Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Hiroaki Samura‘s ‘Blade of the Immortal Deluxe: Volume 1’ HC, available now from Dark Horse Comics.
by Arpad Okay. A one-eyed dog who doesn’t know how to die. A child whose burden is blood vendetta. The debt of revenge is twice overdrawn, a disgraced sword school set against the samurai way left far more than two parents hacked to pieces. Blade of the Immortal is thick with monsters. Besotted with violence. Reverent of murder to the point where vivisection by sword is presented on a bed of a hundred exploding flower blossoms. Hiroaki Samura’s challenging, disquieting, poetic manga pushes boundaries.
The story is about Manji, the second time around. No, actually, it’s about Rin’s vendetta. But let’s take some time to get to know the wandering monk who has been around a few hundred years, or the geisha too good at swordplay to practice less deadly arts, or the hopeless romantic behind the mask. Remember who you’re doing this for when you throw your daggers at their faces. The world is deep, and its denizens of such rich, twisted character you kind of hate to see them go.
Manji’s name comes from the symbol he wears on his back. The counter-clockwise swirl, magic sigil of the completion of nature’s cycle (as opposed to the clockwise version of the symbol most folks are familiar with from its being co-opted by white supremacists) represents what Manji wishes to become. He is an undying wanderer of the Earth trying to balance his own karma. Manji strikes a deal with death: the 100 unjust murders of his old life to be balanced out (okay) by taking the lives of 1,000 killers.
A good person to know if you have a blood vendetta against the hardest sword school in the land.
The art style is sketchy, serious, controlled and sophisticated. The pages are worked. The shot book is cinematic, tight on action and heavy with the silent beats. Samura uses the visual character of the setting to the utmost while keeping the people simple, timeless and real. The eye is treated to all the trappings of a period piece, but the storytelling is through the eyes of the New Wave, postmodern takes that wick away the magic airs of the era to show people as they really are. Criminals and victims and killers.
Dark Horse isn’t alone in reversing the art and re-ordering the pages of a translated series to fit the left-to-right English reading format—but at the artist’s insistence, please, not for the book with the guy with the manji on his back. Blade of the Immortal is cut up and rearranged, panel by panel. Like I said covering Ryuko, manga is for letterers. If you want to learn about laying out a page of comics, read manga. And in this edition of Blade, the flow of action to dialog/balloons is right to left inside left to right.
Samura draws Manji lupine. Swordsmen don’t have to be crazy ripped beefcakes going at each other like in other violence-heavy comics, Manji can be a little emo. There is control and art and silence that is more like ballet. Juxtaposed against the street style crime yarn the story wants to be, the main players in the game are always that ethereal step out of time, theirs the unending measured step of the dance instead of the predictable hustle of the small time crook.
It really is Rin’s book. Meeting Manji is a turning point, the spark that lights the Blade of the Immortal fire. But Hiroaki Samura wants us to sit with the individual cost of each life lost to this vendetta. That comes through in the book; it is given room and time to grow, to be tended. Rin is carrying the load (and so are we). I was awed by how beautiful and solemn Blade of the Immortal made ugly acts, haunted both by visions of inhumanity unlike anything I’d seen before and considering their execution to be justice, and I was slapped down with Rin when the book anticipated our sympathies. It’s a read that reaches for a lot of different places and moods, most of them nightmarish.
But. Remember it’s a quest. Don’t forget that all these bodies are falling for a reason. The sword is drawn to strike a balance. A blossom is an ending.
Dark Horse Comics / $49.99
Written by Hiroaki Samura.
Illustrated by Hiroaki Samura.
Lettered and retouched by Wayne Truman and Tomoko Saito.
Translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith.
Enjoy this 11-page preview of ‘Blade of the Immortal Deluxe Volume 1’ HC, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics:
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