name, as he feels he has shamed his family by living with a prostitute and inadvertently setting the Yoshioka temple on fire. Granny Hon'iden states that they are to look for Musashi and Otsu, whom she states "ran off together", though she is completely unaware that the two have not been with each other since they ran away from the village. (This would end up fueling Matahachi's inferiority complex, since he was coerced by Okō into writing a letter of renouncement to Otsu and would drastically influence their relationships later.)
Musashi eventually makes his way into Yagyū territory. Yagyū Sekishūsai receives news that his grandson, Hyogonosuke is returning to his temple, to his delight. Yoshioka Denshichirō constantly requests a duel with Sekishūsai, but is refused an audience each time. During a chance meeting in a bathhouse Musashi meets Hyogonosuke and Jotarō, wandering off, meets Otsu. Musashi happens upon a peony cut by Sekishūsai, and requests an audience after delivering a message requesting who cut the enclosed peony, which stuns the senior disciples of the Yagyu when they discover it was Sekishusai himself who made the cut. At the hall of the Yagyu, Musashi attempts to antagonize the members into fighting him, hoping that by besting them he'll be granted audience to Sekishūsai, however his efforts prove fruitless, as the disciples have gotten used to such methods. Jotarō, however, ends up playing right into Musashi's plans, as he kills the Yagyu pet dog, as the dog had previously, unprovoked, attacked Jotarō. The group attempts to physically punish Jotarō, but Musashi claims that he must take the punishment for his disciple, and uses this as an excuse to engage in battle with the Yagyu senior disciples. Jotarō runs to find Otsu, but falls into a pit. After a long and exhaustive bout with the senior disciples, Musashi eventually loses them in a bamboo forest, and sneaks into Sekishusai's cottage after a brief, but emotional reunion with Otsu. Musashi is shocked to discover that the aged Sekishūsai is now an old, bedridden man in his sleep, but nonetheless has an impacting discussion over the nature of being the greatest swordsman (and possibly learning one of his most valuable lessons: "invincible's just a word," after Musashi internalizes his idea of "the invincible Yagyū Sekishūsai" and gives up his attempt to cut down Sekishūsai). Musashi opts to leave Jotarō in the care of the Yagyu, and travels away without him, though Otsu and Jotarō leave in hopes of finding Musashi.
- TSUJIKAZE KŌHEI / SHISHIDO BAIKEN ARC: Chapters 105-127 (Volumes 11-13)
The arc begins with Matahachi fleeing from his uncle Gon and mother, after the former questions the legitimacy of his claim to be Sasaki Kojiro. Matahachi runs into the ronin Kai Shojiro, who has since realized Matahachi an imposter and thus harbors murderous intent. While fleeing, Matahachi finds himself on the mountain trail leading to Shishido Baiken, a figure renowned for his chain and sickle technique. Matahachi also encounters a mysterious young girl armed with a chain and sickle. As fate would have it, Musashi is also traveling to this area, all the while nursing a foot wound gained by stepping on a nail during his travels. The ronin and his companion eventually catch up to the fleeing Matahachi, but Gon arrives in time to protect him as Matahachi flees the area, however Gon is killed in the ensuing struggle with the ronin's companion. Matahachi continues to flee, with the ronin in hot pursuit. The pair eventually are seen by the mysterious girl, leaping from rocks on the river, whom the ronin mentions as having a similar weapon to Shishido Baiken, which causes the ronin to drop his pursuit of Matahachi and instead follows the young girl. The dying companion happens upon the man who claims to be Shishido Baiken and begs to be put out of his misery, however "Shishido Baiken" is revealed to be none other than Tsujikaze Kōhei, though he appears eerily more somber than the last time he was seen. Matahachi, whilst still in flight, stumbles upon the house of "Shishido Baiken" to find Shojiro and girl dueling (the ronin being apparently under the impression that the girl herself was Baiken). The 'real' Baiken returns home, and swiftly launches a weight tied about the end of the sickle chain, smashing Shojiro's skull open. Matahachi is discovered hiding by the girl and is made by Baiken to bury the ronin and the bodies of "two others" that are "further up the trail". Matahachi is heart broken to discover that his uncle Gon is among the dead. Granny Hon'ichi nearly drowns, but is discovered by Otsu and Jotaro. While passed out, Granny Hon'ichi begins muttering her vehemence to Otsu and Musashi. As he painfully reminisces about his uncle, Matahachi spies Musashi arriving from afar, and quickly runs away, praising Musashi at the appearance at "how strong he's become".
