Blade of the Immortal #1 Print
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R2 DVD Reviews
Tuesday, 19 October 2010 12:00
Blade of the ImmortalBetween this and Baccano!, we seem to be on an immortality kick at the moment. The two are very different shows, though, with Blade of the Immortal taking us back to a feudal-era Japan and a young woman's quest for revenge against the samurai group that killed her parents. Swords at the ready, then...

1 - Sinner
In a time where killing is commonplace, Manji holds a reputation for being a particularly bloody samurai. The Hundred-Man Slayer, he's known as, and while some of those deaths were justified it has to be said that many were not. Even in his own mind, he's no longer fit to live - but in a cruel twist of fate, he's been granted the "gift" of immortality, and must live with his bloody past. But there is a way out: Yaobikuni, the nun who gave him this gift, also has the power to take it away - for a price. In the meantime, he's trying to put his violent ways behind him - but the murder of his sister pushes him over the edge...

AssassinArtistic death

2 - Conquest
Yaobikuni's price for removing Manji's immortality is the death of 1,000 deserving men, and she's quite happy to provide clients for him to work for to achieve that target. The first client we meet is Rin, who is filled with the desire for revenge after her parents were ruthlessly killed by a group of disgruntled samurai, the Itto-ryu. But there are others seeking out Manji as well, including a group of outlaws who are hoping to recruit him...

Into the sunsetRin

3 - Love Song
With Manji help secured, Rin sets about taking her revenge on the Itto-ryu, starting with Kuroi Sabato, the man who killed her father. She would far prefer to strike the killing blow herself, but Manji recognises in their opponent a skill far greater than Rin would be able to deal with - and a man who is a long way form being mentally stable, either. There's an added incentive, too: Sabato has fallen in love with Rin, and has rather unpleasant plans in store for her should he win - just as he had for Rin's mother on the night she died. Meanwhile, the battle is being watched from the shadows...

Rin & ManjiWearing the heads of his victims

4 - Genius
Rin's beginning to realise that the Itto-ryu aren't normal swordsmen, and so she's decided that hiring another bodyguard might be a good idea - Manji's powerful, of course, but there are limits to what even he can do. Rin has someone in mind, although when they first meet Manji's not impressed - a half-drunk painter with a sharp tongue who had known her father since they were kids. On first hearing of Rin's plans for revenge, he's not impressed - but the arrival on the scene of the Itto-ryu soon forces his hands...


5 - Prisoner
One of the side-effects of being a killer is needing to get your weapons maintained from time to time, and Rin's had to take Manji's in for sharpening. The weaponsmith only needs to take one look at them to realise that they're weapons that are regularly used - just like another sword he has in his care at the moment, a rather exquisite piece that once belonged to Rin's father. Given its history, she's keen to try and buy it back - the only problem is that it now belongs to one of the Itto-ryu, who not only isn't prepared to sell but would very much like to kill her with it...


I have to say that samurai-era shows can be a bit hit-and-miss with me, depending on how they present themselves. There are quite a few that concentrate heavily on the fighting, often adding in mystical superpowers, and that tends to put me off. The shows that play the idea a bit more realistically (and were talking 'by comparison' here - true realism rarely happens in anime, and would probably be quite dull anyway) work far better for me, and thankfully that's the category that Blade of the Immortal falls into. The show focusses heavily on Manji and Rin, with the first episode dealing with pushing Manji from being a man who wants to put his violent past behind him into one who's prepared to kill again; and the second setting up Rin's reasons for wanting revenge against the Itto-ryu (and let's just say that she's fully justified).

By the end of those introductions, both Manji and Rin have been fleshed out into well-rounded characters that you can full empathise with, and Rin can begin working towards her revenge. Her desire to avenge her parents has led her to learn the martial arts herself, and it's established early on that she's no slouch herself in the combat department - not good enough to take on the Itto-ryu herself, but good enough to provide some useful backup for Manji. The Itto-ryu, on the other hand, are a group made up of the lowest of the low, ronin samurai who have come together quite simply because no-one else will accept them - mainly because they each have interests or perversions that leave them firmly on the fringes of society. The series deals with them one at a time, monster-of-the-week style (and "monster" is a good description for most of them, in terms of their mindsets if not their appearances), with each episode also taking the time to explore yet another aspect of the personalities of Rin or Manji. I really do like the amount of time that's devoted to character development, and it's done in a way that doesn't feel as though it's being done at the expense of other aspects of the story.

The battles themselves, when they come, are fairly standard fare - some very nicely-done scenes, but also with plenty of the standing around and talking that often plagues such things in anime. I'm assuming this is to give you a chance to get to know the villain du jour a little, but I've never really liked this way of doing that - I'd rather time was spent dealing with & building up the Itto-ryu elsewhere, than doing it by dragging out the battle scenes with these interruptions. To be fair some of the baddies seem to be getting that treatment, and we'll hopefully see the benefits of that later in the series.

There does also seem to be an underlying story going on, with the Itto-ryu and their plans to "unify" Japan's samurai styles coming to the attention of the Shogunate. There hasn't been a lot of movement on that yet - it really only comes to the fore in the final episode on the disc - but it does add a few interesting possibilities to the mix, especially with one of Rin's contacts (an old friend of her father's) being a member of the Shogunate's secret police.

So Blade of the Immortal is looking pretty good on the plot front, and it has to be said it looks pretty good on screen, too - production values for the series are high and it looks every bit the part, making it all the easier to immerse yourself in the show's world.

Overall, Blade of the Immortal is an impressive piece of work, with some intriguing lead characters and entertaining battles holding it together well. What failings it has are almost endemic to shows of this type, and hard to hold against it. Definitely worth checking out, and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

Rating - ****

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