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Miyamoto Musashi is a very important historical figure in Japan. Known as the “Sword Saint”, he was an expert swordsman, the author of the Book of Five Rings and the Dokkodo- which are the most important for the school of swordsmanship that he founded, the Niten-Ichi-Ryu- and finally, a ronin. It’s not surprising then, that there are many fictional worlds that make him an important character, or try to tell the story of his life in manga form.
Vagabond, by Takehiko Inoue, is one of those attempts, and one of the best regarded by manga critics. Based on the novel Musashi, it takes some artistic liberties to make the story more interesting, but in general, it’s pretty rooted in the truth.
Because Musashi had many adventures and faced many dangers, it’s obvious that any story surrounding him will have a lot of badass people, so here we will count down the biggest badasses in Vagabond.
10. Kanemaki Jisai
At first glance, Kanemaki Jisai was a hermit who could easily be homeless by the way people treated him. People thought he was crazy, and children liked to make fun of him. Still, once he started taking care of Kojiro, he seemed to find a reason to live: protecting the deaf child. But despite being a pacifist, he used to be an amazing swordsman, a master of the Chujo-ryu style; even if the villagers didn’t believe him. He understood that, being out of shape and practice for so long that he was not keen to take the sword again, and instead resorted to begging in order to survive and feed Kojiro.
This all changes when Fudo Yugetsusai starts demanding tributes from the villages in the form of food and young girls. As he was the only other villager who claimed to know swordsmanship, the elders call him to ask him to kill the man. At first, he refused because he wasn’t sure he could actually beat a younger man, but when he considers what would happen to Kojiro if Fudo kept his demands, he faces the other swordsman. It’s only then when we see how powerful the Chujo-Ryu is, and how good Jisai really is: he kills Fudo after his right arm is permanently injured, and in the middle of a fire that was taking place in the village. It’s because of that courage, found within his fatherly love for Kojiro, that we start the countdown with Jisai on the tenth place.
9. Takuan Soho
Takuan is a Zen Buddhist monk from the Rinzai sect who managed to live mostly in peace. Due to his brutal honesty, he was usually called to give advice to other monks, swordsmen and politicians. Besides being honest to a fault, he was also very perceptive, so his advice came to be very useful. He crossed paths with Takezo when the later came to the temple for guidance, and thus, Takuan decided to help him realize his true potential by, among other things, changing his name to Miyamoto Musashi.
As a teacher, he is what you could consider a trickster teacher. He will not attack you unless you attack first because he is faithful to his vows, but that doesn’t mean he can’t defend himself. And as he is one of the few people who could keep Miyamoto Musashi guessing what to do next –and defeated him more than once-, Takuan Soho more than deserves to be on the ninth place of our list.
8. Yoshioka Denshichiro
The second son of Yoshioka Kempo, and thus second in line for the Yoshioka Kempo’s school in Kyoto. He’s the less talented of the brothers, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great swordsman on his own, or a loving husband. He trains hard to be as good as his older brother and has always been honorable to a fault, even if at times he can be a bit stubborn about it. This is, unfortunately, what leads him and his brother into destruction when they cross paths with Miyamoto Musashi and end up dueling him.
More than his own prowess with the sword, what makes Denshichiro a badass was that he never once strayed from his path of honor. When he finds out that his best friend and second in command planned an ambush against Musashi, to make sure that Denshichiro would win their duel, he doesn’t hesitate on running him out of the school despite them being as close as brothers because those actions would dishonor him.
Due to his great ability with the sword, and his honorable actions, Denshichiro earns the eighth place on our list.
It wasn’t easy to survive in ancient Japan, much less if you were a woman. Otsu, however, has managed to do so very well despite having a lot of disadvantages to begin with. She was abandoned as a child in front of the temple at the Miyamoto village, and was Takezo’s and Matahachi’s childhood friend. All her life, she was groomed to marry Matahachi, however once she realized that he was a coward, she broke the engagement and decided to go and follow Takezo –now named Musashi, not that she cared for that- in order to marry him.
But it’s not only her continuous survival what makes her a badass. Once Musashi told her not to follow him and kept traveling without her, Otsu decided to join Yagyu clan, learned self-defense, and then found Joutarou, Takezo’s “apprentice” in order to use him to find her love. While one can say that she can’t take no for an answer, the truth is that she’s very determined and will not make herself a nuisance for him, instead, tries to be his equal.
Since she’s the only female in the story that manages to surprise and beat many dangerous characters, Otsu more than earns her place in this ranking, at the seventh place.
6. Hozoin In’ei
The old master of the Hozoin temple and the Gion Toji’s spear technique, who has now decided to live as a farmer near the temple as he has passed on the technique to his successors. However, Musashi doesn’t know this when he travels to the temple in order to fight him. For In’ei, Musashi’s arrival seems a perfect opportunity to teach Inshun how to master his soul, so despite the fact that there’s an assassin creating chaos in the temple to kill Musashi, In’ei decides to teach Musashi the spear technique.
While we don’t see much of In’ei’s past, the fact that his best student could beat Musashi the first time they meet tells us a lot about his abilities as a teacher and a fighter. Not only that, but In’ei also has managed to reach old age, which is not that common for those who choose martial arts as their path. Because of his wisdom, his age, and the way in which he manages to use Musashi as a teaching tool rather than just an adversary, Hozoin In’ei is our choice for the sixth place on our list.
