Rather than having Manji go looking for the Itto-ryu, this volume of Blade of the Immortal has the Itto-ryu coming after him - and in at least one case, they've got a solution for dealing with his immortality, which makes for a rather interesting battle. And all the while, behind the scenes, it seems Manji and Rin aren't the only people after the Itto-ryu...
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.
6 - Cry of the Worm
7 - Three Ways
8 - Nail Bomb
9 - Dream Bomb
Audio comes in 2.0 stereo for both the Japanese and English language tracks. I listened to the English track for this review. It's a decent enough track, with good direction used for dialogue and action scenes, but nothing particularly outstanding.
Video comes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it's pretty damn good looking - there's plenty of detail in the backgrounds, even in darker scenes, with the animation itself of a uniformly high quality. There were no obvious problems.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Menus are fairly typical for an MVM release - a static main screen, with blck & white sketches of the main characters off to the right of the screen and options along the bottom for Play, Episodes, Setup and Extras. Submenus are similarly basic, and with no transitions between screens it's all quick and easy to use.
The sole extra this time around is a 30-minute video of a manga discussion group with Hiroaki Samura and the show's editorial staff, discussing the manga that the series is based upon.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Starting with the side threats first - Hyaku and her colleagues were seen a few times in volume one, usually hiding in bushes and keeping a close on Manji and Rin. That they have their own grudge with Anotsu and his group is without doubt - what that grudge is about, and how they fit in with Rin's crusade, so far remain unseen. What's unusual about them is the way that they're played for laughs, up to a point - they're almost the comic relief of the series on their occasional appearances, despite them being involved in the rather deadly business of killing people, and I can't help but like them. Shame there isn't more of them.
The main action of the volume, though, is the two battles that Manji finds himself in, the first against the man who genuinely could kill him, the second against a woman who's struggling with issues in her own past and who finds Manji to almost be the source of her own redemption. The two confrontations are presented very differently: Manji versus Eiku is fast, brutal and gory, with a lot of emphasis placed on the effects of Eiku's poison and what that means for the bloodworms that infest his body & his ability to regenerate. This is shown it very fine detail in places, reinforcing the notion that Manji is no longer what you could call human, and that - should he actually die - it's going to be a slow, painful and messy business, because of the way the bloodworms work. It's a lesson that Manji, Rin and the audience need to learn, because he is mortal under the right circumstances and is going to need to take that into account. The high gore level, though, does make it one of the harder passages of the series to watch - while you'd never call Blade of the Immortal light-hearted, neither has it been particularly dark, until now.
That dark them continues when Manji is sought out by Makie, a woman with a close connection to Itto-Ryu leader Anotsu and with a past that is anything but pleasant - a fact that's reflected in her demeanour. She's very softly spoken, with very little emotion seen or heard in her - she always seems to be simply going through the motions of life, wanting to end it for herself but perhaps not yet gutsy enough to do it. Even during her first battle with Manji, there's a feeling that she's going through the motions and that her heart just isn't in it, something that Manji himself picks up on. What this means is that she's not a character you really want to watch - her depression is catching, and the scenes dotted around the two episodes she features in that explain why she's in the frame of mind that she is really don't help, either.
Somewhere along the line, though, something sparks her into caring again, and finding something to live for other than Anotsu's approval. It's a journey to redemption, of sorts, and it should be uplifting to watch, but Makie's personality for three-quarters of the time she's on screen is so, dark, moody and negative that it's hard to get into her story. The ending of it is worth seeing, but you have to wade through so much of the negative side that it's difficult, and a little emotionally draining, to get there.
It has to be said, though, that getting the audience quite so emotionally involved in its story is one of Blade of the Immortal's plus points. While it's probably the fighting that most people are watching the series for, that's almost supporting material, in this volume at least, for other material surrounding the lives and deaths of the characters. Add in some background material on Anotsu's past that begins to explain what's driving him now (it's not a simple case of him just being evil), and hints at Rin's growing feelings for Manji, and there's a lot here to take in even outside the battles, which remain visually impressive and well worth watching in their own right.
Overall, then, you get something of a strange volume: it's difficult to watch in places, but is well worth the effort for what you get out of it at the end. I've said before how sceptical I can be of shows set in this sort of time period, as often the fighting takes precedence over all else, but Blade of the Immortal seems to have struck an almost ideal balance between action and characters that makes it riveting viewing. Go get.
English Language 2.0, Japanese Language 2.0, Manga Discussion Group with Hiroaki Samura and Editorial Staff
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.