Blade of the Immortal – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser October 11, 20190 Comments
Rin drawing a sword

What’s it about? In order to get revenge for her murdered parents, Asano Rin hires an immortal samurai named Manji to take down their killers.

Content Warning: Rape (off-screen) and sexualized violence; gore; those with light sensitivities should be aware that there’s a lot of quick flashing imagery.

This is now the fourth adaptation of Blade of the Immortal, including a 2008 anime, a novel, and a 2017 live-action film. Between the acclaim in its home country and its unique position in the history of US-licensed manga as one of the first series to be released “unflipped,” to say it’s a well-regarded story would be a bit of an understatement.

For those who’ve been fans for years, I have to imagine this new production is exciting stuff. The experimental art style plays around with brushstroke-like lines, the backgrounds look like the characters are moving around in lush paintings, and the action scenes are swift and brutal. It definitely screams “prestige” of the sort Amazon seems to be trying to corner the market on.

Rin watching the sunset on a hillside

As someone who’s only heard the title in passing over the years, I feel a little like I’ve missed the boat. Even with the glossy new coat of paint, this is still unmistakably a gritty ’90s story. There’s enough bloodspray to fill that one elevator at the Overlook hotel, a narrative about the high cost of revenge, and Bulky Largemen who stand pensively and furrow their brows a lot.

Rin is a great protagonist, but she’s also the only woman to show up on screen who doesn’t get sliced-and-diced, raped, or both. Even then, she’s still the subject of some pretty sexualized violence before the episode is out. I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to take her status as a budding swordfighter as something that will be developed or as a pretext to her needing a stronger fighter on her side.

Rin pinned against a tree with her mother's killer shoving two fingers into her mouth. subtitle: You attempted to kill me, didn't you, Miss Rin?
If I didn’t need to tell you that Rin’s mom is stitched to the dude’s shoulder, then you too are familiar with the kind of story this is.

It’s the kind of stuff I would roll my eyes at but let slide if I were reading the 1993 manga. But I’m beginning to get mighty worn down by big-ticket adaptations that are too afraid to make necessary updates to the classic material they’re working with, or who make a half-hearted go of it.

Not because those works aren’t still powerful or that they don’t deserve the love and acclaim they’ve gotten over the years, but because something made in the modern day should probably be in conversation with the world around it rather than rampant nostalgia.

Rin drawing a sword

Then again, I may be jumping the gun somewhat on that front. Immortal’s out-of-time annoyances are comparatively minor ones, and ones that could easily fade away as the story goes on—particularly if Manji does take Rin on as his successor. The visuals are almost worth it all on their own, as long as you’ve got a stomach for the gore.

If you want a dark action series, this is easily the most stylish offer this season. Personally, though, I think I’m in need of something lighter at the moment.

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