Blade of the Immortal 1 by Hiroaki Samura: A

From the back cover:
Manji, a ronin warrior of feudal Japan, has been cursed with immortality. To rid himself of this curse and end his life of misery, he must slay one thousand evil men!

His quest begins when a young girl seeks his help in taking revenge on her parents’ killers.

His quest ends only after he has spilled the blood of a thousand!

Wow. I had no idea something could be beautiful and gross at the same time.

Blade of the Immortal is the story of Manji, a samurai who became a criminal when he killed the lord he’d been serving after learning of his corruption. As the story opens, he has been granted immortality (originally to keep him from running off and getting himself killed and abandoning his insane sister) and has struck a bargain with the nun responsible—he will make up for killing good people on the orders of the corrupt lord by killing one thousand bad ones. When he achieves that goal, the immortality will be lifted.

Into his life comes Rin, a teenager who witnessed the death of her father at the hands of a group of swordsmen who seek to abolish all other sword schools but theirs. She asks Manji to help her get her revenge and, after grumbling that it’s hard to rely on another’s definition of a “bad guy,” he agrees. This leads to a fascinating moonlit meeting with one of the men responsible for the murder. Atmospheric and engrossing, this segment features one of the strangest villains I’ve ever seen.

The art is amazing, alternating between traditionally inked panels and ones that I believe are done in pencil. The inked panels occasionally remind me of the art in Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, at least in terms of how shadow is achieved with cross-hatching rather than screentone. The pencil illustrations are especially good, which is disconcerting when what you’re looking at is a guy getting his head sliced into quarters (a recurring theme in these opening chapters). My only complaint is that, because of the way the panels were flipped for publication, Manji’s missing eye kept switching sides, but that’s hardly Samura’s fault.

The story is riveting enough that the gore didn’t really bother me much. I like the characters, too, and find Manji to be especially charismatic. An interview with Samura was included in which he described his hero, and I’m just gonna use his words here.

On the character side, in the protagonist Manji I’ve drawn a totally straight, unvarnished version of my own ideal hero—a person who never reveals his or her own weaknesses to others but who, at the same time, is not as unassailably powerful as he or she may seem.

He does things like kill a bunch of guys and then walk back into town carrying his own leg. If that’s not badass, then I don’t know what is.

Despite my protestations about not liking icky things, I can’t deny that these bloodthirsty seinen epics have a real appeal. I’m definitely going to be reading more Blade of the Immortal.

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  1. mark thorpe says

    So … you, uh … you don’t like icky things? But you liked the book right? Your first foray into the epic greatness of BotI was a clear success, yes? But … icky things … still a no go, right? You are not going to be happy with the character Shira when or if ever you make it to volume 7. Yeah, even for me, who loves and thrives on the icky stuff — Shira was a bit much. But hey!! Volume One!!! Congrats!! If we can get you to start reading Vagabond and Berserk you will be firmly implanted on the dark side where you belong.

  2. Oh, yes, it was definitely a success. I knew you would be happy to see me reading it. 🙂 I’ve also acquired the first two VIZBIGs of Vagabond, too. I perused one in the store and holy crap, that color art is absolutely gorgeous. I also have the “back three” of Akira to read. And Domu.

    Re: icky things, I think it depends on how the icky things are dealt with. There were certainly gross things in BotI, but they went by quickly, so they didn’t bother me. I guess we’ll have to see how I deal with Shira when I get to that point.

    Berserk still seems a little too violent for me, but we shall see.


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