The NZA Posted April 18, 2005 Share Posted April 18, 2005 Been meaning to review this great action-title for a while (Cap'ns a big fan), but Newsarma did it way better than I...if youre into samurai books, bloody action, great art & cool characters, check it out... REVIEWING BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL - ALL 99 ISSUES by David Bird It seems like the whole world is discovering manga right now. It comes in a small paperback format. Reads right to left. Has an homogenized look that only Archie comics come close to in North America. Big eyes, little mouths, strange hair styles. Lots of girls in school uniforms or sailor suits. Well, that’s the stereotype. And, sadly, it is not always an unfair one. But since June of 1996 Dark Horse has been putting out something different. Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal doesn’t fall into any of these stereotypes. It does get collected into trade format, but it is still published every month as a regular comic book, in left to right format. And it takes place in the 1780s, so obviously they are no sailor suits or school uniforms. Samura’s art work is among the best working today. It is simple, yet realistic; his figures dynamic, his backgrounds beautiful. Violent clashes become incredible, macabre, mandalas, quite unlike anything else in the graphics medium. The comic tells a great story of revenge, justice, loyalty, and obligation. Samura has created a large cast of characters, and given even the nominal villains a depth of character. In writing the story he has made a deliberate choice to make wide use of such anachronisms as characters speaking like street punks. He did this because he knew if he tried to be historically accurate, he would have obsessive samurai genre fanboys on his back about every little detail. But as the stories develop out of the characters’ conflict, and Samura’s characterizations are always very strong, these anachronisms only help make the story even more accessible. This article was inspired by the fact that this month will see the release of issue 100. A milestone for any comic, but with almost nine years of monthlies, collected into thirteen trades, and a fourteenth coming in June, new readers may need a little help catching up. So, that’s what this is. An all in one cheat sheet that will help new readers catch up and older ones remember. The story has one grand arc that encompasses every issue, and the first 98 issues form fourteen trades, but I’ve divided the trades into four parts to make the cheat sheet even easier to follow. There are spoilers in this overview, but the story is compelling and I am sure you’ll get carried along easily enough. Part I: Cycles of Violence Blood of a Thousand Blade Of The Immortal tells the storyof Asano Rin and her attempt to revenge the murder of her parents and the destruction of her father’s sword school, the Mutenichi-Ryu, by Anotsu Kagehisa and his Itto-Ryu school. The Itto-Ryu leader is seeking to conquer or destroy all competing schools. He believes Japan’s long years of peace have left its martial class decadent and the nation weakened. Trades one through five introduce many of the principal characters. They have been trapped in a cycle of violence, which offers no way out, except through more violence. The first book starts with neither Rin nor Anotsu, but with the person that makes Rin’s vendetta possible: Manji. When Manji realized that loyalty to his lord had led to his involvement in the deaths of many innocents, he killed his lord and became a hunted fugitive. Defending himself, he killed a hundred officers and deputies before killing his own brother-in-law, one of the officers, and driving his sister to a mental collapse. At this point a Buddhist nun, Yaobikuni enters the story to give him the Kessen-Chu, Holy Bloodworms. These are capable of repairing even the most serious injuries, granting virtual immortality. Yaobikuni herself is eight hundred years old. She gives them to Manji so he can’t take the ‘honorable’ way out of his dilemma and abandon his sister now that he has caused her so much grief. But once his sister herself dies, Manji seeks out the nun with a proposition: if he were to kill a thousand evil men, then can he be released from his immortality and free again to find his honourable death?. It is not the path Yaobikuni wants for him, but she agrees. This brings us to the story’s central conflict. The Itto-Ryu has been aggressively pushing forward with their mission. Having adopted an amoral code that emphasizes victory over tradition, the Itto-Ryu has wreaked havoc among Edo’s many schools. But its attack on the Mutenichi-Ryu school of Rin’s family has a more personal motive behind it. Anotsu’s grandfather was once a member, but he was expelled over a point of etiquette. Embittered he founded the Itto-Ryu, which his grandson has inherited. He refused Rin’s father the honour of one-on-one combat with himself, delegating it to his lieutenant, and gave Rin’s mother to his men to abuse. He told them to leave Rin