By Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa
Released in the US by Viz
Slugline: More masterless samurai and random violence than you can shake a wooden bokken at.
The beginning of the Edo period was a time of transition from the chaos of the Warring States period to one of relative peace. One of the results of that was a lot of out of work soldiers and samurai were left wondering what to do to fill their time. In Vagabond the answer seems to be that a lot of them are destined to be shish kebabed by Miyamoto Musashi, the new name that the character Takezo is given during the volume. Takezo begins the volume, with his friend Matahachi, as a survivor of the Battle of Sekigahara, the battle that ended the Warring States period. To say that Takezo has rage control issues is to put it mildly, and it takes the middle third of the volume and a visit to his hometown for Takezo to gain some control and lose the name Takezo and to gain the one Miyamoto Musashi. The final third of the volume is Miyamoto's confrontation with a school of swordsmen ito show his strength.
Vagabond has brutal honesty to it, reflecting the time period, with fighting and violence not especially pretty or filled with people shouting out their moves at each other. The fighting here is done by people who have lived it and are usually broken in some way because of it, though they are broken in different ways. Takezo begins the volume as death dealing beast and though he improves as the volume continues, killing people in order to get the title of strongest isn't something that normal people do. Takezo's big character change is merely giving a focus to his destructive tendencies. Other characters show their injuries in different ways, such as one of his opponents hedonism in the face of the destruction of his sword school. While this is a fighting/combat manga, it is one that understands that what it depicts is not and never will be pretty or polite.
Vagabond, VIZ BIG vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga