Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2013 – 31 volumes

Aaaand… here’s where we get into stories that involve the side conflicts, and not the main characters.  Again, I have no real interest in the conflict between the Itto-Ryu and the Rokki-dan, yet here I am, probably reading another 4 volumes about them.

To be fair, the first story arc in this volume is awesome.  Kagimura’s daughter goes into the woods with one of the Rokki-dan leaders and some footsoldiers, and get snared in an incredibly complicated and clever trap laid down by one of the Itto-Ryu and his posse of locals.  I don’t want to spoil the trap at all, because they kept hinting at this fatal situation on the mountain, and I was expecting trip wires and the usual kind of wooded mountain traps.  This one was much, much better.  More science was involved.

That doesn’t mean I warmed up to Kagimura’s daughter, the soldiers she fought with, or the Itto-Ryu baddie.  But it was still an awesome story, and quite frankly, that’s why I’m sticking with Blade of the Immortal until the end.

The end of the volume sets up another story arc that drags Hyakurin and her man back into the story.  On one hand, I really liked her, but on the other, I was also done with her, and it’s sad to see her drug back into the thick of things.  She had a semi-peaceful ending.  I want her to rest.

Her and her man are going up against one of the main Itto-Ryu generals, as (allegedly) some of the only people that could stop him and his people.  Elsewhere, Mugai-Ryu are squaring off against this Itto-Ryu’s disciples in a fight that I really, truly care deeply about.

Next volume will likely be the Hyakurin story… and I’ll probably like it, but I don’t know that I’m necessarily looking forward to it.

Also, the two shinobi girls are Tanpopo and Meguro.  I asked Google, and it referred me to one of my old reviews where I called them the two shinobi girls.  Their names are rarely used, but they’re in a gag comic at the back, so I thought I would record them for posterity.  I do really like those two.

Blade of the Immortal 26

April 12, 2015

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2013 – 31 volumes

Okay, this volume was awesome.  This is the sort of thing I miss when the fighting switches over to the other warring factions.  I miss Manji going one-on-one with crazy people.

Admittedly, the spotlight was stolen by the two shinobi girls and Magatsu.  Well, the spotlight goes all around here, technically.  One of the shinobi girls works on freeing Rin from a boulder strapped around her legs in a freezing lake, and the other fights Shin.

The lake thing is made more sadistic by the fact that Shin apparently also wove wires into the ropes, so that knives would break when rescuers struggled to free her underwater.  This guy is… remarkable.

The fighting is pretty violent.  The shinobi girl’s fight is pretty awesome, though she doesn’t realize he’s immortal, and Magatsu’s commentary makes her sound like an exceptional fighter without a chance.  I liked some of her clever rigged stuff.

Magatsu is in bad shape after his initial fight with Shin, but he manages.  As does Manji, who is potentially not immortal due to the blizzard and his blood worms freezing.

Shin… something really insane happens to him.  I don’t think his end is quite as awful as some of the girls he tortured, but it’s still pretty bad.

His sidekick points out that Shin has probably killed far less people than Manji, yet he’s dying on the street and everyone is helping Manji live.  The sidekick has a beef against Manji for killing his father, who was an Itto-Ryu swordsman.  Rin fails to explain to the boy’s satisfaction why his father had to die, but Magatsu does.

Now… admittedly, I’m not looking forward to the rest of the series.  We have to settle the fighting between the Itto-Ryu and the Rokki-Dan.  I don’t really care about any of them except Anotsu and Magatsu, but there are a million characters who all have grudges to settle.  Most of it has nothing to do with Rin and Manji.  Buckle up.

I seriously doubt there really will be a showdown between Anotsu and Rin.  It’s almost pointless now.

Blade of the Immortal 25

March 18, 2015

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2012 – 31 volumes

Okay, so you know how I was complaining that there wasn’t enough Rin and Manji in the last review?  This volume heard me, and delivered.  This is the beginning (or most of?) the confrontation between Rin, Manji, and Shira.  I’ve been waiting for this.  I thought this would be closer to the conclusion of the series.

Shira is batshit insane, and does evil things to women that I won’t be able to unsee.  He also has Manji’s arm, which has been bugging me.  The shinobi girls finally realize who Manji and Rin are, and when confronted by Shira, self-preservation and recognition of a psychopath causes them to cough up the info.

The fight with Shira isn’t nearly as depraved as I imagined, although what he does to Rin is pretty messed up.  We get some backstory where we learn how the kessen-chu work, and why the experiments at the castle failed.  Shira also knows all the ways to kill a kessen-chu immortal, and of course since he has Manji’s arm, he is also currently benefiting from kessen-chu worms.  So this fight is pretty ridiculous.

