“Blade of the Immortal” is no less than an epic narrative in words and pictures told brilliantly and consistently engaging to an extent that few story lines achieve. It has been for me one of the most complete, compelling and satisfying literary experiences I have known to date. It is on par with the greatest works of any genre or artistic form.
The series of graphic novels center around the cursed warrior; Manji an immortal that has killed hundreds of honorable warriors. His efforts are to rid himself of the gift/horror of an eternal life of fruitless blood and battle. In order to admonish himself it requires that he kill an equal number of disreputable warriors. His travels bring him together with a young girl; Rin. She wants to avenge her parent’s brutal and senseless deaths that she; by the way, was forced to witness. The murderers that Rin is seeking out; members of the group, Ittō-ryū are determined to erase the existing order by destroying every school of and ethical form of sword play in Japan. The Ittō-ryū suite Manji’s needs to the letter as he becomes Rin’s companion and protector.
Within the pages of this manga journey the reader finds passages of introspection, self-reflection and quiet interludes. While on the other end of human existence; along with and including anger, dismemberment, murder and shockingly, rape are elements of this novel of Feudal Japan.
The hand drawn illustrations by artist/writer Hiroaki Samura are exquisite; achieve a rare beauty and graceful elegance. The movements of his battles are cinematic. The details of every element of the visual world he creates truly resonate and are in turn amazing. The writing of Samura is often refreshingly poetic, compelling and suspenseful. When appropriate and as needed Samura’s dialogue becomes as gritty as you might imagine in a story covering the vastness of personality types and situations depicted in this uniquely in-depth human drama.
One of the best examples of the subtly of Hiroaki Samura’s hand is the bath sequence in Volume Nine “The Gathering II.” It is among his most eloquent passages. The level of sequential story-telling is remarkable, the lines most intriguing. This level of achievement is rarely seen in any form; a joy to behold. As this particular book unfolds the reader becomes completely captivated. Samura’s writing is at it’s most terse, compelling and complete. If I were forced to recommend a single volume of this series it would be this; “The Gathering Part II.”
One aspect of “Blade of the Immortal” that might be off putting or disturbing is the Swastika that the swordsman Manji wears on the back of his kimono. It is explained by the author in “About the Translation” opening comments reprinted in each issue and abbreviated here as such:
The Swastika was a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. It appeared on Mesopotamian coins and in multiple uses in North and South America. In Japan it has been a symbol of Buddhism since ancient times. The Japanese Buddhists called it the Sauvastika or Manji. The main character in this narrative derives his name from the Buddhist. The Sauvastika also is a symbol of and believed to possess magical powers and probably appealed to the Nazis’ for these reasons. The origins of the Swastika as appreciated in 18th Century Japan (the time period these writings reflect) were honorable and had no connection to the Third Reich. The author intends no pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic meaning in his story-telling or use of this symbol. The perversion and hate attached to the ancient Swastika began long after the time period depicted in this historical fiction.
“Blade of the Immortal” was translated and originally published in the United States in standard monthly comic book format. Each issue represented one chapter. It has since been collected in paper-back additions by “Dark Horse” publishing with each new addition containing approximately six chapters. These collected volumes come together beautifully in this convenient form. Individually and as a whole these works are very satisfying and best read sequentially. There have been thirty of these books completing a thing epic in scope. In essence, becoming and representing the entirety and conclusion of a truly great; brilliantly crafted and lauded artistic series.