Musashi, starving, happens upon a kindly hermit's hut, where he is fed and informed that Shishido Baiken is dead. The hermit recants that Baiken was nothing more than a despicable bandit leader who often gave her trouble. She also states that while Baiken was living, the only people that sought him were ne'er-do-wells such as himself and his gang, and that respectable swordsmen only began seeking him after his death. Baiken and the girl spar with their chains and sickles, after which that and a meal, as Baiken sleeps, the girl playfully examines Baiken's face to reveal to the reader a massive facial scar (the scar had previously been obscured by Baiken's hair). Musashi eventually enters Baiken's hut, leading both Musashi and Tsujikaze to exchange shocked reactions. Musashi observes that Tsujikaze is quite different from the man whom he encountered four years ago, stating that Tsujikaze's "twisted grin" is gone. Baiken unemotionally obliges to "demonstrate" the chain and sickle technique to Musashi. As Musashi leaves he is attacked by the girl, now identified as Rindo. Baiken assures Rindo that Musashi is an old acquaintance, and that she should not meddle in their affairs. Rindo, nonplussed, climbs a tree to observe the two's combat, commenting that Musashi is different from the other swordsmen that have appeared in the past.
During the start of the match, Baiken states that while he does not wish to kill Musashi he can only use his chain and sickle with the intent to kill, which Musashi says he has no qualms with. Musashi is initially intimidated by Baiken's technique, after he receives a bloody nose from being clipped by the chained weight, as well as a battered left index finger. Musashi praises Baiken's technique and asks who is Baiken's master, which Baiken responds with the statement that Rindo is his master. While the two combatants anticipate the other's next move, the origin of the current incarnation of Baiken is shown. After his spat with Musashi four years ago, Tsujikaze fell into a deep depression, during which time he began "looking for a place to die". Tsujikaze encountered Baiken and his gang, whom he quickly slew. Tsujikaze's scar appears noticeably more fresh, and, judging by the fact that it opens up in mid-combat, it can be assumed he received it shortly before his episode with Baiken. Rindo initially attacks Tsujikaze, however she relents and passes out after seeing the grisly nature of his scar. After an initial struggle, Tsujikaze and Rindo, who even begins dressing in a manner similar to Tsujikaze, become fast friends. Snapping back to the current battle between "Baiken" and Musashi, there is a brief struggle, which results in Musashi's being strangled by Baiken's chain. As he chokes Musashi, Baiken states that Musashi's life is ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Musashi eventually frees himself. Rindo attempts to interlope, however Musashi quickly threatens her from doing so, during which Baiken attempts an under-handed tactic of attacking a distracted Musashi.
"Baiken" then begins to display a twisted grin, displaying that he has reverted to his former, blood-thirsty "Tsujikaze" persona, with Musashi's instincts finally kicking in. Tsujikaze's revision saddens Rindo. Musashi draws his short sword and begins remembering his father's training in jutte. Tsujikaze admits that while he initially wanted to kill Musashi because of Musashi's killing of Tsujikaze's brother Tenma before he could, he now desires to kill Musashi because he (Musashi) is very similar to himself, "inviting bloodshed" wherever he goes as he says. Musashi opines on how he is above the petty rage Tsujikaze has, and quickly dispatches him, severing all of Tsujikaze's fingers on his left hand, save his thumb, and leaving a deep wound into his chest through his shoulder. Tsujikaze begins reflecting on his life with Rindo and how similar she and him are, and pleads with Musashi to help treat his wound, saying he wishes to escape the "cycle of death". Musashi seems reluctant at first, but eventually relents and aides him. While recuperating, Tsujikaze remarks that his pride was destroyed by someone who was "further along the path of death" than he, a man called Sasaki Kojiro. It is heavily implied Kojiro is the one who gave Tsujikaze his scar. Ultimately, it is never directly stated as to why Tsujikaze began referring to himself as Shishido Baiken, whether it have been the amount of bloodshed his name invited, somewhat of a paternal relationship he felt with Rindo, or if simply wished to start a new life with Rindo.