5. Yoshioka Seijuro
At first glance, the older Yoshioka brother, and second-generation master of the Yoshioka Kempo School doesn’t deserve his title. Unlike his younger brother, he seems to be more carefree, and at times, hedonistic and irresponsible. He’s very arrogant and sure of his abilities as a swordsman, and thus, it’s easy to underestimate him. After all, a true master wouldn’t need to boast how great he is. Because of his pleasure-seeking personality, he is seldom seen at the dojo, and thus it’s Denshichiro who runs it.
But appearances can be deceiving. The truth is that he is far better than Denshichiro, and cares a lot for his little brother. Once the school is in crisis, due to Musashi’s actions, he quickly starts making a plan to make sure Denshichiro will be safe and the school will continue. He will not let anyone hurt his younger brother, and we can see his will of steel when we see him fight Musashi, as he knew Musashi was now good enough to beat his brother, but not himself.
His contrasting personality, and the way in which he cares for his brother, are why we choose him for the fifth place on our list.
4. Yagyu Sekishuari
We have talked before how old swordsmen in ancient Japan and how their survival is directly related to their badass status. No one shows this better than Yagyu Sekishuari, the leader of the Yagyu Clan, who in the later parts of his life, apparently senile and unable to distinguish reality from fiction, managed to keep Miyamoto Musashi on his toes using nothing but a back scratcher, while on his bed, unable to move much, and not completely conscious at the time. If that is not a badass, we’re not sure who would qualify for the title.
As a completely neutral party in the fights between clans, the Yagyu clan serves in some ways as a sanctuary for those who don’t want to be part of the fight either. This is why Musashi leaves Otsu in their care, because he also knows that Sekishuari will protect her and teach her what she needs. And while people may think he’s senile, the truth is that Sekishuari is far shaper than people think, and because of this he has won the nickname “the invincible Sekishusari”.
Because of this, Yagyu Sekishusai earns the fourth place on our list.
3. Hozoin Inshun
The current master of the Hozoin temple is quite young for his abilities. His past is quite tragic because he witnessed his mother being raped, and then the rapist killed both his parents while he couldn’t do anything to save them. As an orphan, he was adopted by Inei Hozoin, and he was raised and trained in the staff technique at the temple. Unfortunately, this made him become quite confident in his own abilities, and that can make him seem as an arrogant jerk to the students.
Despite that attitude, he at first, has a reason to have said confidence. He is one of the best fighters in the story, and he doesn’t hide the fact that he knows this. And while Musashi does eventually beat him, in their first battle, Inshun was the one who managed to get the upper hand. It wasn’t until his own master trained Musashi that Musashi managed to beat him, but it was mostly because Inshun realized that he had no experience in real fight, and thus wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
Despite this, he is still the master of the staff Hozoin technique, and beat Musashi at least once, he deserves the third place on our list.
2. Sasaki Kojiro
Sasaki Kojiro is the son of one of Kanemaki Jisai’s best students. When Sukeyasu, Kojiro’s father, saw that he couldn't take care of his son, he sent him to Jisai. It was then when Jisai found a new reason to live by taking care of Kojiro, who was deaf. Despite Jisai’s best intentions to raise Kojiro for a life of peace, Kojiro showed since he was young that he was interested in the way of the sword. In the story, he’s the most known rival of Miyamoto Musashi and thus, the one who has the best chance to beat him in a duel. Unlike Musashi, who is very serious, he’s playful and very sexually active.
Since he was raised by a hermit, and is deaf and mute, he is quite bad at social interaction. This makes him be very impulsive, and frustrating to those around him. He loves dueling because that’s the only time when he can communicate with others in the same language. While he is not obsessed with beating Musashi, and thus has gone into other adventures by challenging many fighters to duels and getting fame thanks to that.
Because his style is similar to Musashi, and he’s dedicated to fighting only those who dedicate their lives to the sword, he earns the second place on our list.
1. Miyamoto Musashi
When he was young, Musashi was a very rebellious young man who wanted nothing more than to beat his father, the man who treated him harshly and made him suffer through many humiliations. As he grew older, he practiced his sword fighting, making him quite feared in the town where he lived. He wanted to be the most invincible man on earth. And for a while, it seemed that there was nothing that could stop him, as he looked for stronger and stronger opponents to the point that he self-handedly destroyed the Yoshioka clan.
However, killing others is not what makes him a badass. Instead, what really makes him stand out over everyone else on this list, is that he understands that killing others was not the solution, that it was the same as killing part of his soul. While he still fights, as he also understands that once he started the path of the sword he can’t escape death and killing, he doesn’t fight without a reason and tries hard to stop fighting duels to death. This understanding of life, and the way in which he became a philosopher later in life –according to the Last Manga exhibition made by Inoue Takehiko- is what makes Miyamoto Musashi a true badass, and earns him the first place on our list.
It’s very difficult to make a historical manga where every character is real, and based on the words of the main character himself. Sometimes, one can find that the first person account is not accurate if compared to other historians’, or even other accounts from different people who lived in the same period of time. Still, when you find a mangaka who decides to take on the challenge, it’s interesting to see what they choose to keep, and what they change in regards to the characters.
In the case of Vagabond, most of the changes make every character bigger than life, talented fighters even when history tells us they were cowards. Other changes include making legendary sword masters more human. This gives us a wide range of different kinds of badassery, and makes us want to ask you, do you agree with our list? Or did we miss a particular badass you loved? Let us know in the comments below.