“Blade of the Immortal” was one of the more successful manga series that ever made it to U.S. production published by Dark Horse comics. It was a critically acclaimed series and of course, we all know how it often goes with Japanese entertainment; manga, then anime and then maybe a live-action version. Director Koichi Moshimo adapts the original manga by Hiroaki Samura. I do have to admit that even though I have read two or three volumes of the manga, my knowledge of the series is a little limited since I wasn’t able to go further in the series.
Fans of the manga would easily recognize the characters, as the character designs mimicked the art of the manga, even though it wasn‘t a direct emulation of Samura‘s illustrations. Samura is a brilliant artist and his rendition could not be translated into an animated work. Be that as it may, the animation was fluid and very nice; even though it struggled to capture the mood of Samura‘s art. The animation was able to catch the tone of the manga as something brooding, violent, satirical and even funny. This is a series where watching it with the original Japanese language would be an advantage, since it was magnificently done in expressing the mood and emotions. The Japanese voice cast was really good in the portrayal of its characters.
American viewers should know that the samurai to Japan is almost like the cowboy to America. The film begins with the introduction of a samurai named Majin (Tomozaku Seki), who through a stroke of fate have been given immortality with the use of the ‘blood worms’ by an old woman named Yaobikuni (Hisako Kyouda). Known as the ‘hundred-manslayer’, Majin lives a life that he had dedicated to his slain sister Machi (Maaya Sakamoto), his past sins that he has vowed to kill 1,000 evil men in the hopes of regaining mortality. This brings sixteen-year old Rin Asano (Rina Satou) into Majon’s life, who seeks vengeance against the Itto-ryu, a group of rogue samurai who had murdered her father and mother. Led by a very skilled swordsman called Anotsu Saburou (Toru Ohsawa), the group may even prove to be a formidable for even Majin. But there is his immortality that somewhat gives him an advantage.
This anime series brings to life the first few volumes of the manga as it begins with Majin in a Christian church. Episodes 1 and 2, did feel a little rushed to get to the point of the storyline. It moved quickly, as the two episodes tries to breeze through Majin’s backgrounds and beginnings. It was an attempt that I felt lacked a lot of the source material’s power, but I understood that the writing was probably trying to gives its viewers a crash course on Majin. I did not like how the anime series began, and I thought it felt rather lazy. Perhaps I was a little used to linear storytelling, but really, I felt disconnected since the series began a little too slow. Aside from Rin’s introduction, there really wasn’t much to take in with the first two episodes. They did not grab my attention, but I was able to sit and power through to see how things would develop.
Episodes 3-5 is where things begin to really pick up after the introduction of Rin and the Itto-ryu clan. Sabato Kuroi (Masahi Ebara), the artist Master Sori and Taito Magatsu (Kazuya Nakai) become the central focus of the episodes. I do have to admit that I enjoyed the manner with which the links between Rin and Kuroi were developed. The series went into something quite twisted as it goes from its themes of vengeance to twisted love. Kuroi was the type of character that had a fetish for beauty and a depraved definition of love. The episodes with Sori and Magatsu gave this kind of depraved issues a balance as something so beautiful can be weird, while Magatsu’s relationship with Oren feels pure and normal, when compared to the twisted wants of the other two. Episodes 3-5 were also were the action sequences picked up. A lot of blood and some gore drove its action set pieces, as Rin and Majin went forward with their mission of revenge.
I knew that the script was probably trying to get its footing, and the themes of revenge and as to how someone always sees things from their side. Evil could be defined differently in different eyes, and this is where Majin and Rin find their groundwork in the script. By episode 6 and on to episode 9, the series truly defines its intricacies, as characters such as Maki Otono (Mamiko Noto) and Eiku Shizuma (Katsuyuki Konishi) become introduced. Maki was a swordswoman torn between killing and whoring, her conflicted nature defines what she wants to be and what she needed to be. Eiku is another such swordsman with Manji’s immortality, and this is where the bloodworms become defined. Viewers of the anime series “Basilisk” would feel familiar with such mystical powers, and this is where Majin and his immortality are fully fleshed out, as his strengths and vulnerabilities were shown. I do have to admit that certain potentials were overlooked by the script, but the momentum of the series moved in a manner that made me more curious as to how things would progress. As far as I thought that the action set pieces in episodes 3-5 became almost monotonous, this is where the fights became much more brutal, emotionally invested and much more intense. There were creative touches that gave the series a more even flow, as Majin’s opponents become much more formidable.
Episodes 10-11 introduces Araya Kawakami, as Majin comes across a tokoroten vendor, a member of the Itto-ryu who had seemingly turned over a new leaf on account of his son, Renzo. The series comes into a theme of morality, as Rin seems to have found the need to forgive and how some people could change, and really they could not. These two episodes may be the more heartfelt ones, as there was a lot of heart in the flow of the script. Episodes 12-13 became the points where Rin, Majin and Anotsu’s relationship come full circle. Makatsu’s story also reaches its upshot, as his relationship with Oren also reaches its fate.
Much as I thought that this anime series had a lot of flaws (it assumes that anyone watching would have to be a fan of the manga), it also had several things that it managed to do right. The themes of revenge, morality and determination were all well presented, as well as its themes of choices and immortality became a way to further the characters’ journey. It was wise for the writing to use its characters to drive its themes and to develop the protagonists in the way they came across situations and interactions. There is a missed opportunity on the part of the rival clan. I thought while the introductions of characters such as Shira, Hyakurin and Shinriji were welcome, they were a little too underwritten into the script. I also felt that it ended a little too abruptly just when things just started to get real interesting. There is a feeling of ‘incompleteness’ with this 13-episode series, even when the paths taken by the characters were hinted at in the final scene. I realize that this is the first season, and sadly, I have heard no news of season 2. Nonetheless, “Blade of the Immortal” is a solid anime series, hopefully Bee Train will forward with more episodes as this first series only dramatizes a small area of its story. Light Recommendation, a Rental First is more advisable [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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