During the epilogue of the arc, Tsujikaze's past is further delved into revealing that he came to adopt his macabre outlook on life due to his mother's abandoning of him, and his rough life in his brother Tenma's gang. It is shown that Tenma crushed Tsujikaze's testicles after the latter attempted to rape a peasant woman, leaving Tsujikaze impotent for the rest of his life. Tsujikaze is then imprisoned after attempting to kill his brother Tenma, during which time he begins to sink into a pit of depression and nihilistic thinking. After seven years the Tsujikaze gang has dissipated and Tsujikaze is freed by passing soldiers during the battle of Sekigahara. Tsujikaze tracks down a former member of his brother's gang, and finds out Musashi, then Takezo, has killed his brother, and Tsujikaze sets out to find his brother's killer and slay him (leading to their encounters in the first arc).
- SASAKI KOJIRŌ ARC: Chapters 128-179 (Volumes 14-20)
The story arc, as the title suggests, follows not Musashi but the upbringing of his arch-rival, Sasaki Kojiro.
The arc begins in the year 1583 CE, with a letter from Sasaki Sukeyasu to his former teacher, Kanemaki Jisai, who has retired and living as a hermit in a small coastal village. Sukeyasu requests that Jisai please take care of his only son Sasaki Kojiro. Soon afterwards, Jisai spots the baby on a boat, in the middle of a storm offshore. He rescues Kojiro and raises him, not knowing that his adoptive son is in fact, deaf.
Kojiro grows into a healthy young boy, but is distanced from the villagers because of his deafness and his association with Jisai, who's seen as a crazy old man (and fraud, since he advertised himself as a teacher of Chujo-ryu swordsmanship). This changes when Kojiro befriends Kusanagi Tenki, the local bully. Tenki longs to be a great swordsman, hoping to achieve the title of "Invincible Under the Sun." Together they plot to take down Fudo, a powerful swordsman who terrorizes the village by abducting girls just as they hit puberty. The assault doesn't go well, Tenki being scarred for life and Kojiro realizing his bloodlust in battle. However, he would cut off Fudo's right hand (after Fudo found Kojiro wielding a nodachi and named it Drying Pole—later the name of Kojiro's signature weapon), and Jisai saves the village and the boy's lives when he takes Fudo down with one stroke.
Time passes and ages Kojiro into a powerful teenaged boy, longing to be taught by Jisai, who refuses, haunted by how Kojiro whimsically massacred Fudo's body after he was already dead. But when Ito Ittosai, an old pupil of Jisai, and a renowned swordsman strolls into town, he interrupts the balance between Jisai and Kojiro. Ito sees that Kojiro is indeed a powerful swordsman, a "real tiger" like Ito and Jisai. He instigates a duel between wandering swordsmen including Ueda Ryohei and Denshichiro of the Yoshioka, who want to learn from Ittosai. Kojiro discovers them and he and Denshichiro duel. Denshichiro discovers that though Kojiro is deaf, he speaks volumes through battle. Though the duel ends abiguously, with both suffering serous injuries, Denshichiro longs to meet Kojiro again.
Soon afterwards, Kojiro leaves the village and travels with Ittosai to test his skill against the world abroad, Jisai having finally accepted his adoptive son's future as a swordsman and entrusting Kojiro into Ittosai's care. Jisai soon sends Tenki after Kojiro along with money and a certificate of swordsmanship, which Matahachi would ultimately acquire (after Tenki was mortally wounded). The regular wandering swordsmen are no match for Kojiro. The two stumble upon Muso Gonnosuke, who proclaims himself "#1 Martial Artist Under the Sun," contrasting with Kojiro's banner, "#1 Swordsman Under the Sun." But Gonnosuke is not prepared for "the stage" as Ittosai calls it, Kojiro quickly defeating him. Still, he takes his defeat in stride and travels with them as they discover the battlefield of Sekigahara, which has just ended. Ittosai picks a fight with the remaining Tokugawa soldiers and in a bloody battle, a young Takezo also enters the fray, hoping to kill a general. (Notably, this is the in-universe chronological first encounter between Kojiro and the future Musashi, still a "wild beast from the mountain".) When the battle is over, Ittosai and Gonnosuke are separated from Kojiro. Ittosai tells Gonnosuke that Kojiro must "become him" by surviving the nightmare of the days to come, where scavengers of the war prey on the survivors. He states that once Kojiro has killed about one hundred men he will have acquired his survival instinct. If Kojiro can survive this, Ittosai says, then the next time they meet will be as opponents.
