I’ve been getting back into reading Blade of the Immortal with the new Amazon anime series adapting the manga – which will still be airing as this goes up. Thus far I’ve read the first 8 volumes of the manga (using the US order), and have some thoughts on the work.
For those who are unfamiliar with Blade of the Immortal, a quick synopsis of the story up to this point is in order. Rin is the child of the teacher of a kenjitsu school – the Mutenichi-ryū. Her parents are murdered in front of her by several members of the Ittō-ryū school – her father just plain murdered, and her mother raped and murdered, with leader of the Ittō-ryū – Anotsu Kagehisa – killing her father.
Rin decides to go seek vengance, but she doesn’t have the sword skills to do it alone, so she recruits a wanted ronin, Manji, whose body is infested with blood worms that allow him to regenerate from basically any injury (with a few exceptions). Manji does not want this immortality and is seeking to kill 1000 evil men so the curse can be lifted.
From there we see Manji and Rin hunt down various members of the Itto-Ryu, until this volume sees Kagehisa leave the providence, forcing Manji and Rin to have to find a way through the shogunate’s checkpoints so they can continue their pursuit.
It is important to mention that this manga is incredibly bloody and gory. Manji’s regenerative abilities give him a fighting style that is, in a lot of ways, a lot like that of Wolverine but without the adamantium skeleton. He can regenerate from most injuries, so his fighting style plays into that – why block a thrust through the gut when you can use that to trap your opponent’s sword and kill them, and then pull the sword out and regenerate the wound?
That said, part of Manji’s character development is the fact that he wants to lose his immortality, so as the series goes on he tries to fight a little smarter, and develop his skill a little further, while still dealing with situations like “Oh, you impaled my hand and are immobilizing it with a chain? I’ll chop that hand off and keep fighting.”
Rin is a more interesting character, as at this point in the series she isn’t particularly accomplished with the sword – when she’s fighting people with a lot more skill, and a variety of very eclectic weapons that most conventional Japanese swordfighting schools wouldn’t necessarily train their students to contend with.
It gives the two characters, Manji and Rin, a relationship similar to that of Wolverine and his various protgees, like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee, only with the younger character being the one actually driving the narrative (a dynamic that I don’t think has generally been done in a Wolverine book).
Mangaka Hiroaki Samura also does a pretty good job of painting the Ittō-ryū as somewhat complex. On the one hand, we meet several members who have legitimate grevances against the samurai class and the current state of Japanese society during the Tokugawa Shogunate – and we also see how cruel and inhumane that society and the samurai who uphold it can be. On the other hand, Anotsu is someone who has absolutly no problem recruiting any number of viscious bastards and murderous psychopaths to his banner because by joining his school they get license to murder.
So, while we get sympathy with some of the members of the school over the course of the series, the audience still has sympathy for Rin’s aims. The system that Kagehisa rails against is wrong, and we know it will be eventually overthrown, but we also know that he chose from day one to recruit monsters to his cause, knowing in full that they were horrible monsters just as bad as the system he sought to displace to begin with. This isn’t Capitalism vs. Socialism, it’s Lenin vs. Stalin.
I’m definitely going to keep reading this – especially since it’s already finished, and I’ve been meaning to finish reading this series for a while.
Blade of the Immortal has received a series of omnibus releases from Dark Horse at present, and is available from Amazon and RightStuf. The animated series is also currently available on Amazon Prime – which has a 30 day free trial, which should allow you to caught up on the show, among various other things. Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.