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In the Tokugawa period, sardonic swordsman Manji wanders the countryside getting into fights. Thanks to a run-in with the mythological 800-year-old nun Yaobikuni, Manji is infected with symbiotic “bloodworms” that repair every injury, rendering him immortal. As penance for all the deaths he caused in his mortal life, Manji must kill 1,000 evil men to be freed of the bloodworm curse and allowed to die. He gets a chance to meet his quota when Rin, a teenage girl whose family was slaughtered, tracks him down and hires him to help her take revenge.
First published in English in the 1990s, Blade of the Immortal is one of the founding texts of American otakudom. To Western fans back in the day, it was a blast of fresh air: fearlessly violent and nihilistic, darkly imaginative, and rendered in spectacular brush-and-pencil art. Few artists draw samurai manga as well as Hiroaki Samura, whose pages are packed with photorealistic detail while remaining fluid, dynamic, and human.
Despite the supernatural premise, the story is mostly grounded in historical detail and realistic battle scenes, and Manji’s immortality becomes less a plot device than a symbol of his world weariness and connection to corrupt forces. Of course, even the nonmagical elements can get outlandish; Samura’s pulpy world is populated by such characters as a warlord who stuffs his ex-girlfriends’ heads, a ninja painter who knows where to get the perfect shade of red, and a geisha who inherited her samurai father’s genius for slaughter. Everyone is tough as nails, and Manji is the toughest of them all.
This new omnibus edition continues the unusual, labor-intensive localization method used by Dark Horse from the beginning, in which the panels on each page are cut up and rearranged to read left-to-right. Bonus materials include an interview with Samura and pinups by various artists. (Another worthy touch: dedicating the book to translator and manga popularizer Toren Smith, who passed away in 2013.) It’s a fine continuation of the Immortal tradition. Recommended.
publisher: Dark Horse
story and art: Hiroaki Samura