For days, Kojiro is attacked by villagers, hoping to collect his head for bounty. He slaughters everyone in his wake. But he soon encounters a formidable troop of four surviving soldiers. In a long duel with Koun the strongest of the four, Kojiro is victorious, but despite his victory he displays a solemn, almost mournful expression.
- YOSHIOKA ARC: Chapters 180-242 (Volumes 21-27)
The arc shifts back again on Miyamoto Musashi as he returns to Kyoto in 1604 (the 9th year of the Keichō era) after a year's time to fulfill his promise for a rematch with the Yoshioka brothers. The introductory pages show Musashi defeating and killing Yoshioka Denshichirō in duel amidst a snowy day. Immediately afterwards, we backtrack 10 days leading up to the duel. Musashi is unexpectedly met with a public bulletin of a challenge from Yoshioka Denshichirō; he boldly accepts it. He meets Yoshioka Seijurō only to be warned of proceeding further. As Musashi practices and is about to rest in Rendaiji Field, out from the darkness emerges Yoshioka Seijurō, who attempted to kill him from behind with a thrown dagger. In the resultant duel, Realizing that Musashi has grown in character and sharpened his swordsmanship immensely, while Musashi ended up with a cut in the same spot on his forehead from before (Musashi bemoaning this unfortunate 'coincidence') and the other on his left eyelid and a stab wound to the shoulder. Although both are taken as signs of that improvement (Seijurō having been aiming for the eyes and heart respectively), Musashi was understandably far less pleased, and in the end he cut down Seijurō on New Year's Day, first returning the eyelid cut (possibly blinding him with a tsuba to Seijurō's left eye) and then splitting him from the left shoulder to the right side of his torso.
After the death of Seijuro, the Yoshioka clan is devastated. It is revealed that Seijurō attacked Musashi in secret without informing anyone else, as he felt that Denshichirō could not win the upcoming duel against Musashi; Ueda is the only one to discover this, and so the clan sees the killing of Seijuro as unforgivable on Musashi's part. Musashi encounters Hon'ami Koetsu, a renowned sword sharpener, who offers Musashi a room to stay in while the Kempo clan begin seeking him out. The Denshichirō emotionally distraught begins to be defeated in practice sessions with his subordinates, which begins to deeply trouble them, most of all Ueda, although Denshichirō has evidently mandated that they not fight him lightly. While traveling out in the open Musashi has a tense encounter with the heads of the Kempo, but Denshichirō adamantly forbids any foul-play against Musashi. Gion Toji suddenly reappears after his long absence, and looks noticeably worse for the wear (he seems to symbolize Musashi had he remained so angry). Toji has been away from the Yoshioka dojo during his search for Musashi (first having been completely demoralized by the sight of Inshun's fighting prowess, then suicidally attempting to attack Sekishusai only to be disarmed), and in outrage at Denshichirō's not killing Musashi, Toji attacks Musashi blindly only to be swiftly cut down with a single slash to the neck.
Ueda, now seriously worried over the possibility of his master's death, hatches a scheme to solicit Sasaki Kojiro to fight Denshichirō's battle instead. Matahachi, who has now begun to refer to himself as Sasaki Koujiro (accent on the second syllable) after being apprehended by Yoshioka swordsmen, encounters the real Sasaki Kojiro as he travels through a field. The Kempo swordsmen attempt to invite Kojiro back to their dojo, but the encounter turns bloody after one member (one of the Ten Swords of the Yoshioka), entranced by Kojiro's skill, attacks him. Kojiro kills another swordsman, but before he can kill the last one, is stopped by Matahachi who sympathizes with weaker men (declaring that killing the defeated is cruel). Matahachi then takes Kojiro to the Yoshioka dojo, posing as his interpreter. The men are outraged that a man that has killed one of their own be invited as an honored guest, but Ueda quickly stifles the furor. Matahachi flees, after he discovers the plot to have Kojiro fight Musashi instead. When Ueda pleads to Denshichirō to give his consent to the plan, Denshichirō excommunicates Ueda from the clan.
