The End of Blade of the Immortal: a merciless fate, stained in blood

The End of Blade of the Immortal: a merciless fate, stained in blood

At times, extreme and horrifying, at others, awe-inspiring and beautiful, but does 2019’s Blade of the Immortal anime capture the strange magic of Hiroaki Samura’s chanbara epic?

Strange beginnings

I think it’s fair to say that Blade of the Immortal has an extreme beginning: I’m thinking of Sabato Kuroi, with the severed heads of Rin’s mother and his ex-wife sewn to his shoulders like a villain in a horror film, to name but one totally reprehensible guy in first handful of episodes. Someone like Kuroi doesn’t fit in with how we come to view the Ittō-ryū later on or what their leader Kagehisa Anotsu stands for, because being a good fighter doesn’t also give you license to be a sadistic monster, but at this early point, it’s like creator Hiroaki Samura wasn’t sure of what he was going for. I’m not convinced that the Anotsu at the end of Blade of the Immortal would’ve allowed what happens to Rin’s mother at the beginning, but it remains the underlying justification for Rin’s revenge until the end anyway. Which is all to say, it gets better, I promise!

The horrifying human experimentation/prison arc

Things get pretty crazy when the immortal Manji is abducted by the Shogunate and subjected to a prolonged onslaught of dismemberments in an underground, hidden prison, a grim place that echoes Japan’s real WWII-era Unit 731, an infamous project that inflicted violent experiments on prisoners of war. In a story that’s filled with heartless acts of violence, I found this run of episodes to be the hardest to watch, but also the most powerful. The prisoners, faces masked, are brought in, dismembered and then exposed to Manji’s healing blood worms. They keep dying, so more prisoners are brought in, their lives flitted away, as the Chief Doctor slowly loses his mind trying to find the secret to Manji’s immortality.

Japan’s beautiful countryside

Like Dororo and Rurouni Kenshin, Blade of the Immortal is another chanbara story that depicts a violent and merciless Japan that’s also vibrant and lovely. Manji and Rin travel through Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, and as the story finally begins to climax, the snow begins to fall, dusting everything, from forest to harbor, in white. It looks so cold, and so beautiful.

Japan, you realise, is a fascinating character all of its own in Blade of the Immortal.

The strong side characters: Makie & Hyakurin

Blade of the Immortal was always Rin and Manji’s story, but along the way, it intertwines with the others. I have to mention the tragic Makie, a fighter without peer, whose style is elegant and balletic. She’s a pure, almost supernatural talent, with a fateful presence and melancholy expression, as if living her life knowing where it all ends yet cannot do a thing to change it.

In comparison, Hyakurin, with her loud bleached hair, has some of the worst treatment of any woman in this story, is sexually assaulted and degraded (indeed, by the end, she’s carrying a child conceived through rape) and yet she remains strong and never gives up. For her to survive in this heartless world, despite being a frail, flesh and blood person, shows how admirable she is.

90 years later: Blade of the Immortal’s ending

After Rin finally finishes off Anotsu, her and Manji part ways. I thought that this would be it, but the epilogue begins some 90 years later, in 1873, with Manji still alive and looking like he’s hardly aged a day, as Japan rapidly modernises in the wake of the Meiji Restoration.

He’s so old now that he can hardly remember Rin or the Ittō-ryū, but his memories are rekindled when he meets a little girl that turns out to be Rin’s great-great grandchild. She hands him a small knife, the very knife given to Rin by little Doa, with its wooden hilt carved with a pattern that is supposed to be Manji’s symbol wreathed in Rin’s flame. Passed down through the generations of her family, they were told that it should be given to the person that matches Manji’s image. All those years ago, Doa told Rin that she should carve the knife’s hilt herself, and give it to the person that she loves.

How successful was the 2019 anime?

It’s fair to say I was hyped for 2019’s Blade of the Immortal anime, but did it live up to my high expectations?

I have to say “Yes!” but let’s not go overboard with the praise either, because this was not a smooth anime series by any means. It was a competent adaptation from a director in Hiroshi Hamasaki whose body-horror sensibilities and penchant for Dezaki esque postcard memories are a perfect match for heady seinen chanbara carnage like Blade of the Immortal, yet it suffers for trying to compress 205+ chapters of manga into 24 episodes of anime. There’s not nearly enough time to get it all on-screen, and as such, one is sometimes bewildered as intricate character motivations are lost in the rush to get to the end.

So, it isn’t the definitive Blade of the Immortal anime I was hoping for, but even still, it’s a great accompaniment to Hiroaki Samura’s beautifully drawn manga, has a lovely soundtrack, and is well worth watching for any adults fascinated by Japan’s era of samurai.

8 comments

  1. Nice review, saw the anime last month and the ending was lingering in my mind but this just made the ending vivid again. Thank you very much!

      1. I’m just trying an anime whose voice actor is Tsuda-san. At first I don’t really hope this anime is good, because I don’t really know the elements of Japanese history in it. I thought the meaning of the word ‘Immortal’ in the title of the show was just a metaphor, but no, it really means immortal. But after getting into the middle of the story, this show really impressed me. The story is very good

        There are some that I want to ask or I want to discuss because I’m not sure about it.
        First, why did Rin cry at the end of the story? Is she disappointed with herself for not being able to be with Manji?

        Second, after 90 years Manji forgot many things, maybe because 90 years was indeed very long, he had mentioned ‘remember that person’, did he mean Anotsu Kagehisa?

        Third, why did Manji’s pinky finger break off? maybe I’m not careful when watching the show, I don’t really remember why it happened
        then from there he said ‘remember that person’, was it because he remembered the engraving on the sheath that was given to him?

        Fourth, Shira really died right after being eaten by wolves? I wonder if the wolves have also become a little immortal. But Manji’s hand was completely returned after being taken by Magatsu and given to Manji

        By the way, I don’t read the comics, so there are some things I may not know or understand. Thank you.

  2. I’ll try and help

    First: I think it was being told in a parent to child way that she needs to just be a kid and that triggered an extreme emotional response that she’d bottled up for so long after seeing so much death and misery.

    Second: Yes he meant Anotsu and the Itto-ryu. He said the name Itto-ryu hadn’t passed his lips in 90 years and that it was all coming back to him now.

    Third: Anotsu lost his finger in the fight versus Habaki and then he fought Manji who chopped his arm off. Manji had the giants arm, which looked ridiculous so he took Anotsu’s severed arm instead(which was missing a pinky finger)

    Fourth: I don’t think the wolves became immortal because even though Shira regenerated with the bloodworms he didn’t have enough of them in his body to be fully immortal( Manji mentioned this in his final fight with Shira)

    1. Wow good point, and what surprised me was Manji taking Anotsu’s arm? I don’t remember that in the anime, I should read the comic, but the comics are really rare now in my country, I just collected 5 volumes.
      Then did Isaku become Immortal too? his body had separated but returned to its original state.

      thank you for your answer, it really helps a lot,

    2. Hey, I wonder what is the difference about omnibus and deluxe edition of this comic?
      There is ’30 volumes’ version in my country, but on Amazon there are 2 other versions, Deluxe edition and omnibus. But I don’t know what’s the difference between those two

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