Blade of the Immortal - Volume 1 (2008)
By: Stuart Giesel on October 14, 2012 | Comments
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Japanese DD 2.0 | 120 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Directors: Tomoyuki Kurokawa, K˘ichi Mashimo
Starring: Masashi Ebara, Katsuyuki Konishi, Mela Lee, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Daisuke Namikawa
Screenplay: Hiroyuki Kawasaki
Country: Japan
External Links
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Manji is a skilled samurai - and, it has to be said, a bit of a dick - who cannot die. He's been cursed after killing off one hundred other samurai; more specifically, he's been infected with bloodworms that can repair even the most grievous injuries to his body. Yeah, that's some "curse". Manji sets off on a quest to reclaim his mortality by killing one thousand samurai, and on the way meets up with a grieving girl named Rin who seeks revenge on a band of samurai for the death of her parents. This band is roaming the land seeking out rival dojos and wiping them out. And, er, there's more detail than that but that's about as far as the main premise goes.

I had read a bit of the original Blade of the Immortal manga, but certainly haven't finished it - I have no idea how many books are in the series, or even if it's ended, but it's certainly gone on for a while (though it's no One Piece). So I was interested to see how a translation of the Blade of the Immortal from paper to screen would work. The answer is it doesn't really work satisfactorily, but there's enough good stuff in here to make it worth a go. Unfortunately there are a number of problems that limit the enjoyment of the anime or, rather, this first volume as provided by Madman.

The episodic nature of the material means it's hard to remain involved in the proceedings, especially when the episodes themselves are divided in two by what I assume can only be described as "ad-break moments" which, in retrospect, could have been easily edited out. The five episodes themselves become repetitive, almost videogame-like - Manji and Rin go to a new area, confront a new bad guy with a different set of skills to overcome, Manji gets fatally wounded, Manji comes back and dispatches the bad guy. I don't remember the manga being this rigidly structured, but it very well could have been.

There are other problems. The action often stops dead with characters and villains verbalising long passages of philosophy which either sounds odd or clunky (perhaps a problem with the translation) or otherwise painfully obvious, like something that's come out of a "Dummies Guide to Philosophy" book. The music is god-awful. It's like they've tried to infuse punk into what would otherwise be your typical meditative and mournful samurai score. And the theme song is even worse - it actually sounds completely off, as if composed by tone-deaf people who have worked alongside noisy industrial machines all their life, and it's not helped by being matched with hideous lyrics like "overflowing reality is just more of the empty lies". Thankfully the voice acting is much better, and even the English dubbing - which I usually abhor - is decently done, even though the dubbers fall into the usual trap of having to match their speech with the characters' mouth movements, making certain passages sound awkward and halting. Regardless, unless you absolutely hate reading subtitles, I would still strongly recommend the Japanese audio track with English subtitles, as the variance in voicework is better in the original track, whereas the English dub sometimes sounds like the characters are suffering a mild form of retardation.

The visuals work better than the audio; there are some effective "cinematic" shots and the action scenes are more than competently staged. Character design is effective (even though credit goes more to the original manga) and the lighting, colours and stylistic choices all work to give Blade of the Immortal a rich and slightly ethereal look. However it has to be said that the visual style of the manga still far exceeds the quality of the series. The manga's stark, almost harsh, graphic design is certainly more striking, and part of me wishes the makers of the anime had gone for a Sin City-esque look which probably would have better suited the material.

One of the biggest problems with the series, that was also the case with the manga (but for some reason wasn't as apparent), is having a story based around a character who cannot die. Having an immortal (or near-immortal) character drains the story of much tension and unpredictability. Having Manji match up with Rin on her quest for revenge helps, as she is a capable warrior but obviously mortal. But as far as the five episodes in this volume go, the series doesn't entirely overcome this stumbling block. It remains to be seen if other episodes are more effective in cranking up the tension. It does help that whilst Manji is a strong warrior, he often seems outmatched by more skilled opponents who have no idea that he is immortal, only to find out much too late - it's a bit of a cheat as far as the samurai code and all that goes, but it's an interesting twist and helps give Blade of the Immortal much of its identity. Some of the bad guys are interestingly designed and have their own motives - they're not exactly cardboard cutouts present merely for Manji to cut down, but they're not far off either.

Apparently only thirteen episodes of Blade of the Immortal have been made to date, and it's unclear as to whether any more will be made, so don't go into this expecting any sort of resolution.

For fans of the manga, Blade of the Immortal is probably worth a rent if for nothing else than to satisfy your curiosity - you may love it, or you might feel that the essence of the manga hasn't truly been captured. Even if you're not familiar with the manga, you might feel that the episodic nature of the material, coupled with the vomit-inducing music, is too great a hurdle to overcome.
Video
Blade of the Immortal is, if nothing else, quite striking to look at, even if it doesn't really capture the look and feel of the manga. The anamorphic transfer is clean, colourful and vivid. Animation is a bit stiff, but there's detail to spare in the lovely backgrounds and character design.
Audio
As I've stated, the music is pretty terrible, and detracts from solid voice acting and sound effects which work well with the often bloody visuals. The disc itself is a solid performer as far as audio quality goes, even though it's only got Japanese and English stereo tracks. I wager you'll find yourself turning down the volume whenever the start or end credits show up, though.
Extra Features
Very little to speak of. You can play the hideous opening and closing songs without text, and there are some trailers for other anime. Personally I would have loved a credits-less feature where you can watch the meat of the episodes without that awful extra three or four minutes of intro crap.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Blade of the Immortal will probably disappoint fans of the manga who might have expected something deeper, grittier and less "TV-cized", if such a word exists. It would have worked better as a feature; as it stands it feels too choppy in its episodic form, and hence the pacing and storyline suffers. It's still watchable, sometimes even compelling, but it could have been so much more.

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