Blade of the Immortal Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, October 12, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cursed with the “gift” of eternal life, Manji seeks to redeem himself by killing a thousand evil men.

What They Say
Blade of the Immortal follows the deeds of Manji, a skilled samurai who has a decisive advantage: no wound can kill him.

The Review!
Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
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 Manji in the midst of battle. 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 Rin for the character artwork in illustration style. She 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, moved to the upper section, while the character artwork is more anime style which is appropriate. The cover here uses Rin with the imagery of those she's seeking vengeance upon in the background, shadowed just right with hints of blood splattering behind them. 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 artwork of Rin 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.

Menu:
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 Manji 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.

Extras:
The only extras included in this release are a clean version of the opening and closing sequences and a brief look at the manga that's being released by Dark Horse for what feels like forever.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ongoing manga by Hiroaki Samura, Blade of the Immortal is a thirteen episode series that has quite a history to it. When the manga began and was adapted for release in the US, it generated some controversy because of the swastika on the back of the lead characters outfit, which means something very different from the reverse swastika used by the Nazi's. Of course, such differences are minor to some but Dark Horse didn't back down and provided a mini history with the manga. Thankfully, quite a few years later, this isn't quite the issue it might have once been and the show is presented well here.

Taking place in the 1780's in Japan, Blade of the Immortal, for this arc at least, is all about revenge. We're introduced to a man named Manji who has found himself in quite the unusual situation. For reasons as yet explained, his body has been infested with bloodworms that imbue him with immortality as they repair any wound he receives. Manji has not led a good clean life and is essentially quite the notorious killer, having become known as the Hundred Man Killer. With this new twist to his life, which is related to an old woman who has filled him in on it as she's some eight hundred plus years old, he's decided to change course and has vowed to eliminate a thousand evil men to try and balance the scales for what's happened in his life.

Of course, it's never that easy. The story opens detailing a relationship with a disconnected young woman that's killed before his eyes. With his vow for revenge now in his heart, though with the mindset that he'll use it to redeem himself, he sets off to do what needs to be done. This path his him meeting a young woman sixteen years of age named Rin. The daughter of a swordsman whose school was attacked and everyone killed, she's intent on revenge herself for what happened as she saw her mother taken and abused before her before being killed. In order to go after the men of the Itto-ryu that caused this in their quest to destroy all the samurai schools, she's decided she needs a bodyguard in order to accomplish it.

Enter Manji. In relaying her story, he decides that he'll travel with her and help her on this because of the evil that was caused which fits into his quest nicely. This sets the stage for the pair to start encountering those that caused the initial tragedy that Rin was involved in. The stories are largely self contained in this sense, but it's all part of the larger narrative as Rin remembers and talks about parts of the past as the members of the Itto-ryu come into her path. These help to flesh out the story itself, or at least this segment of it, but the primary focus is on the actual acts themselves.

The people of the Itto-ryu are fairly skilled but a bit diverse in their style and appearance. One of them is pretty twisted in that he's sewn on the head of his wife to one of his shoulders and Rin's mother on the other. But so far this is the strangest as the others that have shown up are a bit more traditional in their samurai-rogue style. Combining this with Manji's very rough and tough style, Blade of the Immortal has a good period piece feeling to it overall that really works well. It's violent and makes no bones about it. It doesn't go horribly over the top, but heads are flying, bodies are cut deep and the blood flows regularly enough. But it's done in a very controlled and intense manner. With the choreography used for the fight scenes, everything has a really strong sense of grace and elegance but with that edge of rough brutality as well. This really feels like a very good interpretation of the manga to anime form.

In Summary:
Blade of the Immortal gives me just about everything I want from a show of this nature. It has some solid characters, really good animation and it doesn’t shy away from being violent. It may not be ultra violent, but that works in its favor since it’s playing a different kind of game here. The story arc for this is rather standard, but it’s the trappings and atmosphere that helps it to rise above that to become something more. Having read a good chunk of the manga for years and years, I’m excited to finally see some of it animated and come to life. There’s a good seriousness about this that is very welcome and fits the show just right and Media Blasters has done a good job in making a release that should appeal to a lot of people, even in single disc form. The next volume can’t come soon enough.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment

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.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 24.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Blade of the Immortal