Shinmen Takezo as an anti-hero in Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond

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Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue presents its central character, Shinmen Takezo as an anti-hero. Takezo is a challenge to the conventional notion of a hero which reigned over fiction writing until the postmodern era, along with avant-garde that commences in the 1960s. Since then, a new writing practice in fiction writing is innovated along with an overarching theoretical and literary movement. Vagabond’s central character is a remarkable instance of the innovations of the movement. Takezo, in one way or other, problematizes definition of what a hero should be like.

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Moreover, a notion of the hero in a literary domain dates back since the emergence of classical literature. The term hero comes from the Greek word ‘heroes’ which literally detonates either protector or defender who strives for military conquest.  Hero, conventionally speaking, is a revered character in heroic epic poetry celebrated throughout ancient legends.  On the contrary, Vagabond exposes its protagonist having both qualities of virtue and vice. Takezo’s family background, personality, social treatment towards him, ideology and action contrast to what we expect a hero to be. To put it further justification, the researcher brings a set of critical views into the light on the anti-hero. Therefore, this theoretical research sets its aim at exploring the central character-Takezo with an anti-hero identity in Vagabond.

Unlike a conventional hero, Takezo belongs to the marginalized social background. He is the hero from below and is also a socially boycotted young man of seventeen. Despite his immaturity concerning age, he has been assigned for the protagonist role in the story. With regard to the birth Takezo, he was born at ignoble family whereas traditionally heroes are supposed to have a decent legacy. Similarly, as he leaves Miyamoto-his village, in the pursuit of his fate, he happens to come across a destitute life all his life. His personality and family backdrop show that he is rather an ordinary guy than the hero, in a strict sense. Similarly, he has to abandon his residence and people because of his father’s abusive attitude towards him.  With the intention of taking constructive revenge, he intentionally becomes destitute to “become invincible under the sun.” Furthermore, he is destined to become the samurai- the legendary sword-saint of all times.  According to Wikipedia-

In fiction, an anti-hero is a protagonist who is lacking the traditional heroic attributes and qualities, and instead possesses character traits that are antithetical to heroism. Typically, the anti-hero acts heroically, in scale and daring, but by methods, manners, and intentions both fair and foul, even underhanded and deceitful. The word anti-hero, itself, is fairly recent, its principal definition has changed through the years. 1940

edition of Merriam-Webster New International Dictionary listed anti-hero but did not define it. Later sources would call the anti-hero a persona characterized by a lack of “traditional” heroic qualities.

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Takezo is not a nobleman from a noble family unit. However, he is functionally dominant in the novel and the whole story revolves around him each action he takes. He is a cold-hearted killer who lacks traditional heroic traits. He sounds so brave and daring all his life. He, unlike a conventional hero, possess both vice and virtue qualities. He is a violent warier and is profoundly intoxicated with a passion for power. Despite such vices, he determines to save Oko- a woman who has high lust. This evidence qualifies that Tajezo is a defender and savior for heroic attributes. He encounters with a gang of several bandits who are an obstacle for a society in conventional fiction.

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Vagabond unconventionally centers on the protagonist-Takezo who is bloody sword-fighter. Unlike, conventional hero, Takezo is overwhelmed with the lust of power and prestige. He is the vanquished soldier at the battle of Shekhighara at Mino, Japan. He does serve neither the king nor the people. Rather, he has a profound ambition to become an emperor. He does not fight for other’s sake but for own. He takes a great risk to battle for making the name for himself. He often sounds that he is so reluctant towards social norms and prevailing ideas that he should have been accountable to such phenomena. According to the encyclopedia, Antihero, principle character of a modern literary or dramatic work who lacks the attributes, other traditional protagonist or hero. /The antihero’s lack of courage, honesty, or grace, his weakness, and confusion, often reflect modern man’s ambivalence toward traditional moral and social virtue.

Takezo, on the contrary to this theoretical concept, is wildly fearless and piercing samurai. When he is about to go for rescue Oko from kidnapper-Tsujikaze, he in chapter six proclaims “I am a vagabond.” This is where the gallantry of Takejo gets demonstrated. He is an accomplished adventurous sword-saint in terms of a conventional hero. But what makes him different from this is he fights for the sake of his own name and fame.

As an anti-hero, Takejo blurs the notion of masculinity of conventional hero. He seems to lack the masculine qualities as a hero because he remains so passive towards the lust Oko exposes to him. He does not get moved by the voluptuous figure and erotic activities of Oko. He cannot be seduced by her at all. Perhaps for Tajezo, being an emperor for garnering name and reputation matters more than such momentary lust. However, Takezo can be at the same time called a superhuman for his gallantry that he proves through the frequent indulgent in a violent encounter with a gang of bandits including Tsujikaze’s force who had got victory over Takezo’s force in the battle of Shekhigara. Unlike the conventional hero, he shows no interest in sexual affairs at all.

One of the qualities that Takezo, as an anti-hero possesses, is that he is not motivated by any external forces but by his own internal desire for power and dream of becoming the invincible emperor on the earth. He makes a firm resolution to become an accomplished samurai because of revenge he determines to take against father’s abuse and social hegemony. He believes in action rather than the result. Despite whatever consequence may come, he is always ready to take action. He damn cares outcomes of his decision. This means Takezo has its own ideology and set a code of conducts himself for himself. He does not follow what his society assigns him to do. He is totally an extraordinary man who is guided by his own ideal.

