Blade of the Immortal (無限の住人 Mugen no Jūnin?, lit. "The Inhabitant of Infinity") is a Japanese manga series by Hiroaki Samura. The series won an Excellence Prize at the 1997 Japan Media Arts Festival and the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award in 2000 for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material. The series is set in Japan during the mid-Tokugawa Shogunate period, beginning in the 2nd year of the Tenmei era or 1782.
Blade of the Immortal is being released in the United States by Dark Horse Comics and is up to 22 volumes. As of November 2007, Dark Horse has ceased publishing Blade of the Immortal in a monthly format, choosing to concentrate solely on the collected editions.
Blade of the Immortal follows the deeds of Manji, a skilled samurai who has a decisive advantage: no wound can kill him, except for a rare poison. In the past, his criminal actions led to the death of 100 other samurai (including his sister's husband). He becomes immortal at the hand of an 800-year-old nun named Yaobikuni, and is compelled by the death of his sister to accept the quest that will end his agelessness. He has vowed to make amends by killing 1000 evil men, and until he does Manji will be kept alive by "sacred bloodworms" (血仙蟲 kessen-chū?), remarkable creatures that allow him to survive nearly any injury and reattach severed limbs even after hours of separation. They work by sacrificing themselves to seal the wound - they're worms that were bred to be as close in their chemical and physical make-up to humans as you can get without being human. They cannot handle regrowth on a large scale, but, for example, can reattach a severed limb or seal a hole in the brain.
Manji crosses paths with a young girl named Asano Rin and promises to help her avenge her parents, who were killed by a cadre of master swordsmen led by Anotsu Kagehisa. Anotsu killed Rin's father and his entire dōjō, making them a family of outcasts. Anotsu's quest is to gather other outcasts and form an extremely powerful new dojo, the Ittō-ryū (a school teaching any technique that wins, no matter how exotic or underhanded), and has started taking over and destroying other dojos.
In addition, another group calling itself the Mugai-ryū has emerged, in opposition to the Ittō-ryū. Its true leadership and motives are initially a mystery, but its methods (any tactics that leads to victory) resemble those of the Ittō-ryū. They try to enlist Manji's help as they seem to want the same thing. Eventually Manji joins but quickly pulls out after he finds out a member, Shira, is way too sadistic for his tastes. After a while Manji finally discovers that the Mugai-ryū work for the government. They are all death row inmates who are allowed to live only if they serve the shogunate . While Manji and Shira quickly grow to hate each other, after Shira runs off, Manji remains on friendly terms with the other members of the group.
In a broader context, the series covers the effects of death and the consequences of not being able to die, as well as the meanings behind living. Most of the principal characters have some sort of purpose which they inexplicably discover through the events that transpire.
These refer to the English editions published by Dark Horse Comics. Blade of the Immortal can be (so far) roughly divided into four main storyarcs:
- Introduction: Volume 1 (Blood of a Thousand) ~ Volume 5 (On Silent Wings, part 2)
- In this story arc, the reader is introduced to the main characters, plot, central conflict and overall theme of the series ("documenting the human struggle"). The plot is superficially simple: Manji and Rin wander around Edo, occasionally meeting members of Ittō-ryū on their quest to find Anotsu. However, the bulk of Samura's philosophical ruminations can be found in this introductory story arc, from obsession (Conquest, Genius) duty (Dreamsong) the burden of time (Cry of the Worm) and revenge / redemption (On Silent Wings). Part of Samura's appeal is in not painting his "villains" with black-and-white strokes; even the supposed antagonist Anotsu, who espouses an "end justifies the means" philosophy, elicits sympathy from the reader via his ultimate goal - in that, fighting the widespread corruption of his era and therein fashioning a stronger Japanese society.
- Mugai-ryū: Volume 6 (Dark Shadows) ~ Volume 9 (The Gathering, part 2)
- This story arc introduces the Mugai-ryū, a mysterious sword school intent on hunting down Anotsu Kagehisa. After killing several minor members of Ittō-ryū, Mugai-ryū enlists Manji and Rin to help them track down the elusive Anotsu. The evolution of Samura's style can be seen particularly in this story arc: gone are the elaborate "death murals" and the stronger focus on inking denotes a preference for 'hard' technique in contrast to 'soft' depiction (very little penciling). The first truly despicable villain is also introduced in this story arc, the sadistic mercenary Shira who delights in blood and torture. The climax of this story arc involves the separation of Manji and Rin, as Rin decides it would be better for her to hunt Anotsu alone; Manji attempts to track her across province borders and ends up in a vicious fight with three Ittō-ryū members.
- Aftermath / Last Blood: Volume 10 (Secrets) ~ Volume 14 (Last Blood)
- The third story arc follows the separate characters as they pursue their various goals: Anotsu to unify his sword school with the remote Shingyoto-ryū in Kaga ; Rin on her quest to locate Anotsu; Manji's recovery from his wounds taken in the previous story arc and, eventually, his search for Rin; Magatsu's hunt for the murderous Shira; the consequences dealt upon Mugai-ryū by the vengeful Ittō-ryū members. By volume 13, Mirror of the Soul, the divergent threads begin to come together and the series (as a whole) reaches a climax with volume 14, Last Blood, wherein most of the principle characters meet and engage in some form of battle. Last Blood also includes the beginning sections of the next and current story arc.
