Manji’s not the only immortal running around, nor are the non-immortals any less of a danger to him…
What They Say
For Manji, even the gift of death is not welcome when given at the wrong time by the wrong man. Shizuma Eikuu, a mysterious monk, challenges Manji. He shares Manji's curse of eternal life, and he fights with a special poison that can even kill the worms that hold Manji together. But even that is no match for the poison that lives in the human heart. The latest Ittou-Ryuu challenger is the most troubled of them all, and this makes her the strongest one on one fighter Manji has ever seen.
Blade of the Immortal makes out well with its release by being a series from Media Blasters that earns and English Language adaptation. The bilingual release is pretty good all around with a standard stereo mix encoded at 192kbps, though you imagine that with an uncompressed track it would shine even more. The sword fighting scenes make out the best with the way they clang against each other, but dialogue is pretty solid as well with a good mix of loud moments and quiet moments that build the atmosphere. It's not a huge standout piece, but it's a solid sound design overall. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese language track.
Originally airing in the second half of 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The five episodes on this volume look quite good, bolstered by some solid animation from Bee Train and Production I.G, to give it a very slick look. The animation quality is shown off quite nicely by the transfer here which captures the earthy tones just right without devolving into a lot of blockiness or noise. There are some soft moments to be had here and there, and some darker scenes may not be as strong as they could be, but by and large it's a very good looking release. Colors are strong, reds are appropriately vibrant and there's no cross coloration and hardly any noticeable line noise during panning sequences.
Blade of the Immortal gets a nice bump up to stand out as the single disc keepcase has a slipcover to go with it. The slipcover is really nice as it has a full illustration shot of Makie from these episodes with her staff and leg thrust out in a very appealing layout. The pencil rough style of it is really striking here with the use of the manga logo that has a bit of red through it to add some color. The use of the bloody red along the left side also draws your attention in more as well, as it adds a good dash of color while also containing the volume number. The back of the slipcover uses the same design, reversed, but brings in one of the men Rin is hunting down for the character artwork in illustration style. He makes out a bit worse as there are shots from the show overlaid on part of her and the summary takes up a bit of space as well. She's not quite as dynamic either, though they try and offset it with a bit more material in the background.
The keepcase inside is actually designed different than the slipcover which is unusual but welcome. The same logo is used, kept to the middle section, while the character artwork is more anime style which is appropriate. The cover here uses Makie in the foreground with her kimono flowing around her as she holds her weapon while behind her is the less than threatening image of Kagehisa. The back of the keepcases uses the same kind of layout as the back of the slipcover and even uses the same shots from the show but scattered around differently as there is no character artwork included here. The summary is spread out a bit better, broken apart as well, and there's a clear listing of the discs extras. The technical grid is here as well, something that is sadly absent from the slipcover for the casual consumer to check out, and well represents what is on the disc itself. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for Blade of the Immortal is pretty nice as it uses a number of good elements from the packaging, but mostly it's the use of the illustration work of Maki that works the best. The detail here looks really nice when placed against the reds and paper yellows that provide contrast for it. The menu navigation is straightforward, which means I dislike the episode navigation, but overall it's relatively easy to use and navigate. Media Blasters continues to be an odd company that provides four different language setup selections with each language having an option for subtitles or not. Everything loads quickly and it's very easy to navigate which continues to be the big plus overall.
There’s one extra here but it’s a very good one as it’s a thirty minute piece with the manga creator, Hiroaki Samura, and the editorial staff talking about the show. It’s labeled as part five which likely means we’re not going to see the other parts of this, which is unfortunate as it’s interesting to see how Samura views the show. Having the editors for the magazine there as well was a nice change of pace, but it does have a bit of a high school feeling to it as they try to stifle some laughter and some of the jokes are just awful.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Blade of the Immortal moves through its middle arc and it is, like many twelve episode series, fairly much a transitional piece that moves things around a bit and explores the relationships a bit more. With a fairly lengthy manga behind this that deals in a few arcs, I can appreciate that they’re working within specific areas to tell this story. But with only thirteen episodes you go into it with the feeling that we’re only getting a snapshot of the larger picture and we’re going to be left wanting more, if we actually like it.
And Blade of the Immortal is quite a good show, though because of its structure here these episodes come across a bit weaker than the first. The four episodes here are basically split into two stories but both deal heavily in the burden that Manji suffers through by being near immortal since there is a way to kill him. The opening story is one that is potentially quite fascinating as Manji and Rin come across a man named Shizuma who has been gifted the bloodworms by the Yaobikuni just like Manji has been. He’s been around for some two hundred years now, buried five wives and numerous friends but is now dealing with the Itto-ryu. Except he’s changed over time and he’s convinced that he needs Manji’s help in order to bring down Kagehisa since the man is exceptionally skilled, even if mortal. Shizuma lets loose with a few facts about the Itto-ryu which helps set things up, but the two men are destined for conflict.
There’s some very good material here that deals with the way both men have lived, albeit for a shorter period of time for Manji, and with the psychological burden that they have to carry. Shizuma seems to completely worn down by his life yet like Manji he won’t end it on his own. Since he can’t get Manji to work with him willingly, he looks to set up a scenario in which he’ll either agree through coercion or he’ll kill Manji outright in the potential hope that they may kill each other. Both men know how they can do and Shizuma has even found a poison that will work very effectively on the bloodworms. Yet it’s not something he can bring to use on himself and even only in a limited form on others.
The path of lives is a strong aspect of the second story arc as well as Manji and Rin head to where they’re told Kagehisa may be at so Rin can continue to extract her revenge on those who wronged her family. Kagehisa starts to play more of a role, though generally off to the side and unaware of what’s just walked into town, by his interactions with the slightly older and rather beautiful Makie. Makie is a fascinating character who has grown up under great duress because of what happened to her family, but through her meeting with Kagehisa she’s managed to avoid the life of a prostitute. But because of the extremes she saw others go through, she’s in a bit of a standstill as to where her life will go. She’s avoided the brothel but she works as a geisha. She has very strong swords skills, comparable to that of Kagehisa through inference, but she hasn’t taken that path either.
When Manji enters the picture, though it’s uncertain that they know who he is in relation to what’s gone on to other members of the Itto-ryu, it’s a catalyst that sets her on a path at long last. Manji’s still in a very difficult position in that he has this desire to die in his heart, to end everything that he’s seen and going through, but he can’t just willingly accept it and to go with it should it happen. His nature, such as he talks about with Shizuma, is one that only feels alive when he’s killing, when there’s blood in the air. He doesn’t want this, otherwise he wouldn’t be trying to atone for what he’s done in the past, but at the same time he does admit that it is his nature and he can fight against it for only so long. It parallels some of what Makie has been battling with as well, which lends their eventual fight something with real weight and merit to it.
Middle arcs in series like this tend to be the weakest and Blade of the Immortal does delve into that a fair bit. This feels even a bit weaker because of the lack of action to it as the fight sequences, which are good, are too brief. On the flip side, more thought and care is given to the characters and their suffering which makes them far more engaging. I like what we learn about Shizuma, Manji and Makie in these episodes but it lacks a lot of real impact at times, and it takes some time for it to all really sink in. That’s a good thing in that you’ll be thinking about it afterwards, but the show lacks some of the energy and enthusiasm that those first five episodes bore out. I love the look of the show, the designs, the characters and the overall concept, but something here just felt a little bit off in terms of the overall flow. This is a case of the parts being better than the whole, at least for these episodes.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Manga Discussion Group
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.