Kojirō wanders away from the Yoshioka dojo out of boredom (he has no idea what he was brought to the dojo for) and returns back to the place he was staying, which, as fate would have it, is the exact same place Musashi is staying at. Musashi spies Kojiro attempting to cut through Musashi's snowman's head with a stick, but is frustrated that he cannot. The two engage in a rather playful stick fight with thin tree branches in which Musashi arguably "wins", however, the fight takes a serious tone when Kojirō then eagerly draws his sword in the hopes of a real fight. The fight is cut short by Hon'ami's mother, who calls the two men in for dinner, Musashi staring as Kojirō eagerly rides piggyback on her into the house. Musashi and Kojirō develop a bizarre camaraderie, in which Musashi seems to revere Kojiro more than any other swordsman he has met to date. Musashi then leaves the next day to duel with Denshichirō, and sees that Kojirō is now able to completely cut through his snowman's head.
Before the duel with Denshichirō begins, Ueda draws a matchlock pistol on Musashi, who chastises Ueda for resorting to such tricks to protect his master and dispatches his weapon. Ueda then states the attack was just a ploy; he had no knowledge on how to operate a firearm and, what's more, the pistol was probably in a non-operable state. Ueda relents, but states to Musashi that if Musashi kills Denshichirō then the Yoshioka clan will become solely fixated on killing Musashi. Musashi, uninterestedly, passes through the massive crowd (after being mistaken for yet another spectator) and battles Denshichirō regardless, with Otsu, Jotaro, Takuan, and Granny Hon'iden all watching. The duel with Denshichirō seems one-sided throughout, as Musashi even sees no need to draw his blade for the majority of the fight, opting instead to fight the battle in his mind. (This ends when Musashi 'previews' the disarming stroke shown at the beginning of the arc, charging and making a single strike—only for both to realize that Musashi had accidentally left his sword in the scabbard, and that his hand had cut through thin air.) Musashi eventually does draw his blade, apologizing for the faux pas, and cleaves through Denshichirō's arm with one stroke. Denshichirō, now solely intent on killing Musashi with no regard for his own safety, grasps Musashi and attempts to kill him, but Musashi unceremoniously guts him with a swift stroke of Denshichirō's wakazashi. Denshichirō then solemnly states that he is glad to have had Musashi as his final opponent, and perishes. Ueda Ryohei is then given notice that his exile from the clan was to last only until Denshichirō's death... upon which he would become heir. Ryohei, now the head of the Yoshioka clan and hell-bent on vengeance, plans to ambush Musashi with all 70 Yoshioka members when Musashi attempts to leave Kyoto.
Musashi and Matahachi run into each other and have a tearful reunion. Unfortunately, the meet turns ugly when Matahachi's jealousy over Musashi's skill (and the now-years long inferiority complex) crops up, causing a drunken Matahachi to accuse Musashi of running off with Otsu. Musashi, utterly appalled at the notion, punches Matahachi in the face and renounces his friendship. Musashi begins to meditate within a massive pine tree at Ichijōji. As he reflects on his isolation from the world, he overhears Ueda and the rest of the heads of the Yoshioka plot to have all 70 Yoshioka members ambush him. Musashi, nonplussed, elaborates that he will certainly die from such an attack, and opts to attack the small number of the heads of the Yoshioka beneath the tree. Musashi, losing his composure, antagonizes Ueda into fighting him. Ueda then makes light of the fact that Musashi would become so angry at his own imminent death but feel nothing for killing Denshichirō and his brother. Ueda takes advantage of this emotional distraction and manages to successfully cut Musashi. The battle is cut short by an interloping Takuan, who houses Musashi for the night. During his stay, Musashi states he will flee before the fight the next day against the Yoshioka, and that he is unaffected by the reaction a "cowardly" retreat would have with other people. Musashi thanks Takuan, who notices that Musashi's generosity is the sign of the greatest of swordsmen, and flees.
