Edo, an era of warriors. There lived an immortal man, the Slayer of Hundreds, 'Manji.' He meets Rin, who has sworn vengeance for her parents. Rin's grudge is against a group of swordmasters – Ittou-ryu. She asks Manji to be her bodyguard on her journey. He refuses, but then sees his late sister in Rin. So began the violent struggle that would bring even the immortal Manji to his knees.
The silver blade cleaves the skin, ripping, tearing through broken flesh. A sea of scarlet spews, transforming into rain dancing amidst the blade that released it. The body broken in two, now covered by a cascade of carmine droplets as numerous as the lives cut short by the sword and its wielder. The loud eruption is followed by silence as the chaos settles into tranquility. It’s a scene characterized by its duality.There’s a strange sense of serenity to Blade of the Immortal 2019. For all of the vile horrors it presents as rape and death are littered across the show’s 24 episode run, there’s a strange sense of tranquility and naturalism to be found in much of it. The world presented by this show is a cold, often quiet one where almost everyone will die or suffer immense pain and bloodshed. Despite this, characters can still have a peaceful dialogue about poetry or engage in several moments of levity and comedic relief that do not feel forced. There’s so much to love about this show, yet all the same, there’s a lot that holds it back. This all stems from the 24 episode runtime the show had, as well as the studio that took on the project.Let’s start with the visuals. An action show is certainly incomplete without its fight scenes. Sadly, Studio LIDENFILMS had significant problems delivering, as most fight scenes resorted to a myriad of quick cuts in place of actual animation and choreography. It often felt like characters were teleporting during these scenes, and there were several admittedly brutal impacts that somehow felt weightless. I doubt anyone is gonna look at the studio and expect brilliant fight animation on the level of what the best Sunrise, Bones, Production IG, or Ufotable productions can put out. However, even with the studio rarely putting out a work anyone has praised for its animation, it’s startling to see moments as jank as some of the running animation in episode 19 and 20. On top of that, there are several moments --especially in the first episode-- where we just see extreme close-ups flashing as background colors flicker white and red. While the intent was likely to show the insane brutality of these violent, bloodthirsty moments while saving on animation costs, these scenes are borderline epileptic. The background just becomes a bunch of strobe lights that cause pain or at the very least, significant discomfort. Lastly, the artwork is relatively fine and consistent for the most part, but it becomes rather difficult to tell characters apart barring those with more distinct designs.There are some significant saving graces to the production, however. Miraculously, the CGI is not only sparse but actually ok. Very few scenes display them and they’re only used for swords that look as metallic as humanly possible. Moreover, there are still several gruesome impact shots that look either beautiful and artsy, or downright devastating. If only the contents of the fights transitioned into those moments better, as there are several gory explosions that look absolutely majestic. While he and his team at LIDENFILMS don’t seem to be too cut out for action, Hiroshi Hamasaki proves to be a wonderful director, presenting dazzling, sometimes imaginative sequences. There are certain nigh-picturesque shots of Edo period cityscapes and nature in general, sometimes transitioning between one beautiful shot to another such as in the finale when we transition from one of our main characters to the sun which her silhouette is placed in the center of. Several quiet moments are captured beautifully through shot composition, conveying the tranquility that parades much of this anime. There are also scenes where certain characters’ mental states or perceptions are warped in the latter half of the show, and they are captured vividly. The fight scene with a crafty old man in episode 21 as well as the sequences in episodes 15 and 16 where Dr. Burando loses his mind out of the sheer grief of his experiments resulting in people’s deaths are prime examples. I cannot begin to describe how vivid and disturbing these scenes are.Did you notice how I was only able to name one of the two characters I mentioned in the previous paragraph? That brings me to another problem with the show. There are so many characters to keep track of, and a lot of them don’t get the time they need to stand out or even be identifiable. The prime example of this is the miniboss squad one of the antagonists, Kagimura Habaki, has, In episode 22, these guys are just introduced with no fanfare. While there are nice glimpses of a character in two out of the three characters here, they are quickly rushed out and even killed offscreen in the next episode. So many side characters just get thrown into the narrative without any real introduction. Combined with how the art style gives several characters the same face, it adds to how indistinguishable, borderline unrecognizable some of the characters are. In fact, I believe that certain characters that were supposed to be hunted down were simply forgotten by the narrative, such as the long-sword guy who is one of the lackeys of the main antagonist. Even the characters we actually care about have several rushed moments, like when we meet someone they care about for the first time, only for them to die in the exact same episode like we’re supposed to be devastated almost as much as they are. It’s genuinely difficult to remember the names of most of the side characters. Makie is the only one I consistently remember, at the time of finishing the show and writing this shortly after.This was one of the many casualties of the 24-episode runtime as it simply was not enough to do justice to a 30 volume, 209 chapter manga. Even after the director asked which parts he could skip given that this was meant to be a complete adaptation, so much about the writing feels rushed. I don’t know if the show needed a few more episodes or an entire cour, but it certainly needed time. Here, episodes often just end abruptly or are paced so poorly that they often just feel like a collection of scenes strung together without any real sense of progression as characters just teleport from location to location with only cuts to black as scene transitions. As such, even some of the more entertaining episodes feel like they go on for double their actual length.The other casualties are the relevant characters themselves. I do enjoy watching most of them, such as the straight-laced yet earnest anti-samurai Taito Magatsu and the tragic, conflicted former prostitute and current Ittou-ryu member Makie. A lot of their stories are filled with emotional moments, and they often feel like believable people. Kagimura Habaki deserves special mention as the second primary antagonist, as they somehow managed to take a character who instigated a heinous research project that