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Moreover, Takezo is just the opposite of his friend, Matahachi. Monologue made by Matahachi, in chapter seven “Common face it Matahachi, if you fall behind Takejo now you will spend the rest of your life in his shadow.”  This statement of Matahachi contrasts himself with Takejo. It suggests that Matahachi cannot think of beyond a positive and beneficial result in every war, fight and action they take.  His selfishness and cowardice are so fatal in the name of a friend. As a good friend Matahachi should have assisted Takezo in the battle against enemies, instead, he cunningly seeks for benefits and is an opportunistic wolf. He indulges in sexual pleasure with Oko while Takezo alone fights with their foes. In contrast, Takejo- believes in action and expects nothing in the result. He is helpful to others. So, the monologue delivered by Matahachi reinforces the idea that Takezo wants to become an invincible leader in the world to which Matachachi seems to be jealous.

  1. Eric Bender M.D in his article “Rise of the Antihero” answers to the questions -why are we drawn to anti-hero?

It might be because of their moral complexity more closely mirrors our own. They’re flawed. They’re still developing, learning, growing.  And sometimes, in the end, they tend to move toward heroism. We root for their redemption and wring our hands when they pay for their mistakes. They surprise us. They disappoint us. And they’re anything but predictable.

Vagabond’s Takezo reflects our own moral complexity. He represents the real history of Japan’s battle of Shekhighara in the 17th century. He has a morally complex personality because he does not serve his society and neither follows social values and rules. Rather he moves fate ahead according to his own code of conducts at the cost of social norms. He gradually undergoes developing, learning and growing by fighting with the present circumstances. Takezo surprises us when he remains passive to Oko’s excessive lust for him while his series of fight and enthusiasm for encounters with bandits and even social code of conducts makes us feel disappointed.

Charles Solomon, in his article ‘Vagabond’: Takehiko Inoue creates a samurai masterpiece, makes a critical review:

Inoue based “Vagabond” on “Musashi,” Eiji Yoshikawa’s sprawling historical novel . . . history not as it happened but as people like to think it happened . . . Although “Vagabond” also rambles, Inoue trims many of the digressions and deepens the psychology of the characters . . . Inoue makes him into a cruel disciplinarian: Musashi’s struggle to become “invincible under the sun” grew out of his desire to surpass his father.

Shinmen Takezo as an anti-hero in Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond

Vagabond as a historical novel based on Yoshikawa’s Musashi explores the 17th century’s history of Shikhara battle not as history as it happened. Rather, history is written as people like to think it happened. Vagabond is the reconstructed history because it makes Takezo as a central character who had lost Battle of Shekhighara. The history is told from the perspective of the vanquished character. Vagabond is not a history of triumph but of vanquished. This is what people want to think Vagabond to be written.  Similarly, Inoue has presented Takezo as a representative of Yoshikawa’s Musashi with a characteristic of a cruel tyrant. Takezo desires to hone himself as an invincible emperor to surpass his samurai father. He sets his goal to become the most powerful dictator whom no one can defeat under the sun.

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Kris Kosaka opines his views on Vagabond in his article- ‘Vagabond’: An epic manga based on the life of a 17th-century samurai:

A ruthless warrior who also sought spiritual enlightenment, Musashi was a man of action and wisdom — perhaps with an emphasis on action in this retelling. Inoue’s stark, gorgeous ink drawings are labeled “explicit” in the English editions, but the violence is only one aspect of this layered series. By following Musashi’s trajectory from solitary brute to the thoughtful hermit, Inoue gets to the essence of this legendary warrior-monk. And the setting, feudal Japan, is revealed in painstaking detail through the samurai’s many travels.

Real historical warrior-monk – Musashi was a man of wisdom and action. Inoue’s Takezo is a reflective character of Yoshikawa’s Musashi.  In addition to this, he was also motivated by his own self and sought spiritual insight into his samurai life. He makes a transformation from solitary instinctive life to insightful saint during his warrior career. On the other hand, Inoue’s Takezo is a bit different in the sense that Takezo is merely portraited as a violent samurai. However, both of them are ruthless by nature. Takezo is also a man of action. He believes in action more than the consequences. That said, he as a samurai lacks spiritual wisdom and redemption. More importantly, Takezo as an anti-hero acts like a vigilante. His actions are merely reactions to the events.

Shinmen Takezo as an anti-hero in Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond

To sum up, Inoue’s Vagabond deploys a central character-Takezo as an anti-hero. Takezo is such a character who demonstrates both vices and virtues qualities. He is highly motivated by his self that he longs for reigning the entire world under his control. He becomes a wild samurai warrior that nobody can conquest him. The novel also ends up with Takezo in an uncertain situation where he is surrounded by crime squad with the intention of capturing him. Yet, Takezo challenges the entire villagers and security forces as he claims that he kills them first before he dies.

Works Cited

“Anti-Hero.” The Free Dictionary, Farlex, encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/anti-hero.

Inoue, Takehiko. Vagabond. Vol. 1, Viz Comics, 2006.

Kosaka, Kris. “’Vagabond’: An Epic Manga Based on the Life of a 17th-Century Samurai.” The Japan Times, 7 June 2017,

Solomon, Charles. “‘Vagabond’: Takehiko Inoue Creates a Samurai Masterpiece.” Hero Complex – Movies, Comics, Pop Culture – Los Angeles Times, Hero Complex, 2 Oct. 2011, herocomplex.latimes.com/books/vagabond-takehiko-inoue-creates-a-samurai-masterpiece. Accessed 10 June 2018.

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