- Prison: Volume 14 (Last Blood) ~ volume 20/21 (Demon Lair)
- Finished in Japan in volume 20; currently at least four trade paperback volumes have been published chronicling the latest adventures of Manji and company. Volume 15, Trickster, was released by Dark Horse as of February, 2006. This fourth story arc concerns the events after Last Blood, beginning with a few apparently-random fights that, in consequence, lead Manji to join up with the shogunate in fighting Ittō-ryū. However, the government has a more devious plot, and imprisons Manji for issue after issue of experimentation, hoping to reproduce the effects of the kessen-chu. This story arc has concluded in Afternoon.
A fifth (and final) arc ~ Winter War ~ has begun in the Japanese run of the manga. The first volume of this arc has been translated into English and published by Dark Horse comics as "Footsteps" (volume 22). There is no information on how long the final arc will run.
A bloodworm (kessen-chu) is an unexplained little worm-like creature, which lives in the bloodstream and tissue in a symbiotic way. It heals all wounds acquired by its host, replacing the missing tissue and organs with their own bodies as well as reattaching limbs. However, it is noted that the bloodworms can only heal wounds acquired during infestation and not ones that were acquired prior (such as Manji's eye). The only way to kill a bearer of the bloodworms is to use a bloodworm poison, although it has been implied that cutting off their head may suffice if it is not reattached quickly. During his battle with Makie, Manji said the only way to stop him would be to cut off his head. But whether this would kill him or just leave him unable to function is debatable, because in his battle with Eiku Shizuma, Manji cuts off his head after poisoning him with his own sword, and he does not die until after the kessen-satsu (blood worm killer) takes effect. Further adding to the debate were statements in Wizard magazine that Manji could survive a severed head, but it would take at least a year for the blood-worms to regenerate that much tissue. It is worth noting that, while not yet covered in the English version of Blade of the Immortal, another immortal is partially beheaded (to the point where only a flap of skin is keeping its head attached) only for the wound to heal within a few seconds This essentially confirms that Manji's regenerative abilities would allow him to survive a beheading. The time in which it takes for regeneration varies: Manji can reattach a limb within seconds and can partially recover from a bullet or stab wound to the brain. However the wounds to his head did have a negative effect (incapable of moving his lower body or weaker vision). Apparently, the kessen-chu give immortality to its host and everlasting youth (the host retaining the age he/she had at the time he/she was fed the kessen-chu).
It is unknown how to infect a person with the kessen-chu, but Shizuma indicates it takes a lot more than blood to blood contact with someone who's infected.In later chapters the question how to transfer them becomes a major part of the story.
Weapons in Blade of the Immortal
The weapons found in Blade of the Immortal are largely fictional, most created by Samura, who confesses he has no idea what some of them are supposed to do. Usually, major characters have unique and specialized weapons - hidden crossbows, throwing knives, poisoned blades, and even weapons meant to inflict maximum pain.
Manji himself carries a number of blades - Sukehiro Amatsubaki ("Rain Camellia"), Kotengu ("Little Devil"), Okorobi ("Man Toppler"), Merabi ("Lady Gadfly"), Karasu ("The Crow"), Shidō ("The Four Paths"), Imo-no-Kami Tatsumasa ("Sister Defender Tatsumasa"), a spear-like weapon called Aun, and an unnamed hooked weapon.
Some of Samura's other creations include Giichi's thresher-like throwing blade, known as Kanetsura's Mito-no-Kami ("Guardian of the Three Paths"), which he uses to sever the heads of his enemies, and Anotsu's large Kabutsuchi battle-axe, which was based on an example from Nepal.
Art of Hiroaki Samura
One of the most striking features of Blade of the Immortal is its beautiful, realistic artwork. Although Samura stylizes and elongates his human figures to some extent, especially early in the run of the manga, he has a thorough knowledge of anatomy that allows him to create uniquely expressive poses and angles. His unusual use of accurately detailed shots of hands and feet makes them almost as reflective of character and mood as his faces. Atmospheric backgrounds and landscapes round out the look of the manga, which incorporates many panels rendered in a finished, shaded pencil style rather than in inked line art. His superb drawing skills are shown to their best advantage in these penciled panels.
Samura says that he always wanted to be a manga artist. However, unlike most mangaka, he attended art school for a time and has a classical art education. He says in interviews that he disliked the smell of oil paint, and openly admits to hiring another artist to help him get through a required oil painting course. Although he prefers to work in black and white, and does many freelance illustrations in graphite, Samura has painted some color promotional pieces and book covers in acrylics for the collected volumes of Blade of the Immortal, such as the cover for 'Blade of the Immortal #111: Shortcut #5 (of 5)'. Samura never completed his art degree, because he left school before graduation to create Blade of the Immortal for Afternoon.