Manji rightly points out that there’s only one pair of eyes and one pair of arms between them, so there’s only so crazy it can get.  But still, the slow reveals of what’s going on are crazy, as is the fact Manji seems to have no problem with putting Shira down.  Until he figures out what’s up with Rin.

This continues into the next volume, so YES.  I’m very excited.

Blade of the Immortal 24

February 13, 2015

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2011 – 31 volumes

I decided to read the end of this series.  The last volume won’t be out until March/April, but I’m going to read the rest of them in the meantime, and snatch that one up when it comes out.

At this point, I need to heave a heavy sigh.  Blade of the Immortal… has its ups and downs.  One of my big problems right now is that there are way, WAY too many characters.  It’s been some time since I’ve read it, but this volume spends very little time with Manji and Rin, which is what I want to read about.  I have a feeling the story is headed into Itto-Ryu territory, and isn’t really going to be about them for awhile.  Which is a shame, because I really, really don’t care about most of the other characters.

Having said that, the meat of this volume was the Itto-Ryu breaking into Edo Castle.  With only four members, they take out almost all the guards in the outer gates, and penetrated almost all the way to the Shogun.  Then, they got tired, told the head of security that they wanted him to remember that he failed so miserably so that it would never happen again, and left.

It was excessive, crazy violent, and very badass.  You’d have to see this section of story to believe it.  One would think that most of the crazy excessive members of the Itto-Ryu were beaten by Manji at the beginning of the story, but there’s three, in addition to Anotsu, that have made it this far.  While I hate giving nods to characters that appear for a second, I do think that Ozuhan is a badass.  Magatsu is also a member of this raid, and he’s regular enough that I’ve grown fond of him.

I’m… still not really sure where the main plot is going from here.  Retaliation for this strike, and Itto-Ryu centric?  Is anyone even chasing Rin and Manji anymore?  What about Shira?  Do I even want to know?  He appears briefly here, and does something appalling, as usual.

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2010 – 31 volumes

I forgot to write this one up! I thought I had forgotten to read it, but volume 23 made too much sense. A shame, because this was an awesome volume. I wound up re-reading it for the review to figure out if I actually finished it, but it was totally worth it.

This was a good aftermath/prologue volume, which shows us what happened to the official who was in charge of the experiments on Manji and wound up killing all the prisoners and almost flooding Edo castle. He’s ordered to commit suicide, but he gets 30 days to hunt down the members of the Itto-Ryu along with several death row inmates. Meanwhile, the new official that took his place makes a deal with Anotsu to get the Itto-Ryu out of Edo in 7 days, so the stakes are raised and the remaining members of the Itto-Ryu are hunted down. Except their numbers are only increasing, and they don’t really seemed too concerned.

Highlight: The conversation between Anotsu and the new official. I still don’t know which way that situation would have gone, which is something that very few series are good at.

That was the boring wind-down part. Elsewhere, there are adorable parting scenes between Rin and Doa, and lots of cute domestic stuff between Rin and Manji. Rin is pampering Manji due to his loss of an arm, and Manji isn’t that into it. Manji also looks like one of the Itto-Ryu members, so he’s also being hunted by the death row assassins, which is mostly just a silly feint.

There’s one… really intense scene between Manji and Rin. It took me by surprise, since romance isn’t something the series has bothered with all this time. It feels right at the time though, especially with Rin still buzzing after her victorious liberation of Manji.

Another nice addition is a pair of shinobi girls who are spying for the secret organization. They wind up staying at the same place as Manji and Rin without realizing who they are.

There’s also a cute scene between Anotsu and Rin at the end of the volume, which is more common as the series goes on, though still fairly unlikely.

Lots of good stuff on offer here, although that scene with Manji and Rin alone is worth the price of admission.

Blade of the Immortal 23

January 16, 2013

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2011 – 31 volumes

Blade of the Immortal ended in Japan last month. It will likely be some time before we see the ending in English, but all the same, I am pretty far behind on this series, and I thought it might be a good idea to catch up.