Mid-flight, however, Musashi begins to have second thoughts, and returns for reasons unknown even to him (berating himself for being "an idiot" as he runs back down the mountain). Musashi spies the Yoshioka amassing under the same great pine as where Musashi had his confrontation with Ueda Ryōhei. Musashi takes his early arrival to his advantage and descends upon the Yoshioka swiftly and silently, successfully carving a swath through their ranks to Ueda. Musashi draws his sword swiftly and cuts off a rather sizable portion of Ueda's face, temporarily incapacitating him. Musashi then proceeds to do battle with the entirety of the Yoshioka clan. Despite their numbers and poor tactical attempts, the Yoshioka are mercilessly slaughtered by Musashi one by one, leading up to a sneak attack by wounded Ueda Ryohei that manages to cut open the back of Musashi's calf muscle severely before he succumbs soon afterward, followed by the Yoshioka swordsman who'd distracted Musashi's attention. Musashi, critically wounded and exhausted, begins lurching his way out of Kyoto, where he runs into Akemi, the girl with whom he lived briefly. Akemi states that Musashi was foolish for abandoning his life with her, attempts to stab him, says she is Seijurō's woman (despite her earlier tears at hearing of Musashi's return before the fatal duels), than proceeds to leap into a nearby river before a stunned Musashi.
- After the Yoshioka War / Kojirō Revisited: Chapters 243-present  (Volumes 28-present)
The arc begins an unspecified time after the first Kojirō arc, with Kojirō in the den of a kindly prostitute and her pet frog; Gonnosuke and Ittosai are noticeably absent. The prostitute is unusually philanthropic; she refuses money if her clientèle are nice to her. The prostitute goes outside after making love to Kojirō to see Tsujikaze Kōhei (scar absent). Tsujikaze and the prostitute had previously been together. Tsujikaze, after his imprisonment, downward spiral into severe depression and nihilism, and subsequent release, returns. He pierces the prostitute's right eye with his sword and stomps on her pet frog, killing it. Kojiro, upon seeing this, retrieves his sword and steps outside to confront Tsujikaze. Tsujikaze, not taking Kojirō seriously, states that Kojirō is merely wasting time until his death. Tsujikaze attempts to attack him, but Kojirō dodges, shoves Kōhei back than slices through his face, delivering the scar we saw in the Baiken arc. It's highly suggested that the technique Kojiro used was the famous Swallow Cut (tsubame gaeshi).
After Musashi's great fight he is taken care by Takuan and finally encounters Jotarō, Matahachi (who'd renounced his past resentment and found him) and Otsu. While he is recuperating from his injuries, Matahachi (seeing Otsu rush over to Musashi) resigns himself to Otsu loving Musashi over himself, and then he separately tells both of them to have a relationship. When he awakens, it is revealed that Musashi can not walk because of the severe wound in his left leg (caused by Ueda Ryōhei's final slash) and according to "one of the two best physicians in Kyōto," his fighting days are over... after which soldiers comes to arrest Musashi for killing the 70 warriors of the Yoshioka.
When next seen, he is imprisoned at Nijō Castle, although according to the shoshidai of Kyōto in a conversation with Koetsu it's more of protective custody, as due to his national fame from defeating the Yoshioka he is now the target of possible revenge, challenges from fighters seeking fame (whereas he was once in their position), and invitations to serve as a samurai; as such Musashi will not face beheading or seppuku. However, the possible end of his fighting career causes distress for him, Jotarō and Otsu (for him it is the possible end of his raison d'etre, while Jotarō accuses Otsu of "hating the sword" and desiring to be Musashi's new focus), but Takuan counsels Musashi about what he could do in the future... for possible, being with Otsu, then suggesting that he find an employer in Edo. Refusing the offer, Musashi takes up a journey to visit an old cave back in his hometown that he remembered keeping a promise to return if he was stronger to a skeleton in there. Just as he reached there, the world-renowned Ittou Ittosai challenges him to a duel; Ittosai remembers Musashi from fighting along side of him for a brief moment with Kojiro and Gonnosuke but Musashi does not recall anything about him...only that Ittosai is famous for his fighting style. When the fight seemed over, Ittosai revealed his right hand with only his pinky and ring finger still on his hand, he claims that Kojiro is stronger and recalls the time when he had left Kojiro for dead with vengeful peasants.
In the meantime, Matahachi's mother had passed away and the time shifts towards the future when an old Matahachi is telling a group of villagers about Musashi's, Kojiro's, and his story.
