20 Jun, 2010

The Art of Blade of the Immortal

By: Ken Haley

By Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse, 160 pp.
Rating: 18 +

For over a decade, Blade of the Immortal has been a mainstay of my manga reading diet and a big reason why is Hiroaki Samura’s absolutely gorgeous artwork. So, when Dark Horse announced a massive, oversized, art book full of his covers, chapter breaks and more, I was excited to say the least.

Within this tome you’ll find many of the series’ most memorable covers, chapter breaks and more. The images are reproduced wonderfully and look even better than when originally published. There are even several pieces that I don’t immediately recognize and suspect this may actually be their first official US release. I’m thinking particularly of two double-page spreads, one showing a more recent incarnation of the Itto Ryu roster, and the other depicting the main three Mugai-Ryu members. Then again, given the sheer size of the series it’s quite possible that I’m simply forgetting them. In addition to the material from the Japanese edition, the Dark Horse edition includes an extra 32 pages of material including a few splash pages from the manga itself, the art pieces from the novel Blade of the Immortal: Legend of the Sword Demon, and a few black-and-white pieces that were colored to be used as covers for the US monthly comic edition of the series.

Notable by their absence are the pieces that arguably set Blade of the Immortal apart from other series at the time: the full-page death scenes. Anyone familiar with the series will know exactly what I’m talking about, but for those who aren’t, try to imagine a full-page shot of someone’s body slowly coming apart after being hacked to bits, set against a background of, oh, say a massive lotus unfurling its petals. I’m really not doing justice to the amount of detail these “death mandalas” actually contain, as they’re absolutely beautiful and blew my mind when I first encountered them. One has to wonder why something that was a prominent feature in the series’ early days was omitted. In his afterward, Samura does discuss having problems looking at his older pieces, so perhaps it’s simply a case of him looking back at these pieces and seeing nothing but their flaws and imperfections.

This release is a fantastic, must-have for any fan of Blade of the Immortal or Hiroaki Samura’s artwork. The price ($29.99) might seem a bit steep at first, but it’s such a high-quality product with art from one of the best manga creators and manga artist around that it’s well worth it.

The Art of Blade of the Immortal is available now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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