Blade of the Immortal volume 2
“Cry of the Worm”
by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse Comics / Studio Proteus
Translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith
BW, 192 pgs
$14.95 US / Higher in Canada
“Cry of the Worm”, the second collected volume in Hiroaki Samura’s punk samurai epic, contains two stories for the price of one. For my money, the first tale is the best. It’s the shorter of the two; a sword fight nestled between two very telling moments of character development.
Rin has come face to face with an artifact from her past. A Chinese sword that used to belong to her grandfather is now in the hands of one of Anotsu’s kenshi. (For those of you who are new to Blade of the Immortal, Anotsu and his Itto-ryo sword fighting school have been destroying other sword fighting schools, including the one run by Rin’s father.) When Rin tells Manji about the sword, he offers to return it to her. She tells him not to do so because she wants to start putting the past behind her. She feels it is time for her to start growing up and move on with her life. Her thirst for revenge will only die with Anotsu, so going after his minions is pointless.
Regardless, Manji goes into the night and confronts the holder of the sword. A battle ensues, and the wielder of the Chinese sword relinquishes the blade, but does not die. This man, although unnamed at this point, is, in fact, Magatsu, a character who will play a vital role in story arcs further down the road. When Rin sees the sword has been returned, she is angry with Manji. How is she supposed to forget her parents; every time she sees that sword, she will be reminded of them.
“You’re going to forget them soon enough as is,” says Manji. “Why go out of your way to make it happen.” He says memories hurt, but if you can hold onto them, they can make you as hard as steel. Manji knows this because he has memories of his own, memories he doesn’t want to forget. Rin sees this in his eyes, or perhaps hears it in his voice. She attacks him with her own insight into what drives Manji to help her. The whole exchange only fills a couple of pages but it strengthens their relationship both in understanding and revenge, and for the reader, sheds light on the inner working of the characters.
What the characters and the readers learned in the first story carries over to the second. Manji meets a man who shares a secret with him. This man, Eiku Shizuma, has also been infected with the bloodworms, cursed to never die. He tempts Rin with immortality. Her quest would be over much easier if she didn’t have the fear of death. He also gives Manji a taste of something he has not known for a number of years; mortality. Through the actions of this one man, Manji and Rin learn about themselves, but in the end, it is the final words of Eiku that teach them the most.
The first volume of Blade of the Immortal was an introduction to the characters of Rin and Manji, and the motivations that drive them in this tale. It was a blood-soaked book with little room for characters exploration. “Cry of the Worm” shifts the focus, still ripe with swordplay, but equally heavy with characterization. The questions being asked in this volume are for both the characters and the reader. Questions of life and death and what you do with the time you have are ones that followed me for days afterward. These kind of weighty questions are the result of Samura’s writing talent. If you flip through a volume of this series, you’re going to see a lot of blood and sword fighting. Make no mistake, however, this is a dense read.
Looking back at volume 2 to write this review, I was struck at how powerful Samura’s writing is even at this early stage in his work. A lesser manga-ka would still be trying to find his or her own voice. Samura has that voice already. He also has a firm hold over his artistic style. He utilizes a variety of drawing techniques, and each lends itself perfectly to the setting and tone at hand. Here truly is a manga where the pictures tell as much of the tale as the words. (Chad Boudreau)