Differences with the novel
While the differences in the manga compared to the novel are too numerous to list in full, here is a small selection of more important differences.
- In the manga, Sasaki Kojirō is deaf, mute, and childlike in nature, as well as first being raised by Kanemaki Jisai, then Ito Ittosai and most recently with Hon'ami Koetsu and his mother, the latter who has chased women out from below his blanket multiple times. In the novel, Sasaki Kojirō is neither deaf nor mute. Though he still retains some traces of the childlike nature portrayed in the manga, he is very intelligent and cunning. Moreover, he is also much more violent, arrogant, and slanderous.
- The character Tzujikaze Kōhei does not exist in the novel. Furthermore, Musashi is freed from the tree by Otsū after being shunned by Takuan who shows no mercy to Takezō.
- In the manga, Seijurō is portrayed as a playboy and an alcoholic while his brother, Denshichirō, is depicted as a dedicated swordsman who is committed to the Way of the Sword. Seijurō is still portrayed as a playboy in the novel, but he is less of a swordsman than his brother. Denshichirō was described as the more skilled swordsman one but enjoyed his liquor far more than his brother.
- In the manga, both Seijurō and Denshichirō were killed by Musashi. In the novel, only Denshichirō was killed. Seijurō fought Musashi but survived.
- In the manga, the Yoshioka conflict ends when Musashi kills all seventy swordsmen of the Yoshioka. In the novel, the Yoshioka school is far less numerous and the conflict ends after Musashi slays the last heir of the Yoshioka, Genjirō (in similar circumstances as the fight at Ichijōji except that instead of failing to take out Ueda right away, he is able to kill the clan head). Musashi’s action haunts him for the remainder of the novel.
- Gion Tōji neither dies in the novel nor is the bloodthirsty warrior portrayed in the manga. Rather, he is similar to Matahachi, full of envy and cowardice. He escapes with Oko and makes a living with her as a criminal. They encounter Musashi on his path more than once in the novel and swear vengeance upon him.
- In the manga, when Takezō is taken away from Miyamoto village, Takuan renames him Miyamoto Musashi after teaching him simple values of life, but as a result of this Musashi has only a slightly more refined outlook on life (as revealed in his first encounters with the Yoshioka and then the Hōzōin temple). In the novel, Takuan captures Takezō and takes him to the regional Daimyō for punishment. Takuan, a great friend of the Daimyō, is granted his request to pass judgment: Takezō is locked in solitary confinement for three years. His room is filled with books chosen by Takuan, which consist of Greek philosophy, war tactics, art, and history. After reading these books many times, Takezō emerges three years later, much calmer and gentler than before. Takuan then renames Shinmen Takezō to Miyamoto Musashi.
- In the manga, Seijurō does not rape Akemi. Though Akemi initially longed for Musashi, she eventually called herself "Yoshioka Seijurō’s woman" and jumped off a cliff. In the novel, Seijurō rapes Akemi after he discovers that she still has feelings for Musashi. Akemi then attempts to commit suicide by drowning herself in the ocean but is rescued by Uncle Gon, who drowns in the process.
- In the novel, In'ei is a senile old man and Musashi did not have a bout with Inshun. Furthermore, Musashi did not meet with Sekishusai.
Vagabond won the Grand Prize for manga at the 2000 Japan Media Arts Festival. The following is an excerpt from the speech congratulating Takehiko Inoue: "From Toyotomi to Tokugawa. Musashi Miyamoto grew up amidst the turn of two great eras. Mr. Inoue has taken the powerful Musashi who was sometimes called a 'beast' and drawn him as a vagabond. The artist brags about boldly challenging the national literary work of Eiji Yoshikawa, even so, the sense of speed that he creates is impressive. I send my applause to the artist for creating a new image of Musashi." The same year, Vagabond won the 24th Kodansha Manga Award in the general category. Vagabond also received the highly-acclaimed Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002, and Inoue was nominated for the 2003 Eisner Award in the Best Writer/Artist category.
- Japan Media Arts Plaza. "2000 Japan Media Arts Festival Manga Division Grand Prize Vagabond". Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- Joel Hahn. "Kodansha Manga Awards". Comic Book Awards Almanac. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
- Inoue Takehiko Official Website
- Vagabond (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Vagabond Inn - Information and fan discussion site
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