As of now, I’ve read the first three out of seven "books" in Musashi, and in part for fun and in part just to jog my memory I thought I’d do some commenting or review some things I’ve already read.
Each of the books so far has definitely had its own charm, but so far the first one has really grabbed me the most. Very adequately named "Earth" it comprises of the roots of Musashi, before he called himself by that name. Although one of the shorter books, it is very rich in both external action and internal contemplation. The opening scene is that of our main character "Takezō" laying in the middle of a lifeless battlefield, desolate, hardly alive himself. I thought of scorched earth, the eerie morning after a blaze. Yet from this Takezō’s tale begins, similar to slash and burn crop method, this destruction, this vital shift, becomes a nutrient and is the first step towards transforming Takezō into Musashi.
Takezō’s childhood companion Matahachi is also alive with him in the field, so they struggle away, Takezō the stronger (of course because he’s our hero) and in to hiding from the troops of the leading side, they finally find a ghost like little girl (Akemi) stealing from corpses (iconic figure in classical literature ^^) and they chase after her and find a place where they can hide and tend to their wounds. Takezō stays somewhat sensible and cautious, but Matahatchi starts to fall into what a "normal" person would be – he starts drinking, getting jealous and loose, while Takezō is more like an animal, ever cautious, and in some ways childish – he does not like alcohol or women (he’s 17 ish). However, as conflict is ever around to those living lavishly or involved in crime (as Okō the keeper of the place that the two are staying at is) other gangs fall upon the house and there is violence. Takezō successfully drives them away and kills the leader. Okō is furious saying that he will cause a chain of revenge, and they make preparations to flee, but Okō gets Takezō drunk and leaves him behind while taking her daughter Akemi and Matahachi, in part in retaliation that the young Takezō would not succumb to the temptress woman and sleep with her.
With no where else to go, Takezō heads back towards his hometown, breaking through the barrier to do so, and exciting the attention of the authorities. Back in Takezō’s hometown we are introduced to two new characters Otsu and Takuan. Otsu is the fiancee of Matahachi, and Takuan is a resident eccentric buddhist monk. Both characters are strikingly interesting from the start, and Takuan is humorous and yet still strangely mysterious. Yet in this peaceful town conflict comes in the form of badly arranged military forces that are sent to track down Takezō mistaking him for being some sort of powerful opposition rebel. Takezō hides around the village and mistakenly accepts hospitality from Matahachi’s mother, who is vengeful and blames the death of her son (who isn’t dead) on Takezō and with irrational fury seeks his death, in part from old family feuds and anger at Matahachi’s association with Takezō for which she blames all of his (many) shortcomings. She even orchestrates the capture and imprisonment of Takezō’s sister. Takezō, like a wild animal escapes again and again, killing soldiers and fleeing into the woods like a demon, trusting no one. The militant occupation and the selfish leader in charge takes a heavy toll on the village, and so Takuan decides to take action – he insults the leader, who meanwhile tries to take "advantage" of poor Otsu, to which he has a friendly sort of attachment to (although later it seems he has similar attachment to anyone he think he can help in distress) – and proclaims on charge of his own death that he will capture Takezō in 3 days, while the military has failed for many months.
Takuan uses tactics of the great Art of War and while taking Otsu with him into the mountains, is able to locate Takezō, or rather make him come to him, and then persuades him to be willingly tied up and brought down to the village. Where as Takezō may have imagined that Takuan would treat him with mercy, he leaves him open to the winds, so to speak – and lets the crowd decide what to do with him -> however brutal he may seem, and yes he is in a way, by gaining control over Takezō’s fate, he prevents his immediate death, and while his motives are very clouded and quite incomprehensible even in the end, he seems to in an almost God like way orchestrate a re-molding of Takezō, forcing into contemplation and self reflection in the midst of his torture, left open to nature, tied without food or water on the branches of a cryptomeria tree. Otsu who has meanwhile learned of Matahachi’s betrayal is distraught in many ways more than one, and pushed to the limits by the scope of Takuan’s assumed brutality, she starts to fall attached to Takezō and frees him from the tree, seeking to run primarily away from Matahachi’s awful mother and to escape to a new life, hopefully with him.
Takezō leaves Otsu to find his sister, but Otsu finds her own trouble attacked by the trailing old lady (Matahachi’s mother "Otsugi") and when Takezō fails but gets away, he cannot meet back up with her at the specified meeting place in the city where he tries to keep disguised and inconspicuous. However Takuan easily spots him and takes him before the leader of the city, whom surprisingly he is well acquainted with. He makes sure that the horrible behavior of the military leader sent after Takezō receive proper treatment, and in his usual way, decides a strange punishment for Takezō. They give him a new set of clothes and a bath, and then imprison him in a tower, where there were said ghosts inhabited. It was a library of sorts, the walls and floors lined with literature, and for four years. During these four years, Musashi changes considerably, and instead of being just a strong, brutal monster, he gains a mind and a soul – which puts him above the beasts, which truly is a large amount of society.
After this time, the leader of the city offers him an immediate post of a samurai, but Musashi – as he now calls himself using the same characters in his name – says he wants to explore the land and fine tune his skills to become the best samurai – as he leaves, Otsu, whose love for Takezō has increased tenfold over the years waiting for him comes to him immediately wanting to be his bride, wanting to follow him wherever he will go. Musashi torn emotionally but unwavering, carves an apology in the bridge and flees from her, women being a great and unexpected adversary for him. Otsu, who won’t be thrown away follows after him, hoping that he will change his mind and unite with her. From this moment the tale of the travelling warrior begins.