Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand

Blade of the Immortal volume 1
“Blood of a Thousand”
by Hiroaki Samura

Dark Horse Comics
Translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith

BW, 136 pgs
$14.95 US / Higher in Canada

Blade of the Immortal is the story of Manji, a samurai who killed without question on behalf of his master. Realizing his master wasn’t the good guy he thought, Manji assassinates him, a most heinous crime in ancient Japan. Hunted as a criminal, Manji is tired of living and wants to die, but can’t. An old woman has stuffed him full of Kessen-Chu, bloodworms that repair even his most grievous wounds. Manji is immortal and if he is to die, he must slay one thousand evil men.

Blood of a Thousand is the English translation of the first six issues of the manga, Blade of the Immortal. The manga itself first appeared and continues to be published in the Japanese magazine Afternoon. Dark Horse Comics also publishes English versions of the individual issues before collecting them into trade paperbacks.

In this collection, we are introduced to Manji and to the personal demons that compel him in the present. He also meet Rin, an orphan who seeks to revenge the death of her parents at the hands of the Itto-ryu. Together, Manji and Rin begin a journey to hunt down this merciless band of men.

Blood of a Thousand would be little more than a gory action story if not for Hiroaki Samura’s delicate handling of the relationship between Manji and Rin. As a ronin, Manji is a swordsman of high caliber and a man of questionable morals. At times he seems like nothing more than a cynical street punk possessing a gallows humour. And yet, he also shows moments of great philosophical insight and tenderness. Rin is an aspiring swordswoman. She portrays herself as a strong woman ready to take her revenge, but beneath her tough exterior she is still hurting over the loss of her parents. These two damaged souls meet and together they begin a journey of unending violence in an attempt to find peace.

The story unfolds in the second year of Tenmai, which is approximately 1782 – 1783 by Gregorian calendars. Manji may be a masterless samurai, but Hirokai Samura has decided not to steep his tale in historical accuracy and the way of Bushido. Instead, he has created his own arsenal of fantastic weaponry and fighting techniques in order to escape the scrutiny of samurai fanatics. Samura has also used a variety of linguistic styles, alternating between the mannered style of old Japan and street slang more likely to be found in a city of our own time. The result is a tale edged with science fiction and punk sensibilities, a blood-soaked tale of stunning brutality, beauty and passion.

Samura’s elegant artwork alternates between ink and pencil lines. When he is working with the fine point of a pencil, his illustrations are filled with enough detail and atmosphere to transport the reader to ancient Japan. He captures both the frantic energy and brutality of battle with his climatic full-page illustrations, but it is in the quieter moments when Samura really shines. His fine hand invokes, in the reader, a wide range of emotions toward his protagonists, the foremost of which is empathy. (Chad Boudreau)

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