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Manji is a samurai who's gone bad. For this reason, he's been afflicted with an odd form of immortality: although he can be killed any number of times, with all the accompanying agonies, he'll never actually die. His body, infested with odd symbiotic parasites called kessen chu (usually translated in the story as "sacred bloodworms"), will be knitted back together again each time. He's already started to see this for the curse it's meant to be.

Rin is a scrawny, passionate 16-year-old girl who's seen her father - an artist of the sword and master of a martial arts school - slaughtered and her mother raped and carried off. She's sworn vengeance on the perpetrators, the young master of a rival martial arts school and his followers. Although she's trained for two years to this end, her skills are still only basic, and in the meantime, her opponent's power has grown even greater. Her quest seems doomed to failure.

Manji comes to see Rin's mission as his salvation. If he can kill enough true villains while in service as her bodyguard, he will be free to die like anyone else. The result is a strangely satisfying partnership, and a story that I'm enjoying quite a bit.

I must note here that although the artwork is really great in this series - like that of Vagabond, it's more like conventional illustration than it is like manga - Samura presents rather more anatomical detail in his depictions of the bloody results of combat than do most mangaka whose work I've seen so far. This isn't a series for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach!

Blade of the Immortal, vols. 1-3 (review)

The first volume basically gives Manji and Rin's background stories, details their meeting, and then gives them a couple of hostile encounters with which to cement their alliance. I have to say that I found the encounter with Sabato just penny-dreadful vile, but Manji does get off some great lines, both during the fight itself and afterward, when Rin first comes face to face with the bizarre and rather sordid miracle than is the healing power of the kessen chu. The second encounter, which wraps up the book, involves Rin's attempt to persuade an old ally of her father to join her cause against the Itto Ryu school. Once a ninja, he's now a distinctly eccentric artist. Eventually a really wonderful battle erupts just outside his studio, wherein he sits peacefully, contemplating the gorgeous shade of red in the bloodstains that are being spattered on the walls and cogitating on how he can achieve that color in his painting. It's a priceless scene.

The second volume brings Manji into conflict with two swordsmen of the Itto Ryu: the surprisingly fair-minded commoner Magatsu and the creepy Shizuma ... whose affliction matches Manji's. The third volume, much longer than the other two, involves an Itto Ryu swordswoman/geisha named Makie - but interwoven with her own background tale and the story of her dealings with Manji and Rin is a lot of history about the head of the Itto Ryu school, Kagehisa Anotsu, which does a lot to explain how he became the somewhat psycho bastard he is.

Thus far, Rin and Manji are the only continuing "good guys," but what great characters they are! Manji is, of course, the star: earthy, deadpan, fatalistic, oddly sentimental about the damndest things, he's armed to the teeth and beyond with an array of exotic and fatal ironmongery large enough to put any would-be teenaged ninja into a fangasm of delight - and somehow, all of it fits up his sleeves! Rin is a genuine hormonally challenged teenaged girl: sometimes snotty, sometimes tearful, emotionally needy, and unsure about the way the world really works, but nevertheless facing it all with attitude, a sword, and a handful of throwing knives.

Rin is very much the junior partner, but to me, she comes across as being put in that role by her age and lack of experience and a teacher rather by her sex. Her fighting attempts almost invariably end with Manji's having to take over, but she can create a valuable distraction - in one case buying Manji crucial time - with her throwing knives. At this point, the situation regarding their comparative skill levels seems very reasonable.

I think this one's a keeper.

Comments

b3nitora
Jun. 29th, 2007 07:41 am (UTC)
you also are thoroughly amusing! I enjoy your presence! :)

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