The samurai genre is one of the most complex genres of anime and manga has to offer. Whether in the comedic Gintama, redemptive Rurouni Kenshin, or violent Afro Samurai, the samurai genre offers a variety of entertainment. One samurai series full of action (and considered an underground classic by fans) is Hiroaki Samura’s Blade Of The Immortal manga. The series, which inspired hits like Naruto is a thrill ride that asks:
Is there an end to revenge?
Sadly, this series is not well known to most Animanga fans. But, luckily, the samurai classic is back in the news with the announcement of an anime reboot and manga sequel in the works. Therefore, before the series’ reboot and sequel release, here is why fans should pick up Blade Of The Immortal – today!
The Background Of Blade Of The Immortal
Hiroaki Samura created Blade Of The Immortal in 1993 where the series was published in the magazine Afternoon until 2012. The manga’s popularity led to the creation of a 13-episode anime adaptation in 2008 under the same title. Studio Production I.G. created the adaptation. The manga also released a novel entitled Blade Of The Immortal: Legend of the Sword Demon in 2008.
Then, years later, in 2017, a live-action film adaptation of Blade Of The Immortal was released (available on Hulu). Perhaps due to the live-action film’s raving success, in 2019, Japan released an announcement for a new Blade Of The Immortal anime which will cover the series’ entirety as well as a sequel to the manga.
The Plot Of Blade Of The Immortal
Blade Of The Immortal takes place during the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan and follows Manji, a samurai who killed 100 men. Because of his misdeeds, Manji gets cursed with immortality by an old woman named Yaobikuni. The curse maintains his immortality through the work of creatures known as Kessen-chu or “sacred bloodworms” which heal any injury regardless of its severity. In order to break his curse, Manji must kill 1,000 evil men. However, he must be careful when selecting said men or else extend his time as an immortal.
While on his journey, Manji meets Rin Asano. She is a sixteen-year-old girl who seeks revenge against the dojo members, the Itto-ryu, who killed her parents. Rin manages to convince Manji to help her, seeing it as an opportunity for him to kill many evil people. As their journey together progresses, Manji and Rin encounter obstacles, both physical and psychological, which cause them to question their mission. Will their journey to redemption and vengeance end in victory? Or will they only finish with more pain than they started with?
The Art Of Blade Of The Immortal
Blade Of The Immortal is a dark series, not just in subject matter but also in art design. The art featured represents the cruelty and beauty of the era. In regards to the setting, the series takes place in multiple areas since Manji and Rin travel throughout Japan. Samura illustrates everything from the bustling of village streets to vast landscapes and eerie forests.
The line work in Samura’s manga is unique and sharp which helps emphasize katana swings and character movements. When shading, instead of using screentones, his shadowing appears comprised mostly of his own crisscrossing pen work. While there are times when the line work gets excessive (to the point where the final draft looks as if Samura forgot to erase pencil markings), in general, it benefits his story’s gritty appearance.
When it comes to character design, readers are unable to determine a character’s strength solely based on their appearance. There are a few exceptions to this statement, however, as Manji’s design is that of a heavily-scarred man who has clearly seen battle. Rin’s design, on the other hand, demonstrates she has never seen battle before despite her urgency for revenge. Nevertheless, the warriors in Samura’s series come in all shapes and sizes.
As he portrays throughout the manga, even the lankiest character can potentially be the most dangerous adversary. When his characters fight, Samura makes sure the battles are as realistically gruesome as possible. He wants readers to understand that his manga is about life and death as well as passing on ideals. In order for one’s beliefs to continue, they must live to tell the tale. Therefore, he spares no one the sight of blood splattering, bones crushing, or limbs severing.
