This week I’m taking a look at another first volume – a supernatural themed samurai manga that was published by Dark Horse Comics back in the 90s.
Title: Blade of the Immortal, Volume 1 – Blood of a Thousand
Written & Illustrated by Hiroshi Samura
Translated by Dana Lewis & Toren Smith
Originally published by Kodansha (Japan) & Dark Hose Comics (US)
US Publication Date: 1996
Manji is a ronin who is “blessed” (cursed) with immortality, and haunted by his murder of 100 good min, at the order of his damiyo – 100 men who were guilty of nothing but attempting to blow the whistle on the damiyo’s embezzlement from the shogunate. When Manji has enough and kills the damiyo, he’s forced to go on the run from the law. Things get even worse when Manji is forced to kill his brother-in-law, who is a cop for the Shogunate. His sister sees him kill her husband and is driven mad. Then, when his sister is murdered by bounty hunters looking for him, Manji swears to atone for his crimes by killing 1,000 evil men, and in the process, lift his curse so he can finally die.
Enter Rin Asano, the air to the Mutenichi-Ryuu school of kendo. Her father and mother were murdered by the members of the Ittou-Ryuu school, which seeks to exterminate every school of kendo in Japan. Rin swears vengence, and persuades Manji to help her in her search for revenge.
Kuroi, the main opponent from the Ittou-Ryuu for this volume, is a very interesting antagonist. Like some of the villains in Berserk, he’s a complete monster. However, unlike the villains from Berserk, he’s in a society where he must keep his true nature under wraps, which gives the character an air of false nobility. In turn, this gives him a depth that some of the villains in Berserk lack.
Master Souri (and Samura-san) know that blood changes color when it dries, right?
There’s no nudity in this volume, but a lot of very graphic, gory violence and profanity.
Originality: Since this, semi-anachronistic takes on samurai fiction have become more common. However, when Blade of the Immortal came out, such serious anachronistic takes were a little more rare. 4/6.
Artwork: Samura’s artwork is fantastic, with plenty of gorgeous 2 page spreads, particularly with some of Manji’s kills, where they’re framed not like traditional comic panels, but as a painting. 5/6.
Story: This volume doesn’t set up mysteries like with the other 2 series I’ve been reading lately. Instead it sets up the antagonists, but it doesn’t give them much development, save for the ultimate goals of the Ittou-Ryuu school. 3/6.
Characterization: Each of the characters are distinct and interesting, even the ones we want to see killed brutally. 5/6.
Emotional Response: Manji & Rin start to develop chemistry fairly early. The villains are hate-able, but with elements that give them a little something more. Also, there’s humor here – actual, funny (even if it’s darkly so) humor. This is something that manga like Berserk lacked. 5/6.
Overall: This is a manga that succeeds at being dark without being opressive. 5/6.
In total, Blade of the Immortal Vol. 1 gets 33/42.