Not good, but very hard to kill: Blade of the Immortal
Hiroaki Samura’s dark fantasy Blade of the Immortal was the last manga that I bought regularly before I decided it was too expensive a hobby, and I did not like the local fandom anyway. The fact that the Italian publisher of the series went belly up halfway through the comic’s run was also part of my decision to let it go, and with it let go of the whole hobby for a decade or two.
But now, as I am digging into the Amazon Prime Video catalog, I was quite surprised finding there is an animated series, released as an Amazon Prime Original, and it can be viewed in Japanese with subtitles.
Well, why not?
Blade of the Immortal, the comic book, was at the same time the most violent and brutal comic I ever saw, and also one of the most beautifully drawn. The series is equally striking, and it follows the general plot of the manga quite closely.
The plot follows Rin Asano, daughter of a swordmaster, whose family was killed by the members of a gang/fencing school, the Itto-ryu, for reasons that are not particularly clear up front. The Itto-ryu are feared by all, and have some sort of protection from the Shogun himself. They are untouchable.
But after spending two years training as a sword-woman, young Rin is going to find the men that killed her parents and take her revenge. But she needs help, and so she hires a bodyguard – scarred and rough battle-veteran Manji, who is notorious as the 100-killer, that being his current body count. The number is going to go up.
And it’s not just that Manji is a mean killing machine – he actually needs to kill 1000 men to get rid of his curse, so he’s up for the job.
As for the curse: Manji cannot be killed. There are “blood worms” in his system that knit back his body no matter how massive the trauma.
The catch here is that Manji, while a highly competent fighter, is really not that good compared to his adversaries, but he’s the sort of guy that will come after you after losing an arm and a leg and fifteen gallons of blood, and, well, kill you dead.
Samura’s artwork is beautiful (and his two-pages spreads are unbelievable), and he has a certain artistic flair in depicting the goriest, most gruesome deaths – and his bad guys are so evil and despicable, that the reader is actually happy to see them buy the farm in the most spectacular way possible. The anime series duplicates this strange style, mixing poetry and brutality, delicate sepia-toned landscapes and bright fountains of blood.
It is also interesting how, while extraordinarily accurate when depicting the historical setting, Samura draws the bad guys like a bunch of punks out of some Mad Max-like alternate future. This is, after all, a fantasy story, and yet the contrast is striking, and fascinating.
There is a disclaimer, at the opening of each episode, warning us that we’ll see adult situations, death, blood, mild nudity and sexual situations.
Blade of the Immortal is indeed an adult story – but adult in the real sense.
For all its stylized violence, there is a deep underlying theme of mortality, revenge, duty and personal freedom, that informs and elevates the plot.
And yes, I can imagine formally “adult” viewers getting overexcited about the strange weapons (Manji is a walking armoury, most of the weapons wild-looking and completely invented), the splashes of blood and the severed limbs.
And it would be a pity should this elegant story become the plaything of violence-loving morons.
Blade of the Immortal was a great dark historical fantasy comic series, and now has become a great dark historical fantasy TV series.
Don’t let the blood get in your eyes, look at the beauty underneath.