The Action In Blade Of The Immortal
Perhaps the best parts of any samurai series are the action scenes, and Blade Of The Immortal certainly delivers in this department. Since the series focuses on battles to the death, each character gives it their all to surmount their opponent. Considering that Manji and Rin’s main antagonists, the Itto-ryu, believe in defeating their opponents through any means necessary, the fight scenes in Blade Of The Immortal vary in type. Whether their opponents use swords, poison, explosives, etc., no fight in this manga ever comes out clean and fair. The main character, Manji, himself carries 12 different weapons which he uses during his battles.
Also, while his immortality makes him difficult to defeat, it by no means makes Manji invincible. As a matter of fact, he struggles in some of his fights to make it out on top, knowing that if he loses Rin’s life is forfeit as well. If anything, because Manji is immortal, his fight scenes are the most brutal. He can lose a limb and feel the pain but still have to carry on so he can protect Rin and end his curse. Essentially, Blade Of The Immortal embodies the adrenaline and exertion that occurs during battles to the death. The characters all have reasons to fight, and they must clash with one another to see whose will to live wins out in the end.
What Started The Conflict?
The main focus throughout Blade Of The Immortal is the fight between the main protagonists and the Itto-ryu. This fight not only takes form in the physical sense but also in the ideological. The two groups display significant differences in what they believe makes a samurai.
In the past, Rin’s family owned a dojo that taught the traditional form of swordsmanship. The main antagonist and leader of the Itto-ryu, Anotsu Kagehisa, had a grandfather who was a student of the Asano Dojo. However, the instructor banished and disgraced him. This banishment caused Kagehisa’s grandfather to harbor hatred for the Asano family which he instilled into his grandson.
Growing up under his grandfather, Kagehisa created the Itto-ryu in order for other outcasts to form a dojo. In this new dojo, the traditional teachings of swordsmanship become obsolete. Instead, the Itto-ryu has no specific fighting style; the dojo teaches that any technique that wins, no matter what, is acceptable. After its creation, the Itto-ryu started taking over other dojos, including the Asano dojo where Kagehisa murdered Rin’s parents.
The Clash Of Ideals And Complex Antagonists
The Itto-ryu’s belief system makes them difficult opponents in battle (since each warrior has a different style). While they are undeniably cruel, what makes them interesting opponents is how relatable the group’s messages are to the everyman. The group does not deny someone for their past or social status; it believes anyone, regardless of technique, can be samurai.
Obviously, this creates a conflict of ideals with Manji and Rin who see the Itto-ryu as nothing but a group of power-hungry thugs looking for a fight. However, because of the group’s growing influence, even the main protagonists often find themselves wondering if the Itto-ryu have it right.
The Itto-ryu provides readers with some of the most complex antagonist’s manga has to offer. While the group does have members who simply wish to kill, it also harbors ex-criminals who want a second chance. The dojo acts as a sanctuary for these people and despite their brutality, they show loyalty to their leader, Kagehisa. The group has a set of rules to follow which show they are more organized than originally suspected.
Why You Should Read Blade Of The Immortal
Blade Of The Immortal is a staple samurai series which helped inspire many of the most popular manga in today’s media. The plot is simply tragic as the main character must live his life knowing that unless he kills 1,000 evil men he will continue to live forever. Also, the added burden of having to be careful when weighing the evils of said men or else risk extending his life creates more tension. There is an underlying tone of urgency in needing to stop the Itto-ryu from accomplishing their goals. This battle of wills mixed with Manji’s dilemma raises the series to new heights.
Samura provides two groups of characters whose circumstances make it difficult for readers to pick a definitive side to root for. While the antagonists can be heinous, they are heinous with a purpose which makes them difficult to hate. The battle scenes Samura draws display the level of skill Manji and Rin have to defeat in order to accomplish their goals. Blade of The Immortal‘s artwork represents both the brutality and beauty of the era as the fights are gruesome but vividly detailed.
The artwork mixed with different sets of ideals provides Blade Of The Immortal with thought-provoking material. It makes readers question whether or not change through violence is necessary when the status quo places certain people at the bottom of society. It is due to these clashing ideals and complex characters that Blade Of The Immortal packs just as much substance as it does punch.