involved the kidnapping of prisoners and eventually husbands, and make him genuinely sympathetic with the horrible hand he is dealt and the resolve it leaves him with during the show’s final quarter. Hell, even some of the more depraved characters such as the first episode’s antagonist, Sabato Kuroi, and the rapist/killer madman Shira, have genuine moments. It adds to how believable some of these characters are as people to some extent, sometimes having tender moments like this. Sadly, a lot of them still have rushed conclusions or plot points, and some of them simply meet up through contrivance, particularly with most of Shira’s and Magatsu’s encounters with each other and our main protagonist in the second half. Shira deserves special mention for instigating about half of the show’s 4 or 5 rape scenes, and the show comes off as a little to sleazy in these moments for my liking. I understand that some of these characters are savages, but some of them should have been toned down while others --namely when one of the best female characters, Hyakurin, gets this treatment a second time by a character episode 22 just introduced and then killed off-- should have been removed entirely. Never did I imagine calling a rape scene filler, but this anime works in strange ways. At the very least, a majority of these characters get beautiful sendoffs in the final two episodes, with some of the most powerful and well-directed death scenes I have seen in a long time. It certainly does help that the first 9 minutes of the finale are without any audible dialogue, relying solely on the visuals and sound effects to convey the dizzying, gruesome fates of several of the relevant characters whose paths have intersected at the end. Still, I could see many of these characters being even better and more fleshed-out in the source material, even if this show does still try its damnedest at times to keep them intact. Even after this, there’s still a handful of relatively compelling side characters I haven’t mentioned.At this point, all that’s left is our main trio of sorts. Manji is an immortal hardass with a heart of gold, with some snark and wiseness to him. Not the most groundbreaking or compelling protagonist, but one who does lead to a lot of charming and humorous moments with other characters. There’s a surprising level of chemistry he has with Rin as well as Taito Magatsu as they continually encounter one-another. Speaking of Rin, she’s a case of watching an incredibly desperate crybaby evolve into someone with some semblance of maturity. As much of a pain as it can be to watch her cry almost every episode in the first half and end up doing very little outside of getting captured while bellyaching about her revenge, it does become satisfying when she continues to put revenge aside while managing to come up with useful plans to help her comrades in the third quarter. While she is never the most compelling character, even by episode 9, she starts earning badass moments that make her growing pains worth it. Even in the early episodes, she still comes off better than other whiny “I’m useless and weak” protagonists due to having several amusing moments with Manji, the one she hires to protect her as she continues her quest for revenge. Finally, there’s the man she wants revenge on, Kagehisa Anotsu. He’s an ambitious man, wanting to take the dojo-crushing Ittou-ryu and have it wage war on Edo Japan to showcase the impact of his hateful grandfather’s style. He does this while consciously wanting to spite the spirit of the abusive geezer thanks to the terrible upbringing he had, and how he was forced to leave a peculiar girl he saved in a tree after the man wanted to kill her. It makes the relationship between him and Rin complicated, as she wants him dead but the two still share a past and therefore, she sees some humanity in the stoic man. He is perhaps the least interesting of the trio on his own, though his more vulnerable moments with Rin and Makie as well as his final showdowns in the last two episodes make him somewhat compelling regardless.The only significant aspect of the show I want to touch on that isn’t a mixed bag is the show’s music. While I am not huge on "SURVIVE OF VISION" by Kiyoharu thanks to the extreme engrish on display, the howling vocals and badass guitars make for a decent mood piece perfect for a chaotic bloodbath such as this show. Without an ED to speak of, all that’s left is the soundtrack by Eiko Itsubashi, who had never done an OST for anime before. There are several neat tracks befitting of this time period. However, while they do make for decent pieces that fit the show, rarely do I feel they ever stood out on their own. It works for what it has to be, nothing more, nothing less.It would be easy to call this show a lackluster adaptation of a great manga, elevated by the skills of its director. The narrative is very heavily truncated even from an anime-only standpoint as episodes feel bloated and characters are thrown in without proper introduction. While some episodes did work well enough from the episodic treatment at first, some of them could have made for slightly longer mini-arcs. Once the story gets going around episode 6, the pacing is still too quick for its own good despite the myriad of glorious moments in the latter half of the show. For an action show, the fight scenes are often the worst parts of the anime’s visuals barring some of the brutal finishers. There is a lot to work with, and I can tell that I would have a blast reading the manga whenever I do so. Everything was just held back by this show needing to be 24 episodes when that was not enough to properly capture what was offered. Even a skilled director can only do so much, so it’s a miracle this show remains functional and compelling despite its constraints and issues. Perhaps another cour could have given characters more room to shine and the narrative more room to breathe. The show is sometimes at its best when things are quiet or vivid. At the same time, I dread what that would have done to the show’s already lackluster fight scenes. Alas, greatness is hamstrung. It’s a mix of greatness and mediocrity, much like the duality of the show’s tranquility and brutality. Alas, unless you want to see more of what the Steins;Gate and Texhnolyze director is up to, it’s more difficult to recommend this show than I would like given how enjoyable I found this show to be. Much like the characters themselves, proceed with caution.
This anime is really good if not a bit Japanese. It mulls over ideas at a leisurely pace, often to a non satisfying but realistic conclusion. The show is often very understated too. I would say it is a combo of mushishi, samurai champloo, and samurai jack. The animation is really good and the fights are very satisfying. The characters are all generally well fleshed out. The characters also all have clear motivations, and are well written which makes them interesting. The story gets very dark though so watch out for that. There is an extended torture plotline without a satisfying conclusion. The show starts out slow but if you stick with it I think you will enjoy it all.
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