Blade of the Immortal, known in Japan as Mugen no Jyuunin, is a fantasy-samurai manga written by Hiroaki Samura. Blade of the Immortal was originally published by Kodansha in Japan, and is published by Dark Horse and translated by Studio Proteus in America. It has won the Japan's Media Arts Award in 1998 and also won the Will Eisner Comics Industry Award.
Blade of the Immortal is an ongoing modern samurai epic, taking place in the 18th century, that unlike some of its predecessors, such as Lone Wolf and Cub, it takes a lot of creative liability in the history of Japan. Some of the interesting things that Samura does to remind people of old Japan is the dialogue. In old Japan, there were different levels of Japanese: a high caste Japanese, a low caste Japanese, etc. In order to remind readers of this, he mimics current speak. When a low-class person talks they would probably sound like some Tokyo punk and when a high-class person talks they would be more articulate or careful in the choice of their words. Amazingly enough, Studio Proteus did a good job in retaining this in the translation.
Manji was a samurai. He was one up until the point that he found out that all the people he had killed were for nothing, and his lord was no more than a greedy bastard. So, in retaliation, he killed his lord and in the process around one hundred other men, whose crimes were no more than protecting their lord. After escaping from the police, quite wounded, Manji sought out his sister to hide him. Unfortunatly the police got him first, and even worse he killed the man before even realizing why the policeman's voice sounded familiar. He was his sister's husband. In the same fight Manji lost his right eye.
His sister had regressed to a childlike state after seeing her brother kill her husband. Manji took her with him, and ran. At a rest, they met with a nun by the name of Yaobikuni, nun of nine-hundred years, who took care of Manji's wounds. But she'd done more than that, for she had granted him immortality. A rare type of medicine, called Kessen-chu(Bloodworms), that the Lama monks of Tibet created for those who had yet to finish their mission in life. The nun told him the only way to set himself free was to get rid of the sword. However, that night his sister was kidnapped by a bunch of no-good kenshi, swordsmen, who wanted a go with the 100 man killer, and he took a try at giving up the sword. He failed, and his sister was killed. In return he killed every last one of the ruffians. He returned to town, carrying one of his legs in his kimono, and found the nun. He promised her that instead of getting rid of the sword that in repentence he would kill one thousand evil men.
He quickly found this quest to be very idealistic, as people were referred to him by the nun. How could he judge who was evil and not? It was seeming more and more like an impossible quest.
Asano Rin was the daughter of the head of a samurai school, the Mutenichi-Ryu school. On her fourteenth birthday, the dojo was destroyed. A new group of kenshi that called themselves the Itto-Ryu invaded the dojo. Her mother, her father, and herself were the last people who were in the school. The leader of the group was Anotsu Kagehisa whose grandfather had competed with Rin's great-grandfather for leadership of the Mutenichi-Ryu school. The Anotsu were dishonored by being dismissed from the school because Anotsu's grandfather used a two sword technique, as well as using a foreign sword in one hand, in order to protect his master. However the truth was that the master wished to continue the school in his family line. Anotsu has returned for revenge, but he also has a much greater plan in mind. He plans on destroying every single dojo in Japan and taking only the best sword techniques from every school. For in these years of peace, the schools have become a laughing stock of couriers and are no longer warriors. Anotsu plans on fixing that.
But all that matters to Rin is that he and his men killed her father and took her mother with them. Leaving her there with the pain. Two years later she is finished with staying at the school. She has trained some for those years, and plans on going out and hunting down the Itto-Ryu. On her way through the city she meets Yakobuniki who listens to her story. The nun directs her towards Manji's current residence.
Manji and Rin slowly get to an understanding. Manji explains his problems with finding evil people to her, but agrees to go with her to the dojo and maybe 'whack one or two' of the Itto-Ryu. This is the beginning of the story.
Now if one had followed this rather simple idea, it would've gotten rather boring. It would've been a simple find one Itto-Ryu, kill him, and find the next. But there are points in which the plot is slightly altered. The true first pivotal point is in Dreamsong(Even though it does quite a good job in humanizing Magatsu Taito in Cry of the Worm, because he isn't a major point in that volume), in which we meet the female kenshi, Makie Otono-Tachibana, who can be an amazing killer but is also a shy woman. This character is one of the best beginnings of humanizing the Itto-Ryu. It also begins Rin's doubt of her own mission. Then in On Silent Wings, she finds the Itto-Ryu kenshi that raped her mother. But problems occur when she finds out that he has a son, and has seeminly reformed his ways. Then in Dark Shadows, we are introduced to a third-party, the Akagi, a group of assassins who are trying to eliminate the Itto-Ryu. The plots get thicker and thicker as one goes on.
An aspect of Blade of the Immortal that might intrigue some are the weapons. Siince the Itto-Ryu are a sort of anything goes school, they have some rather strange weapons. Manji is a walking aresenal of strange blades, and has the interesting compulsion to pick out weapons from the kenshi that he kills.
There is one main thing to know about Manji's character. He wears a kimono with a white and black crux gammata, also known as a swastika. He also has gotten rid of his name and replaced it with the Japanese word for the swastika, Manji. One should be reminded that the swastika had no negative meaning in this era, and that the swastika has many ancient and honorable memories.
There are a few interesting things that Studio Proteus decided to do with Blade of the Immortal in order to keep its integrity. One things is that they did not mirror the images as is usually done with manga, but instead used a cut-and-paste method of reordering the frames. This is much more time consuming and expensive, but was requested by Samura. Another is that most of the Japanese sound effects are left alone, in order to not disturb the artwork. In the frames that the sound effects were changed, Samura redrew them. Also, they kept certain Japanese words such as kenshi in order to retain the flavour of the manga.
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