Blade of the Immortal Reread: Volume 1

I’ve been meaning to reread Blade of the Immortal for a while now. With knowledge of future developments, and of how the story is going to end, what will it be like to read the entire series from start to finish?

A few things first: This is not a recap, and I will drop heavy spoilers for future events, possibly including the very ending of Blade of the Immortal. So do not read this if you don’t want to be spoilt. I am using the official German release of the manga. Volume 1 covers the prologue and chapters 1-3.

Blade of the Immortal #1

It’s always interesting to go back to the very start of a long-running favourite series. It’s never entirely what you remember. I do recall that it took a while for the series to grow on me.

Blade of the Immortal is a manga that I find difficult to recommend for this reason. It takes a while for the series to develop the things I love about it. And the original premise makes it sound so simplistic: Oh, a guy is cursed with immortality and must pay for his sins before he can find peace in death. So to make up for the 100 men he killed, he needs to kill 1000 evil men. Well, even in the first volume, Manji talks about how “evil” is a subjective term, so you already have a hint that the series is going to become a lot more complicated than a clear good VS evil quest.

But it does start out relatively straight-forward and episodic. There is a new antagonist for each chapter, and it always culminates in a gritty fight, ending with the villain’s death (except Magatsu, who survives to become my favourite character).

Hiroaki Samura’s artwork is often praised and I adore it, but I need to say the following: I don’t really like those super-stylised “death murals” and am glad that they kind of disappear later in the manga. There are still going to be splashpages of important deaths, but in a more realistic style. I prefer this. I am not reading Blade of the Immortal for the over-the-top violence, but for the characters. :)

Also, early Samura has odd anatomy flaws! The characters’ shoulders are often much too narrow, which makes their heads appear comically large. A good example is Rin when she sees the sword in chapter 3. I think Samura also changed something about the way he draws faces … In the first volume, everybody looked … young. Although now I wonder if that’s also because of the oft-wrong head/shoulder proportions? Anyway, I am happy that Samura improved his artwork without radically changing his style.

Further thoughts:

  • Funny that the first panel of this manga shows – a western church. Symbolic, I wonder? Thematically relevant?
  • I like Sori. Every manga needs an eccentric artist.
  • When Manji stabs Magatsu from behind, it begins a long and wonderful tradition of Magatsu getting injured. He’s rather sinister in this volume, and looks to be set up as a kind of arch enemy for Manji. Things will develop differently. I wonder how much of this was planned and how much just sort of happened …
  • The German edition of Blade of the Immortal changed the symbol on Manji’s back to a simple X. Displaying swastikas (and other Nazi symbols) is not categorically banned in Germany (like some people claim), but it is restricted. However, they stopped changing the symbol in the last couple of manga volumes. I don’t know why, or whether anybody objected to this at the time. Maybe that’s something worth looking into.
  • Kuroi Sabato is as bizarrely creepy as it’s gonna get. No. No, not really. But he’s definitely one of the most creatively monstrous designs. Glad he’s dead.
  • With Sabato’s poetry, Sori’s pictures and the stylised death splashpages, Blade of the Immortal definitely has a pretentious edgy/artsy side. Come to think of it, there’ll be yet another evil artist later, Kawakami … (Note to self: The role of art in Blade of the Immortal might be an interesting topic to discuss. It’s probably going to be related to blood, death and violence. Just a hunch.)
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