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A seinen manga about the legendary "sword saint" Miyamoto Musashi, said to be the greatest samurai of all time by many. Written and drawn by Takehiko Inoue, the author of the extremely popular Slam Dunk, this series boasts amazing artwork, an engrossing story, and some of the best Character Development seen not just in manga, but in any media period.
The story itself is based on the novel Musashi, a semi-historical fictional account of Musashi's life. So while the series is heavily rooted in true stories, it should hardly be taken as too true, as artistic liberties were definitely taken.
The story starts with two 17-year-olds, Shinmen Takezo and Hon'iden Matahachi, among the very few survivors of the battle of Sekigahara. After trekking through mud and forests trying to survive, they're rescued by a young girl named Akemi and her mother, who make a living by robbing corpses from battles of their weapons and armor. After Takezo and Matahachi save the two women from The Tsujikaze gang, Matahachi decides to stay with Oko instead of going back home with Takezo to his fiancée, Otsu.
Matahachi's mother refuses to accept this, instead blaming Takezo for her son not coming home--which leads to a village-wide hunt for Takezo, not helped by his inhuman rage and tendency to beat men to death with sticks. He's eventually captured by a monk using cheap tricks--namely using Otsu to track him down, knowing he'd lower his guard--and hung by the waist off of a tree branch for days.
The monk, now legendary Takuan Soho, eventually frees him unbeknownst to the village population, rechristens him by giving a different reading for the kanji of his first name and replaces his surname with the name of his village, and sends him off on the journey that changes him into the figure we know today.
This series contains examples of:
- Art Evolution: Actually starts in Slam Dunk, but the art, though terrific to begin with, becomes more complex and detailed.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Takezo and Kojiro do this at the battle of Sekigahara, though both of them probably forgot all about it.
- Badass Boast: "Invincible Swordsman Under The Heavens Ganryū Sasaki Kojirō", "Number One Martial Artist Under the Heavens Muso Gonnosuke"
- At least one villager spotting them travelling together ended up noticing the redundancy.
- Based on a True Story: More like based on what was based on a true story.
- Blood Knight (Musashi)
- Bishounen: Sasaki Kojiro, Yoshioka Seijuro.
- Character Development: Most notably for Musashi and Jisai, but heavily subverted with Matahachi. A good argument could be made that watching the characters grow is the entire point of the series.
- Character Focus: The first arc featuring Kojiro took up about a third of the then-twenty volume series by the time it was done.
- Charles Atlas Superpower: Musashi, who spent his childhood jumping around in the mountains swinging logs and a sword he found on a corpse.
- Along with having an incredible physical toughness allowing him to survive a lot, a good bit of his survival is from being physically gifted.
- Children Raise You: Kanemaki Jisai and Sasaki Kojiro.
- Combat Pragmatist (Musashi)
- Contemplate Our Navels: Much of Musashi's growth from an immature glory hound to a true Warrior Poet takes place as part of his Inner Monologue. Philosophical themes, such as the nature of battle and the ideal state of the soul, are visited with increasing frequency.
- Disability Superpower: Sasaki Kojiro is portrayed as deaf here, which supposedly makes him an insanely skillful swordfighter due to being able to hear only his "inner voice".
- Doomed by Canon: Most of Musashi's opponents, but specially Kojiro and the Yoshioka school, at least to readers with some knowledge on Musashi's real story.
- Eye Scream: Happens quite a few times throughout the series.
- Foregone Conclusion: If you've read this page, you know what happens when Musashi duels Kojiro, which hasn't happened in the manga yet.
- Friendly Enemy: Kojiro and Musashi. Bordered on Ho Yay at times, what with them thinking about each other at odd moments and all.
- Gentle Giant: Yoshioka Denshichiro, to such an extent that that at his second, final duel with Musashi he comes off as the more sympathetic figure.
- Grey and Grey Morality
- Magic Realism: There are a few spirits here and there who sort of interact with the characters.
- Man Child: Kojiro, surprisingly enough.
- Miyamoto Musashi: the main character.
- Mook Chivalry: Sometimes justified; would truly honorable samurai gang up on you? Yes, if they're the Yoshioka school, but in their defense, they tried the honest way first and failed horrendously--they were desperate at that point.
- Ironically, they failed at the ganging up the because they still had the chivalric mentality and overall retained an individual warrior mentality -- allowing Musashi to fight "one against one, seventy times." The only group of them to (almost) succeed in contrast "got it," but hesitated at the fateful moment when their leader held Musashi down for his men to drive their swords through them both.
- Old Master: Shinmen Munisai, Houzouin In'ei, Yagyuu Sekishuusai, Kanemaki Jisai.
- One-Man Army: Musashi cuts down more than 70 highly trained and nationally respected Yoshioka swordsmen. Basically the entire school. And that's after he took out their leader, nominally the best of them, at the start of the battle, by diving right into their center. This single-handedly catapults him to a national figure and doubles as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Out of the Inferno: Variation, where master Fuudo first steps out of his house because it's on fire, then goes back in again because he forgot his sword, only to walk out as described in the trope.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Musashi and Kojiro. Variation in that Kojiro, while calmer than Musashi, is also much more cheerful.
- Scenery Porn: Where to begin? This is the manga equivalent of calligraphy.
- Screaming Warrior: Hoo boy.
- The Storyteller: Eventually it's revealed that the story of the manga is told entirely by an elder Matahachi, who incidentally charges for every story.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: When Musashi and Seijuro duel, both of them think "What's the worst that could happen", followed by a mental image of being cut in half.
- Title Drop
- Younger Than They Look: Shinmen Takezo.