I do like these Dark Horse volumes that collect storylines rather than the same number of chapters every time. I took a break after the prison arc, since the volume conveniently finished up the story, but taking an extended break was probably a bad idea. There are about a thousand side characters in this series, all of whom are featured in this volume, and it took me some time to remember who they all were. Manji and Rin only appear a couple times, and only briefly. The same can be said of other major groups here. Kagehisa appears a couple times. He talks to Rin, and he talks to the Itto-Ryu members, and he also talks to Makie, his sort-of girlfriend who appeared in a storyline some time ago. Magatsu is leading one of the factions of Itto-Ryu at the beginning of the volume, and they fight with Kagimura and his faction. It took me a minute to remember he wasn’t directly sponsored by the government, but was trying to redeem himself, and it took me even longer to remember that the girl with him was his daughter. And longer still to remember that she was illegitimate. We also meet up once again with a pair of shinobi girls working for Kagimura. And the artist both they and Rin were staying with. All the heads of the Itto-Ryu come together at the end of the volume. There’s some old man healer Itto-Ryu that I don’t remember. Hyakurin and Ginji make another appearance, after an absence of several volumes. Sigh. I had a hard time keeping up.

On the other hand, there are some really awesome scenes. There’s a really ridiculous and horrible one with Kagimura’s wife and son that will stick with me for some time. It is both incredibly gratuitous and violent and forehead-slapping in its self-sacrifice. The fight with Kagimura’s daughter and Magatsu at the beginning of the volume was pretty clever, too, as was the way the Itto-Ryu trapped Kagimura’s men.

But aside from that… there was a lot of talking, and a lot of setting up the next major story arc. With this many pieces to move around, volumes like this are inevitable, but I’m also wishing for a simpler story at this point. I want to see Manji get his arm back, for instance, and that wasn’t really discussed at all. On the contrary, the forward motion seemed to be more of the Itto-Ryu moving and the others following to kill them. So… yeah.

But it still looks really good, and the previous storylines have been good to me. Here’s hoping things get interesting again once the huge number of characters meet up and, hopefully, thin the herd a bit.

Blade of the Immortal 21

December 12, 2011

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2009 – 28+ volumes

I loved every page of the finale to the prison arc. I can’t think of a single thing I would change about it. It does absolutely everything, from characters and relationships to the over-the-top actions scenes, pretty much perfectly.

First and foremost, one of the best things that happens here is that the tunnels are flooding at a rapid rate. That detail alone adds so much to the story, since now all the fights have an urgency, and even when there are no fights happening, the situation with Manji stuck in his cell is very much life-threatening. Well, life-threatening in theory, considering Manji can’t be killed. But you know what I mean.

The rising water levels don’t seem to bother any of the participants, though. In addition to a handful of castle goons that are easily dispatched, the real fight here is with Asaemon, the executioner, and the good doctor’s immortality experiments gone wrong. The doctor has created his perfect and immortal warriors, but they are completely mindless, and for whatever reason, the soldier is more than willing to attack Manji mercilessly. Not only is the soldier’s flesh immortal, but the doctor has also modified his body so that the methods for actually killing him don’t work. The fight is ugly, especially since the solider is merely a victim of a series of awful experiments. The story doesn’t let you forget this.

Isaku and Doa are also present, and engage the monster soldier and some of the goons in various fights. Their participation is definitely a big part of the story, but the fight that steals the show here is the one between Manji and Asaemon. It’s a fight in two parts, and Asaemon is a spectacular opponent. He’s a victim of circumstance, and the story reveals that his profession as executioner has left him with no respect from anyone. But he’s still a master swordsman, and he doesn’t let the disrespect get him down. He always takes advantage of his position, and circumstance, to further his own goals. For instance, he wants Manji and his immortality for his own reasons, and his position as executioner gives him access even when everything about this immortality experiment comes crumbling down. And his knowledge of human anatomy, from cutting necks, saves him more than once during the duel with Manji.

The duel is definitely weighted in Asaemon’s favor, since Manji is still chained hand and foot when they fight. In that way, it’s a little disappointing. But it’s still an interesting one, since Manji has to use all the resources at his disposal, including his chains, to stay out of Asaemon’s clutches. And Asaemon is a very respectful opponent. He wants to win, but he doesn’t disrespect or cheat Manji. It’s an amazing fight, even better than the completely ridiculous one against the immortal, unkillable monster.

And the actual escape at the end is a wonderful thing. Rin and Manji’s escape is downplayed, but the story spends a lot of time showing the gates of the castle being thrown open and all the prisoners being reunited with their families. It drives home the fact that Rin did a good thing, despite her selfish intentions behind the actions.

There’s one event that links the story to past events and sets up a path for the plot to follow into the next story arc. I’m a little sad that it affects Manji so directly, but it’s not such an important thing, and I’m sure it will be easily fixed.

This is such a good stopping place, I almost don’t want to start the next story arc, though.

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