Editing in the English language adaptation
To preserve the integrity of his art, Samura requested that the publisher of the licensed English translation, Dark Horse Comics, not "flop" the manga (that is, reverse the pages as if in a mirror). At the time the English translation began its publication in individual monthly issues (1996), flopping was an almost universal practice for translated manga. Instead, Blade of the Immortal was modified for Western readers by the unusual method of cutting up the panels and rearranging them on the page in order to have the action flow from left to right.
Although American industry practice has now largely changed over to publishing translated manga in its original right-to-left orientation, Blade of the Immortal has retained the labor-intensive cut-and-paste method. The publisher cautions that rearranging the panels is not foolproof, and can lead to continuity errors; this usually occurs when the flow of text bubbles is dependent upon character placement within panels. In such cases, individual panels or entire pages may be flopped, and occasionally the artwork is modified accordingly; for instance, a retouch artist may draw a scar over Manji's left eye to disguise a flopped panel, though this is not always the case. Sound effects within the panel may also be retouched out and re-lettered in English, or removed completely. Japanese sound effects that are an integral part of the artwork are usually left as is. Additionally, text bubbles or panel borders may be redrawn, and script pacing may be subtly altered in order to preserve suspense or the placement of text bubbles.
In the monthly Dark Horse serialization, colored versions of title pages from the corresponding manga chapter are often featured as cover art, though in some cases a different piece of artwork, such as a tankōbon cover, may be used, usually in cases where the original title page depicts graphic subject matter. The original Japanese tankōbon, which are not subtitled, also collect more chapters than the English volumes published by Dark Horse; as such, they are considerably longer and do not directly correspond to the English numbering scheme. The original tankōbon also contain different cover and interior art, and may contain additional special features, such as character biographies.
Another reason for not "flopping" in the English version is Manji's clothing, which features a Swastika, if the pages where "flopped" it would resemble the Reverse Swastika used by Nazi Germany, some publishers issued an explanation of this in several issues, particularly in Norway, instead of the Japanese character Manji. Manji is Japanese for "the character for eternality" 萬字, and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites.
The original Japanese manga has thus far been collected into 25 volumes (tankōbon) by Kōdansha's Afternoon KC division. The series is still ongoing, and volumes are usually published at the rate of 1 to 2 per year. The English version of the manga is published by Dark Horse Comics. As of October 11, 2007, Dark Horse has dropped the monthly issues for Blade of the Immortal following the completion of the "One Shot" storyarc. The following issues will only be released through trade paperback volumes.
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 1 (1994/09) ISBN 4-06-314090-3
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 2 (1994/12) ISBN 4-06-314101-2
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 3 (1995/04) ISBN 4-06-314109-8
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 4 (1995/10) ISBN 4-06-314119-5
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 5 (1996/08) ISBN 4-06-314137-3
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 6 (1997/06) ISBN 4-06-314151-9
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 7 (1997/10) ISBN 4-06-314165-9
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 8 (1998/07) ISBN 4-06-314183-7
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 9 (1999/06) ISBN 4-06-314210-8
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 10 (2000/04) ISBN 4-06-314238-8
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 11 (2001/01) ISBN 4-06-314259-0
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 12 (2002/02) ISBN 4-06-314268-X
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 13 (2002/11) ISBN 4-06-314306-6
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 14 (2003/07) ISBN 4-06-314326-0
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 15 (2004/01) ISBN 4-06-314337-6
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 16 (2004/05) ISBN 4-06-314348-1
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 17 (2004/11) ISBN 4-06-314363-5
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 18 (2005/06) ISBN 4-06-314380-5
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 19 (2006/04) ISBN 4-06-314409-7
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 20 (2006/10) ISBN 4-06-314430-5
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 21 (2007/06) ISBN 4-06-314455-0
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 22 (2007/12) ISBN 4-06-314480-1
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 23 (2008/06) ISBN 4-06-314509-3
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 24 (2009/02) ISBN 4-06-314548-4
- Mugen-no-Jūnin 25 (2009/09) ISBN 4-06-314591-3
On 23 March 2008, it was announced that an animated television series adaptation of the manga would be directed by Kōichi Mashimo and produced by Bee Train in summer 2008. The first episode premiered on July 13, 2008 on AT-X channel. The opening theme is "Red Rabbit" (赤いウサギ Akai Usagi?), performed by The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi?), and the ending theme is "wants" by GRAPEVINE. American company Media Blasters has acquired the license to the series and plans to release it in September.
- ↑ http://mugen.kc.kodansha.co.jp/staffcast.html
- ↑ "Award Winning Works". Japan Media Arts Plaza. Archived from the original on 2006-12-22. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- ↑ "Awards". Dark Horse. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- ↑ 
- ↑ 
- ↑ "Blade of the Immortal TV Anime Confirmed for Summer". Anime News Network. 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
- ↑ name="theFour11.org Blade of The Immortal.">"Blade of the Immortal. Not Just a manga Anymore". thefour11.org. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2008-04-24.
- ↑ name="Anime News Network.com "Media Blasters Acquires Blade of the Immortal Anime". Anime News Network. 2009-06-12. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
- (Japanese) Official anime website
- (Japanese) Official anime blog
- Blade of the Immortal (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Blade of the Immortal (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Blade of the Immortal at the Internet Movie Database