©Tyler Rothmar

Last week I reviewed a new book, The Book of Five Rings: A Graphic Novel, for The Tokyo Reporter website, which you can read here. Two days ago, the fellow who adapted Miyamoto Musashi’s original into graphic novel form, Sean Michael Wilson, gave my review a bad review (scroll down to “The Book of Five Rings – out now!”), and I’ve rebutted it below.

Wilson called my review “badly written and thought out,” in addition to leveling claims of prejudice, inaccuracy and sloppiness, even going so far as to question whether I read the book. In fact I read it twice and compared it carefully to the original translation by William Scott Wilson on which it is based; I weighed my words and I stand by them.

I’ll reiterate my chief concern: I take issue not with the minor adjustments to the excerpts that were used (for purposes of fitting speech balloons), but with the material that was omitted.

Take this small example from the water chapter:

The original reads: “You should deeply consider what is written in this book, word by word, character by character. If you think about it indifferently, you are likely to diverge from the way.” (Emphasis mine)

This is not a book that abides abridging. In the above example, the omission is small but important. Musashi wrote deliberately and with economy; he intended for each and every word to be carefully considered, yet the reduction from 100 or so pages of text means a significant loss of material to which I can’t help but feel the author would object. We’re left with a kind of CliffsNotes version of a text I think is better read in full.

Finally, we have this from Sean Michael Wilson:

William Scott Wilson’s The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi is indeed where some of the info came that gave us the material with which to construct the more narrative aspects. This review makes it seem like WSW was unaware of this.

This claim, I think, is purely imagined. I noted in my review that William Scott Wilson wrote the afterword to this adaptation and I guess his permission was necessary from the early stages. I was guessing as to where the source material for the anecdotal sections came from, and making the point that such sections were not part of Musashi’s original book (and indeed that they displaced some of the original content). I can’t see how anyone could interpret my review as insinuating that WSW was unaware of the use of sections from his biography of the swordsman, nor can anyone I’ve shown it to thus far. At any rate, it was never my intention to pretend to any knowledge of what WSW was or was not aware of.

I wrote my review honestly as someone who has done kendo for 13 years and has practiced with people who use the Nito Ryu that developed from the koryu Musashi originated. I don’t think the Book of Five Rings benefits from an adaptation that shortens it, and I said as much. This is only one opinion. Another reviewer at Comics Bulletin had different things to say about it, and that is very well.

Sean Michael Wilson ended his bad review of my review with his intention to pray for the souls of bad reviewers. I wonder if he meant negative reviews, or poorly executed reviews, or both, and whether he too may have benefitted somewhat from those kindly offered prayers.

©Tyler Rothmar



  1. Pingback: Review: ‘The Book of Five Rings: A Graphic Novel’ | The Tokyo Reporter
  2. columnbreak

    I enjoyed your review on Tokyo Reporter and, for me not having read the graphic novel, I thought it was well written and on track. Sean Michael Wilson is just trying to play damage control with a “bad” review, which is fine, but not in such a condescending way. Authors need to understand that not all of their material will resonate well with everyone, and they should accept all reviews, take them as constructive criticisms (yes, even the positive ones), and learn.

  3. Dave

    I found your review utterly uninformative, uniformed and poorly thought through. Ultimately, your review had the opposite effect. I bought the graphic novel after having read the WSW translation many times and found it to be a delightful little book that captured the essential pieces and left me as a reader, curious rather than offended as you appear to be.

    • netden

      Cheers Dave, that’s fair enough. I think the point at which I took offence was Mr. Wilson’s insinuation that I hadn’t actually read the book. But I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the book.

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