Season 1, Episode 1: Act One – Meeting
Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no Junin) is an animated adaptation from the Hiroaki Samura manga of the same name. Set in the 18th century Japan, Blade of the Immortal, tells the story of Asano Rin and her bodyguard Manji. Cursed with immortality due to being infested with “kessen-chu (blood-worms), these worms are able to knit together any potential life threatening injuries. However, Manji isn’t truly immortal. He can die by beheading or by a rare poison. The publisher of Blade of the Immortal, Kodansha, stated that this series will adapt the entire manga series. This series was on the top of my lists for anime this season. I wasn’t disappointed. The first thing I noticed was the artistic style that this series possess. Blade of the Immortal combines the use of color manipulation, with dramatic sound to magnificent effect. The opening scene is in black, white and red. As Manji slaughters his enemies, the red of their blood is striking. This all happens as the sound of a water wheel turning echos in a rhythmic manner.
Were introduced to Rin as she meets Yaobikuni. She subtly tells Rin that she is 800 years old. Rin instantly thinks she’s joking. Rin tells her of the dream she has to get revenge on the 30 members of the Itto-ryu that raped her mother and killed her father. The Itto-ryu are a group of master swordsmen, that massacre any dojo that gets in their way. Yaobikuni informs Rin that in the two years since her traumatic encounter with the Itto-ryu, they have expanded their ranks. Despite training for two years, Rin isn’t good enough to take them on single handily. Yaobikuni suggests she hire a bodyguard, Manji. Blade of the Immortal uses Rin’s search for Manji to explain him and the first scene. He’s wanted by the shogunate, killed his sisters husband, got her killed and is now on a mission of atonement that’s imposed upon him.
When Rin meets with Manji, he questions her morality and dedication to vengeance. He articulates a belief that humans merely choose whether they are “righteous or evil” based on their own “interest.” He doesn’t wish to become an accomplice to a criminal. Samurai, according to Manji, don’t kill “meaninglessly.” Manji doesn’t immediately believe that Rin’s family was “innocent.” His decision to become her bodyguard was obviously never in doubt, but this moment is intriguing. How did Manji develop his view of morality? Will it change? He seems to be leery of the “chain of revenge.” So why did he say yes? In the future, I have no doubt that this series will answer at least some of these questions. The climax of the episode sees Rin meeting with one of the members of Itto-ryu, Sabato Kuroi. Having been sending her love letters for two years after killing her father and raping her mother, Kuroi hopes to kill her too.
Rin has prepared herself to kill him but is clearly outmatched and unwilling. Manji intervenes, challenging Kuroi. However, Kuroi ignores Manji who attacks, only to get his leg cut off. Rin does land an attack, revealing the monstrous reality that facing the Itto-ryu will bring. Kuroi has grafted the stuffed heads of his former wife and Rin’s mother to his shoulders. I imagine that this moment is meant to shock the audience, while it’s surprising, I wasn’t horrified (It might say something terrible about me). I was also surprised by how quickly we got the conclusion on what happened to Rin’s mother. Rin’s quest for vengeance only becomes greater with this moment but I thought they would have extended this narrative for longer.
The biggest issue I have is the actual action scenes. I think the fighting will be secondary to the characters and story, but these scene are lacking to me. For example, Manji kills Kuroi with several weapons, it’s barely noticeable. Finally, we never get to see how “skilled” Kuroi is. If all the members of Itto-ryu are defeated this easily I’ll be disappointed. Blade of the Immortal is well crafted, using sound, colors and minimal dialogue. The violence is graphic, but the action is too simple. Both characters, Rin and Manji feel like they might be more than tropes. While I found the first encounter with a member of Itto-ryu to be disappointing, Sabato Kuroi did make me wonder what insane behavior the other members get into.