herself alone, however, as she was only a child of fourteen. Two years have passed, and for all her attempts at training, Rin is not yet prepared enough to avenge her parents. While visiting their grave, she meets Yaobikuni, who directs her to Manji. He becomes her yojimbo, or bodyguard, and our story begins in earnest. Cry of the Worm The second book introduces Magatsu Taito - a fan favourite - and the kessen-satsu. While a member of Itto-Ryu, Taito is an honourable kenshi, or swordsman, and one of four characters in the story who are Manji’s equals in combat (Anotsu is another). The son of peasants, he has nothing but contempt for the samurai class. The Kessen-satsu – bloodworm poison – will prove to be a bigger problem. In this volume we also meet Eiku Shizuma, a two hundred year old Itto-Ryu member; he has the bloodworms and this antidote. Manji is poisoned by it, to grisly results, but ultimately destroys the other ‘immortal’ swordsman. Dreamsong One of the best books, it tells the origins of Anotsu and Makie Otano-Tachibana, the third of Manji’s equals. When Anotsu was a young boy he was attacked by a wild dog and saved by a girl not much older than himself. His grandfather saw this and was enraged. The heir to his school had been saved by a little girl. He beat them both, and on learning that the girl was Makie Otano-Tachibana, he left her beaten body for the other dogs to find. Taking Anotsu home he told him her story. She is the daughter of the leader of another school. One day her father had guests over, and as an entertainment had his son and daughter fight a mock duel. They fought three times and each time Makie won. Her brother was so ashamed he killed himself. To defend his honour, her father disowned her and her mother, who had dared to defend her. Her mother would fall into prostitution and Makie would follow, though never giving up her study of the sword. While his grandfather had contempt for the exaggerated forms of etiquette imposed on samurai, from this day on Anotsu himself would feel this same contempt towards the entire samurai code. He went back later to look for the body of his rescuer, and found the bodies of fifty dogs instead. Makie fights Manji twice, defeating him the second time. She spares his life when Rin pleads for it. On Silent Wings I & II These early stories end with books four and five. Rin meets the man who raped her mother, but things go much differently than she thought they would. She meets him at a festival, working as a mask marker. In the two years since the attack on her family, the man, Araya, has become a single parent, raising his son Renzo. She wants justice, but she also wants to spare Renzo the life that she has had forced on her. She confronts Araya, demanding only an apology for all the pain his actions have caused her. He is unimpressed. Telling her that she is selling her parents lives cheap, he asked her if she thinks that the families of the men already killed (by Manji) would really be happy with an apology. Manji’s miraculous healing abilities provide Rin with a way acting on her vendetta without Renzo getting swept up into the cycle of violence, but it is clearly too late for Rin herself to escape it. Part II: Mugui-Ryu The second part of the story covers the next four trades, and sees the story expand to include the larger social and political elements of 18th century Japan. It also introduces a new element, the Mugui-Ryu. Dark Shadows Book six immediately breaks out of the little circle of characters in first five books. It begins with an attack on Taito. After defeating his attackers, he tries to question one before he dies of his injuries. Who was behind it? The wounded man manages to gasp out” “a… ka… gi.” “Akagi”? As the attacks increase the Itto-Ryu becomes obsessed with finding out the identity of Akagi. When Taito reaches Anotsu and their headquarters, Habaki Kagimura, an officer of the Bakafu, or central government, is leaving. Anotsu tells Taito that their school has just been offered official recognition by the Shogunate. Taito quits the Itto-Ryu. Knowing his feelings about samurai, Anotsu is neither surprised nor offended. Meanwhile, attacks on their school continue. Readers are introduced to the cast that makes up the Magui-Ryu. There is Giichi, the fourth of Manji’s equals, Hyakurin, a woman who dyes her hair blonde, and her sidekick Shinriji, the psychotic Shira, and a youth named Makoto, who is acting as a spy from within the Itto-Ryu. We learn nothing about their mysterious leader “Akagi”. Taito goes to his girlfriend, a prostitute named O-Ren, and tells her of his decision to leave the Itto-Ryu. As he leaves, Shira appears. He tortures, rapes, and murders O-Ren. She tells him nothing. Meanwhile, Rin and Manji discuss her quest. She admits that the violence has given her some second thoughts. Shira visits. The Mugui-Ryu has heard of them and wants to pool resources to defeat Anotsu. The Itto-Ruy leader will be leaving the Edo district at the end of the month. To leave Edo at this time the Shogunate