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.

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2008 – 27+ volumes

This was a short volume, and also a transitional one. It was all Rin and Doa sneaking into the underground tunnels to try and infiltrate Edo castle to rescue Manji.

It’s obvious by the scope of what they’re doing that this is a dry run (plus Rin mentions it just before they go in), so even though there’s some danger of being caught, it was less dramatic than I liked since I knew there would be another, better sneak attack coming after this.

What else? There’s some more character development for Hyakurin. I like that she is sticking around. She’s playing a less active role in the story due to her injury, but she’s still got an interesting part to play. I liked her talk with Anotsu last volume, and a very serious issue comes up in this one that… it’s a tough call to make indeed. Giichi helps her with it. She also gets to fuel the flames of unrest among the women of Edo, hoping that it helps draw the terrible experiments to light and leads to Manji’s freedom.

But nothing’s that easy, of course. The next volume should be amazing after all this exposition.

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2008 – 26+ volumes

Okay. So, I won’t lie. I’m a big fan of the prison arc storyline here. When it leads to volumes like this, it’s worth anything that came before.

Just about everything I could possibly want in Blade of the Immortal is in this volume. Rin being a hero. A reunion between Rin and Manji. Rin finally beating the crap out of somebody. Manji fighting bad guys. Rin fighting bad guys. Someone going what appears to be full-on Lazarus. A brawl between several people in a cell, where some of the people are restrained and occasionally incapacitated and the whole thing is flooding. Actually, the flooding doesn’t happen until next volume. Shame on me for reading ahead, but most of the good stuff happens here.

Part of me suspects that Hiroaki Samura just thought of what the coolest situation for the characters would be, then wrote all the lead-up just to justify this. I don’t know how this volume can ever be topped.

There’s really too much to go into, and to talk it up would spoil it. All of it is good. Every page. But my favorite part, the unlooked-for action, is the confrontation between Asaemon and Manji. It’s not a fight I was expecting, and Asaemon makes for an interesting opponent, especially since… well, neither are fighting for their life, really, it’s more a matter of principle. That is, if by “not fighting for his life,” you can also include Manji’s wish not to be nailed to Asaemon’s wall, having his liver constantly removed. But Asaemon is a good character, the happy executioner, perfectly aware of everything that was going on and simply filling his role. He spoke up when things got too out of hand, and he had his own type of honor. I like him a lot, he’s a different sort of fellow, and I always thought he might be on Manji’s side if it came down to it. Sad, then, that it turned out this way, but it still makes for a really good fight.

Is there significance in the fact that he had 大 on his forehead through the latter half of the fight?

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2008 – 26+ volumes

This volume’s all about Rin and Doa. Well, not all about Rin and Doa, as there is still quite a bit about Manji’s situation and the doctor that is trying to transfer his immortality to others. This is a really, really great volume. I’m sorry I had my doubts, prison arc.

As agonizing as it is watching the scenes with Manji, most of what makes them powerful isn’t based on torturing him, as I expected. There’s a lot of tension surrounding the procedure itself – will they be successful? Will there be at least one other immortal? I’m thinking yes, since this is an awful long story, and it seems like it might take two immortals to get Manji out of prison. But what will another man do with Manji’s particular brand of immortality?

And while it’s true that Manji isn’t being tortured, there are a lot of prisoners being killed in the name of science. That gets taken to grotesque proportions as other doctors replace the successful one and aren’t as familiar with the procedure, or even human anatomy in general. Then the successful doctor comes back, completely cracked and crazy, and that doesn’t go anyplace good. That in itself creates a lot of turmoil, but things are starting to come to a head as it becomes less and less feasible to hide their experiments. Not only are the side effects spilling out of the prison grounds, the methods used to obtain the specimens are becoming very extreme.

Meanwhile, there is Rin and Doa. Both are looking for their guardians. Interestingly, the man with Doa is a christian, something that puts more of a target on him than anything else, and Doa is worried for his welfare. It turns out that both guardians may be in the prison, so Rin and Doa’s goals are beginning to overlap, and they come up with plans to sneak in.

I like Rin more and more in every volume. She’s still not a physical match for anyone, or really prepared to deal with the physical consequences of her reactions, but she seems to make up for it by pairing with people that can help her out with that. Doa is quite a fighter, but Rin is the one that does all the investigation and gets results. I was a little afraid that Doa would face off against Rin eventually, because I really don’t want to see Rin get beat up again. But the two of them form quite a team.

I can’t get enough of this stuff. On to the next volume.

Hiroaki Samura – Dark Horse – 2007 – 26+ volumes

Okay, so this prison arc is not as agonizing as I thought it was going to be. I find the story to be quite interesting. And again, I was most afraid of torture, but compared to what Manji’s been through in battle, in prison he seems to be getting three hots and a cot, at the very least, and the experiments that the doctor is putting him through weigh more heavily on his conscience than they do his body. And even then, the burden of morality lies mostly with the doctor, Manji is merely a bystander.

The main thrust of the story here is that the doctor that attends to Manji is trying to transfer his immortality to someone else’s body. They experimented on Manji’s body in the last volume in order to test the limits of his immortality, but here the doctor is doing a physical experiment with some degree of success. Manji bonds with the man who is becoming immortal, and as they swap limbs back and forth courtesy of the doctor, they grow closer. This prisoner is a decent man, but there is a long line of others after him who are not. Terrible things seem to happen to him, but the fate of the prisoners is, as I mentioned, more of a question of how the doctor feels about doing human experiments. He’s not okay with it, and it weighs on him after the first man, when he has to make a fast and terrible decision.

Elsewhere, the character that was introduced last volume, Doa, is more than just a simple girl, though I’m still not quite sure what will become of her and her attendant. Interestingly, I read Itsuwaribito a day after this one, and a plot point came up surrounding a facial tattoo very similar to the one Doa sports. In Itsuwaribito, it identified convicted murderers. It made me wonder if that was based in fact, or if it was just a coincidence that it came up both places. Doa is young, and she makes no attempt to cover hers.

And there’s Rin, who has teamed up with Hyakurin to find Manji. Hyakurin asks Rin about her relationship with Manji, and Rin brushes her off, of course, but the essay that I mentioned at Dark Horse a few entries back (it’s gone now, sadly) hinted at a possible romance. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it is touching how hard Rin is trying to look for Manji. The two do find Giichi, and try and figure out what’s become of the Mugai-Ryu.

And now I’m reading the next volume. There’s not a whole lot of action in these books, but it’s interesting how much there is to chew on here, even with some of the funnest bits of the story absent for the time being. Now it’s a fantastic page-turner simply because I need to know how successful the doctor will be in transferring Manji’s immortality. I tore through this volume thinking he was certainly going to do it.

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