Since 1645, when Musashi first wrote down his philosophy of Japanese martial arts, The Book of Five Rings has been used as a guide to martial arts, business, and as a philosophy on life. Wilson’s graphic novel adaptation loses nothing in the translation. The book is organized into five parts: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Emptiness. Each section discusses one aspect of Musashi’s ideas: Earth gives an overview of his ideas developed over a lifetime of fighting and training; Water talks about his fighting style; Fire talks about the timing of a fight while in the heat of battle and different techniques to use; Wind critiques other styles; and Emptiness is an epilogue and general advice.
Wilson has illustrated this book with Musashi teaching his students and putting actions to his words. So when Musashi says in the book of Fire, “Now let us consider pressing down the pillow … not letting your opponents head up”, the image shows him lecturing his students and then a series of panels as Musashi lets the words sink in with no elaboration as the students become more and more confused and anxious. The expressions on the character’s faces convey as much meaning as the actual words of philosophy. The student’s learning curve through the book mirrors the reader’s own.
Wilson has high ratio of art to words. By having these long stretches of wordless communication, it lets the words of Musashi’s philosophy carry more impact and seep in to your mind. This is completely fitting for a philosophy book. It is a work that needs digesting. So while it is not that long, it is dense with meaning.
Wilson has drawn in ink drawings with clean lines, not sketchy, and minimal shading. I particularly liked the ending: The Book of Emptiness. As the chapter progresses, the pages get emptier and emptier, with more and more white panels between the action. Perfect for a chapter titled Emptiness. I also appreciated the detailed afterward. I am one of those people who wants more context and explanation to her books and I always love an author’s notes.
The Book of Five Rings – A Graphic Novel
by Sean Michael Wilson (adaptor), Miyamoto Musashi
Art by Chie Kutsuwada (Illustrator)
Shambala Press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (teen to adult)