Machika Balfaltin’s grandfather, Zol, was a renowned bounty hunter/assassin, but there was one man he could never catch: Methuselah, an immortal with a price on his head. Machika, like your typical fourteen-year-old, is convinced that she can do anything and is determined to settle her grandfather’s unfinished business. Her attempt to capture Methuselah goes wrong, however, when a rival group of bounty hunters swoops in to take the credit. Methuselah allows himself to be hauled off to jail, whereupon Machika breaks him out because he’s her prey. Of course, now there’s a price on her head, too, so she’s got to leave town. From there, Machika and Methuselah, who reveals that his name is actually Rain Jewlitt, get into a series of adventures usually involving people trying to nab Rain and figure out the secret of immortality, which is portrayed as much more of a curse than a blessing.
While the adventures are interesting enough, it’s the bond between the two characters that’s really the most fascinating aspect of Immortal Rain. Machika still maintains that she’s going to kill Rain one day, but quickly grows frustrated with his passivity regarding his fate and soon nurtures a desire to help him, including finding a way to make him human again. Initially, Rain attempts to keep his distance. He likes people but, as he puts it, “eventually everyone must leave this earth at a speed I can’t keep up with.” When he tries to refuse Machika’s help, it hurts her, but he’s reluctant to keep her with him because her life is so vulnerable. “So… would you hold me like I’m glass? I won’t break,” she replies. It’s clear that he’s unaccustomed to someone showing such fierce concern for his present rather than the promise of an unlimited future that he represents, and by the end of volume two he seems to have finally accepted her as a companion.
In addition to creating this pair of likable characters, Ozaki also parcels out bits of Rain’s backstory with a sure hand. Obscure hints and scraps of information offered in volume one are already taking shape into something that makes more sense by volume two, suggesting that answers will continue to be furnished at a satisfying rate. It would seem that he was somehow involved in some scientific experiments 600 years ago—the remnants of which are being excavated by a company that employs Sharem, an intriguing villainess who is initially introduced as a high-kicking ice queen but is gradually revealed to have inner pain of her own—and is destined to meet someone from that time who’s on the verge of being reincarnated. Too, he was once in love with a dark-haired woman whose violin is his most treasured possession.
Missteps are few, but there are a couple of bothersome things in these first two volumes. First, while a lot of the humor is genuinely amusing (I especially adore anything having to do with Machika’s pet, Kiki), some of it falls flat, especially the inept Evans siblings who attempt to capture Rain with a thoroughly ill-conceived plan involving a train, a bridge, and a 12-year-old girl piloting a mecha. Also, while less of a problem in volume two, volume one contains some passages of narration that don’t make much sense. Here’s an example:
Look. Even if you open your ears you can’t hear… the sound of the heart… if only just once.
That sounds like the kind of poorly translated English you’d find on a t-shirt in Shinjuku!
Another great point in Immortal Rain’s favor is Ozaki’s incredibly appealing art. Although the series runs in the shoujo magazine Wings and Rain technically qualifies as a bishounen, the art fosters more of a shounen adventure feeling, creating an almost palpable sense of the wide world around the central characters. The nonverbal storytelling is also great, especially in Rain’s expressive reactions to some of the things Machika says and does. Somehow, his eyes manage to convey fondness, loneliness, regret, and puzzlement simultaneously; the effect is quite lovely.
I look forward to seeing how the story develops in subsequent volumes, although I do wonder whether TOKYOPOP intends to continue releasing the series. They’ve released eight volumes in English so far, and while new volumes in Japan appear at a rate of one per year there are still ten of them out now with no US solicitation of volume nine on the horizon. It may not be time to fret quite yet, but there’s definitely reason for concern.