In Blade of the Immortal volume 2, the supernatural samurai drama continues. Manji continues to assist the young orphan, Rin, in her quest for revenge against the clan who killed her parents. In doing so he hopes to somehow find redemption for his own sins, and maybe even lift the curse that he is afflicted with; the curse of immortality.
This middle release of the series comprises just four episodes of the show, but luckily there isn’t a bad one amongst them. The included episodes divide neatly into two stories that span two shows each, and this works really well. Allowing the stories to unfold in their own time rather than having to squeeze everything into twenty minutes prevents them feeling hurried or truncated.
The first of these stories features our heroes’ encounter with another immortal; the first suggestion that Manji is not the only one. It turns out that Manji was not the first samurai to be given blood worms by the crazy midget Buddhist nun. More importantly, the other immortal has apparently found a way to take down a immortal for good, so in the ensuing battle the stakes are high.
The second of the stories revolves around a geisha-turned-assassin and her relationship with a member of the Itto Ryu dojo – the very people Rin seeks. As with earlier episodes considerable screen time is given to the back stories of these enemies; they are not presented as merely evil and without motivation. The geisha’s tale is particularly tragic so she is presented very sympathetically. Samurai dramas are usually very male-centred affairs so it is another good point of the series that it is has a number of strong female characters.
The portrayals of the characters are one of the strengths of the series. The villains are more than two-dimensional monsters, they are real characters with believable motivations. Add to this a hero who is no saint himself and Rin, who is motivated by revenge, and the end result is a dark and mature show. On the face of things it may seem like just another samurai drama, but this is actually a work of surprising complexity.
The animation (by Bee Train) is of a consistently high standard. It may not be able to recreate perfectly the famously intricate artwork of the source manga, but with its realistic palette and muted colours it suits the rather gloomy atmosphere of the material perfectly.
The soundtrack is rather anachronistic, with rock music kicking in on some of the action scenes, but it works pretty well. The music is not really one of the strengths of the series but it’s not bad and I did not find it distracting in any way.
There may be very strong characterisation and complex plotting but that does not mean that this volume is lacking in action. There are a number of excellently executed and highly thrilling action sequences. The show can be enjoyed purely as an action show, though if you’re looking for it, there is much more to it than that.
In a market flooded with samurai series there is a real danger of this being lost in the crowd, and that would be a great shame. This second volume takes what was good about the first one and builds on it, to present a highly atmospheric and absorbing world. If you are familiar with the source material, love samurai anime, or if you are just looking for a more mature and serious show then I urge you to check it out.