Having left their childhood town behind, and finding out that bands of demon god-slaying bushi do still exist, Musashi and Kojiro are now on a journey to kill the invading demon gods on their own, a goal that bushi have been working towards for the past 150 years.
But, how does one even manage to kill a demon god anyway? They’ll need to acquire special swords for the job, and maybe some more allies too, before they have any hope at making progress on their quest. The outside world is a harsh one, a seemingly endless wasteland where it seems every band of bushi, and every non-bushi too, have their own plans and are perfectly willing to ensnare Musashi and company in them, dead or alive.
Perhaps surprisingly, not a lot of narrative ground is covered in these three volumes of Orient: while we do see the conclusion to the fight with the demon god from the first volume, add another member to the band (Tsumugi who, like Morgiana in Magi, seems like she’ll be playing a more “supporting” role instead of becoming a full-fledged, sword-wielding bushi like Musashi and Kojiro are aiming for), and acquire demon slaying swords, not a ton else happens by the end of volume 4 and it makes the series feel rather slow. The volumes feel padded out by the amount of lore that Shinobu Ohtaka is throwing around and honestly it’s far more than the story needs at this point and I wish she had instead spent more time on grounding the characters or doing some very basic world-building first. I enjoy world-building, and even lore in reasonable quantities, but we still don’t know much about this actual world, just a lot of complicated mechanics about how demons can be killed and how there are (unsurprisingly) a lot of unscrupulous or downright nasty folks out there.
Musashi and Kojiro (and Tsumugi too) all continue to feel like rather flat characters, even by the end of the fourth volume. Each of their individual reasons to fight demons boils down to “I have to, for the sake of my dead family” but this can’t really be considered a “goal” for any of them, it’s simply too vague to be satisfying and in a better manga I would have expected to see other characters berating them for it. So, with no personal goals for the characters, only broadly defined, long-term plot goals (kill all the demons and become the new king of Hinomoto) and a very loosely defined sense of who the other players in this series are (both friendly and antagonistic), this series is a bit of a hot mess at the moment!
Speaking of antagonists, Ohtaka tries to introduce a “cackling madman” type of villain who poses a direct threat to Musashi, who wants him dead in order to use a strange power inside of him, but so many different concepts are tossed out at once (some people can’t use the demon slaying katanas! But wait, Musashi was able to use a different one that morning so what’s up with that! How do priests/battle monks fit into all of this!) that even on a second read-through it’s a bit tough to keep track of everything. It really overshadows what should be the heart of this section, with Musashi remembering his initial reasons behind becoming a bushi and strengthening his resolve to keep moving down that path, and instead these chapters read like a list of Proper Nouns instead.
I’ll admit that character work doesn’t seem to be Ohtaka’s strong point — character growth in Magi was pretty slow as well, but by this point in Magi I had bought into the story and could start to feel where it was going in a larger sense. Here, well I know the art will be flashy (the art has started looking more complex again, she’s still using what feels like less screen tones than in Magi but it really embracing the dynamic contrast of pure white areas against pure black ones) but that’s it and we really should have a better idea what to expect by now!
After four volumes, I’m tired. This manga has just been too muddled for me to really enjoy so this is where I will stop. Perhaps the upcoming anime adaptation will smooth the story out but I doubt it, so this is probably it for me and Orient.