Apologies for the lack of updates. I got a strained muscle in my leg, which maybe doesn’t sound like it would affect my ability to write, but sitting was unpleasant, and the pain made it hard to focus on things.
So I have been spending a lot of time in the evenings lying in bed, reading Blade of the Immortal and 3×3 Eyes and feeling sorry for myself. Hilarious, of course: both of these manga are about immortal warriors who are frequently torn to shreds! and even the characters who aren’t immortal suffer a lot of injuries that are a lot worse than a silly muscle strain – and they don’t complain half as much as I do!
But of course it is normal for fictional characters to be a lot more resilient than real people. This applies to both physical and mental trauma. Even when manga, or TV shows or movies are “realistic” about these things, it is a conscious, calculated realism that doesn’t necessarily extent beyond the aspect it is focusing on. (My go-to example is Jessica Jones (Netflix) which rightfully got a lot of praise for taking Jessica’s struggle seriously, but which was also jarringly flippant towards the experiences of some of its side characters.)
This stuff is interesting to keep in mind when reading Blade of the Immortal Volume 10, which covers chapters 54 to 59. Spoilers from now on.
The volume picks up when Giichi returns home to a lot of blood, signs of a battle and Shinriji’s dead body. He eventually figures out that Shinriji wasn’t dead immediately, but had crawled further into the house, into the bath, instead of onto the street where people might have been able to find and save him. Basically, Shinriji chose to send Giichi a message regarding Hyakurin’s whereabouts, even though it meant his death! For almost the entire time that he was around, Shinriji had been a bit of ajoke, a wimp, a weakling. But in his final moments, he takes out several Itto Ryu members, and then he sacrifces his life in order to save Hyakurin. :( Poor Shinriji. He was brave, strong and heroic when it actually counted the most.
Meanwhile, Hyakurin is getting tortured, but refuses to reveal the identity of their boss or the true nature of Mugai Ryu. When it’s clear that she’s not going to talk, the men decide to rape her – they plan to murder her afterwards, but that doesn’t happen. They don’t live that long: Giichi shows up, and in an unsupervised moment, Hyakurin manages to free herself and kill the final guy.
You know, there is a lot of violent and gross stuff in Blade of the Immortal, but Hyakurin’s rape is probably the thing that will always stand out and leave the strongest impression. Compared to other instances of rape in this manga, both in earlier and in later volumes, it is very graphic, a lot of time is dedicated to it. Well, after watching Outlander, it doesn’t actually seem thaaaaat graphic anymore, but those are different forms of media, it’s difficult to compare them properly. I guess it also stands out because it is given a lot of weight and importance: Hyakurin will recover, but she’ll continue to struggle with the consequences, and it changes her. It is also the definite end to Mugai Ryu as we know it, so overall it is not something you can find your way around. You could skip the pages, but you can’t escape this story development.
It’s also uncomfortable to read because you kind of, sort of know that the author has some kinks in that direction. Hiroaki Samura has a thing for making his heroines suffer. It doesn’t bother me because overall, I feel that he respects them and is interested in them as unique characers with their individual goals and personalities. But scenes like this are still uncomfortable.
There is also a flashback that finally reveals Hyakurin’s past: She was married to a samurai who was so disappointed with the physical weakness and girly looks of their eight-year-old son that he killed the child. Because his son wouldn’t ever be able to live up to his father’s old-fashioned ideals. This is yet another example of parents who fuck over their kids with the weight of their legacy and expectations, and the saddest part about all of this is that the kids themselves have internalized this view. Anyway, Hyakurin killed her husband in retaliation, was sentenced to death but at the last minute recruited into Mugai Ryu. A gang of criminals, all condemned to death, hunting other criminals for the government.
Surprisingly, the next storyline is much more fun, even though it features Shira! O_o That’s because the dynamic between Manji and Magatsu is very cute and entertaining. I have a thing for any and all “enemies must work together” scenarios, so the next few volumes of Blade of the Immortal are among my absolute favourite … and I enjoy the easy, squabbling camaradery between Manji and Magatsu. They do have a lot in common! Keep in mind that Blade of the Immortal started off with the premise that Manji had to kill “1000 evil men” in order to break his curse. But by now it’s clear that such true evil is pretty damn rare and many of Manji’s enemies aren’t evil, but complicated, multidimensional dynamics put them at odds.
True evil is rare, but Shira is the best example of a BotI character who really, really deserves that label. The reveal of Shira’s right arm … God, Shira is so crazy, and not in a good way, but I still can’t help but laugh at his explanation that scraping off your own flesh in order to turn your bones into a weapon? REALLY HURTS! Yeah, no shit.
Coming up: Magatsu VS. Shira. When I read Blade of the Immortal for the first time, it must have been by now (at the latest) that I really, really liked Magatsu and started being constantly worried that he might die!