07 May, 2010

Blade of the Immortal: Legend of the Sword Demon

By: Ken Haley

Written by Junichi Ohsako, Illustrated by Hiroaki Samura, Translated by Camellia Nieh
Dark Horse, 224 pp.

To atone for crimes in his past, the immortal Manji swears to kill one thousand “evil men.” His problem, of course, is figuring out who’s truly evil. Enter Asano Rin. Two years ago she watched as her father was murdered and her mother was gang-raped and taken by the group known as the Itto Ryu. She recruits Manji to her cause and together the two set out to avenge her parents. Blade of the Immortal: Legend of the Sword Demon is a reimagining of the first six or so volumes of the original manga. All of the fan-favorite characters are present and several key events from those early years are included as well, though altered to make way for several new twists and an entirely new character, the mysterious and unstoppable being known only as the Inugami.

For the most part, the novel plays out through Rin’s point of view. It’s through her that we’re introduced to Manji and the other major players. This is a slight change from the manga, but one that could work and hopefully give us some interesting insight into Rin and the various facets of her personality. Sadly, this is not the case. While Ohsako makes an able attempt at capturing Rin’s character, I never really felt that he nailed her down. There’s some of the self-doubt and hesitation regarding her quest for vengeance that marks her character in the manga, but it’s never really fleshed out beyond the idea that she’s not quite at ease with murder.

Manji, for his part, is incredibly mysterious and tight-lipped about his own life throughout. The result is that their relationship seems to lack the sibling tenderness and sarcasm that makes it feel so real and vibrant in the manga. In addition, his own motivations are merely hinted at or alluded to, never quite making it clear why he actually sides with Rin or even why he wants to atone for his past in the first place. This all results in the reader being forced to fill in the blanks on their own. For long-time fans this shouldn’t be a problem, but I’d imagine that newcomers might be left scratching their heads over a lot of the characters’ actions and descisions.

The other most obvious change from the original manga is the inclusion of the Inugami, a bizarre creature with ties to the mysterious group known as the Mugai Ryu. There’s not a whole lot to say about him as he’s little more than a rampaging beast. Still, Ohsako manages to use him as a dark mirror for Manji and Rin’s journeys. He presents Rin with a glimpse at what she could potentially become if she loses herself in the quest for revenge, and gives Manji an uncomfortable look at who he may have been at one point in his life.

Samura provides several illustrations for the novel and they’re absolutely gorgeous. The full-page pieces here are similar in style to his cover and chapter break artwork and provide some nice eye candy. That said, I do have two small complaints with it. The first is that we’re never given a full or clear shot of the Inugami. The descriptions make it sound like he’d be visually interesting, but, alas, the book is without anything more than a head shot of the masked creature. The second complaint is that there’s not enough of it. We only get six pieces and they’re just so gorgeous that you can’t help but want more.

I really felt that this book was a mixed bag at best. There were some potentially interesting elements, but they were never properly developed or fleshed out enough for the book to stand as its own work. Long-time fans might find it to be an interesting but unessential companion to the manga, but I don’t think there’s much for newcomers besides a tantalizing taste of what the manga has to offer.

Blade of the Immortal: Legend of Sword Demon is available now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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