required a special pass, or tegata. Anotsu has one, but it is unlikely that any of them will be able to. They have to stop him before he goes. Heart of Darkness They pool resources. From their man on the inside they learn that Anotsu has three different tegatas and is planning to leave Edo disguised a woman! Hyakurin and Shinriji attack one “Anotsu”. It actually is a woman. Manji goes after a man calling himself “Anotsu”, but it is another diversion. Shira and Rin go after a third, but even after they realize it is another fake “Anotsu”, the psychotic Shira attacks and mutilates her. Rin tries to intervene, but is no match for him. Manji arrives, hacking off Shira’s hand and chasing him off into the woods. Meanwhile, Giichi has stopped the last “Anotsu”. He learns that the real Anotsu has left; he is on his way to Kaga to incorporate another school into the Itto-Ryu. The Gathering I & II Having failed to stop Anotsu from leaving, books eight and nine form another two parter, concentrating on their attempts to get out of Edo and after him. This story also marks the split between Rin and Manji. They each make their own way to Kaga and will not be together again for fifty issues, or six trades! It is Rin who decides this. She leaves Manji while he is sleeping and follows advice given to her by a woman working in the bathhouse where the Mugui-Ryu stay. Manji follows advice given him by Hyakurin. She has a fake letter sent to the Itto-Ryu. It requests that a swordsman be sent after Anotsu, to help him on his way to Kaga. The idea is that Manji will kill the man who is sent and use his tegata. It should work, as long as Manji doesn’t get any blood on the papers. Instead three men are sent. Manji does win, but not easily. And he might not have had Hyakurin and Shinriji not shown up. They fear Manji is dying and ask a passing stranger to look over their comrade while they get help. This stranger first appeared in book one, where he was introduced as a friend of Rin’s father, Sori. Sori has two lives. In his public role he is an artist, but he is also secretly employed by the Shogunate as a ninja. To date this has not been a factor in the stories, but he has helped Rin out, provding her things like money. Rin’s own story continues with her traveling to the border of the Edo district and approaching an inn-keeper. While most need a tegata to travel in or out of the district, those who live at the gate are allowed to come and go. Some locals exploit this to make a few bucks by passing strangers off as family members. The innkeeper and his wife, the Nakayas, are reluctant. The last time they tried to get someone across, it ended with a beheading, but Rin convinces them and the innkeeper decides to pass her off as his sister-in-law. The guards interrogate her thoroughly, they have extensive records on the locals, but she has been well rehearsed. Before accepting her claim, however, they need one more bit of proof. The woman Rin is impersonating has had a caesarean. In her preparations, Rin has cut herself to look like she too has had one. She gets through. Part III: Kaga Kaga is a mountainous area on Japan’s west coast. It is home to the Shingyoto-Ryu, led by Ibane Kensui. This school shares the Itto-Ryu’s victory oriented beliefs about swordsmanship. Anotsu is on his way to merge the two schools. Secrets Everything comes to a head, if not a resolution. Anotsu reaches Kaga and meets with the Shingyoto leader. His students aren’t happy with the idea of their school disappearing into another, but it will happen if Anotsu meets one condition: he has to marry Ibane’s daughter Hisoka. Rin is on her way, and is not having en easy time of it. It doesn’t help that she is robbed while bathing. Manji recovers at Sori’s home, but the tegata is ruined (too bloodied). Knowing Sori’s connections, Manji questions him about the Mugui-Ryu. Sori confirms Manji’s suspicion that they are agents of the Shogunate, and explains that they are all from death row. Hyakurin for killing her husband. Sori is surprised to learn about the plan to get the tegata. He has the connections to get as many tegatas as they need! Sori tells Manji he is planning a trip and he has hired a young man to look after the house in his absence. Its Manji’s turn to be surprised when that man turns out to be Taito. They talk. Taito tells of O-Ren and shows him a picture one of the prostitutes drew of the design on Shira’s kimono. Manji recognizes it and agrees to help him in get revenge. Beasts Book eleven flows directly out of the events in Heart of Darkness. Shira sells the other members of the Mugui-Ryu out to the Itto-Ryu. Giichi isn’t there. A group of Itto-Ryu storm the bathhouse, led by a man crippled by Hyakurin. Shinriji does a good job of holding them off – he has played the comic sidekick so much, it is easy to forget he is also a swordsman – but he is killed and Hyakurin captured. What follows is a grisly sequence of torture and rape. Ostensively, they are trying to find out who “Akagi” is, but really they are just punishing her for the damage she and her team mates have inflicted on them. We learn Hyakurin’s origins. She was married to a sickly samurai who was obsessed with the failure of his family’s swordschool. She had given him a son, but that child was also of poor health. He decided to kill his son and start again, hacking his head off while Hyakurin tried to intervene. She killed her husband and has been obsessively washing her child’s blood out of her hair ever since (hence the bleached hair). She was about to be executed when the Mugui-Ryu intervened. The book ends with Giichi finding and rescuing her. Autumn Frost Book twelve resumes the stories of Manji and Taito, and Anotsu and Rin. Manji and Taito confront Shira, whose has tried to turn his missing hand into a weapon, having cut up the two bones in his forearm. Rin is still pushing herself to Kaga. And Anotsu agrees to marry Hisoka. She has the promise to be an interesting character, but her father receives news during the wedding feast that changes everything. Mirror of the Soul This is the latest book already published. Things happen quickly in this book. When Anotsu leaves his new wife’s home to attend a meeting and two things happen. First he meets up with Rin. Things don’t go quite as she imagined. She is exhausted and passed out on the road when he comes to her aid; he doesn’t recognize her at first and isn’t concerned when he does. Just then the second thing happens: they are attacked by a group of masked men. Defeating them, he realizes these are Shingyoto-Ryu swordsmen. He runs back to discover his father-in-law in the midst of ritual suicide. He explains to Anotsu that during the wedding a Bakafu official arrived with an ultimatum. Hisoka’s health relies on a foreign medicine and it will be cut off if Ibane doesn’t break his ties to Itto-Ryu and kill its leader. Anotsu is surprised by Ibane’s news. In Edo the Bakafu is recruiting the Itto-Ryu. Here they are attacking. What’s going on? Of course, Anotsu doesn’t know the Mugui-Ryu is also a part of the Bakafu in Edo. Rin follows throughout, telling herself she is just waiting on an opportunity to act. Anotsu travels to a village, where he finds Makie eking out a living. She has sown her right hand together. She tells Anotsu that she had gone to kill her father, the man who caused so much pain for herself and her mother, but she couldn’t. What is the use of her skills, if she can’t use them on the one man who deserves it most? He cuts her hand loose before any permanent damage sets in, but his own health is failing. He was wounded in fighting the Shingyoto-Ryu men, but it was a very minor wound. Considering his symtoms, he realizes that their weapons were poisoned, and he has tetanus. He is attacked by a second group of Shingyoto-Ryu men and this time Rin aids him. She rationalizes that she doesn’t want Anotsu to die for any cause but her’s. Manji finally arrives in Kaga, only to find a lot of dead bodies. He is well rested, having made the trip in a palanquin. Back in Edo, Itto-Ryu leaders attend a feast hosted by Habaki Kagimura. Last Blood The fourteenth book isn’t a trade yet. It will be collected as Last Blood and released June 1st. The Kaga stories culminate with a book full of reunions, bloodshed and revelations. The Shingyoto-Ryu men finally surround the ailing Anotsu and Rin, only to have Manji arrive. Then Magatsu Taito arrives. Then Makie Otano-Tachibana. As monthlies this fight spilled out over five issues. It was one of comic publishing’s biggest and greatest. In the end the Shingyoto-Ryu is destroyed. Makie and Taito leave with Anotsu, and Rin and Manji are finally reunited. Five days pass and Taito arrives at the site of the feast. It’s a massacre. Finally, they realize that “Akagi” was actually Kagimura, Habaki Kagimura — the same Bakafu official that had invited the Itto-Ryu to join with the Shogunate. Anotsu meets with the remaining Itto-Ryu leaders. He promises them that they will go on an offensive, even if it means a last stand. A Mugui-Ryu member can earn his or her freedom, if they collect a given bounty. Hyakurin’s recovery is slow and Giichi offers to help make her goal. This request is allowed on one condition and Giichi is sent to recruit Manji. After an initial fight, he agrees. Manji and the Mugui-Ryu will attack before the Itto-Ryu has a chance to regroup. Part IV: Trickster And that brings us up to issue 99 and the next part of the saga. The name of the current arc is Trickster. The Itto-Ryu kidnaps Rin and uses her to draw Manji into a fight. Taito is with them, and so is a new weapon. They have gone through Eiku Shizuma’s things and found his Kessen-satsu – bloodworm poison. And so the issue ends: with Taito, two Itto-Ryu swordsmen and the poison on one side and Manji and Giichi on the other. So there you have it. Great comic, great art, great stories, great characters, and a great cheat sheet to help bring you up to speed. Issue #100 is in stores now. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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