Manga: Blade of the Immortal
Mangaka: Hiroaki Samura (Story & Art)
Publisher: Egmont (Germany)
Original Publisher: Kodansha
Published in: Afternoon
Price: 6,50€
Released so far: Volume 1-20
Release Schedule: Volume 21: March 2008
Additional Information: Comes with a six pages long extract from Afternoon, the magazine where BotI is serialised in.

While people in Japan are enjoying volume 21 of Blade of the Immortal, as well as the magazine chapters, we here on the other side of the world are catching up as much as possible with the samurai-fantasy epic by Hiroaki Samura.

I doubt Blade of the Immortal needs any introduction; every seinen aficionado worth his salt should at least heard of it. If you haven’t…start reading it. NOW. The new volume continues where volume 19 left us dangling: with fighting, fighting and more fighting. Instead of complaining about this arc, like some people seemed to have done, I certainly don’t find it disagreeable. I love the blood and gore, especially when they are as dynamic and gruesome as Samura draws them. Read more about the award winning manga after the cut.

The first few pages concentrate on Bando and how he wants to escape his self-made nightmare. We also get to see the continuation of the duel between the disciplined and calm Yamada and a very acrobatic Manji. Suddenly they all realise the water from the mansion’s trench has reached their location.

On the other side of the prison cell, the outnumbered Doa is losing ground fighting with the guards and the rising water level, until another one of Bando’s demonic creatures arrives. Catching the watchmen off guard, he greets them with two quick slices, killing a guard in blink of the eye. He now turns to Doa and Isaku and attacks them. Isaku, reacting quickly shields Doa and thus saves her life.

Isaku then has to endure the furious hits and strikes of the monster until it gets distracted by Manji, who apparently won his fight with Asaemon. This spectacular fight, where nothing seems to bring down Bando’s “Number One”, lasts for most of the volume. He finally meets his maker in form of a duet by Doa and Manji, beautifully illustrated/displayed on a double page. However, this monster won’t be the last surprise that awaits the group in the dungeon…

Volume 20 is another great example for the talent and skill of Samura. He ends this long, and from what I’ve heard, mostly unloved arc, with not just one bang but with three. The awesome and exciting fights once again grant the reader a high amount of action, making up for the slow pace of before. However this volume was not all about fighting. It displayed the growth of Rin and how Manji’s and her relationship changed over the “years”. It leaves room for speculations and concludes this arc fully, although not without one last philosophical statement on immortality and the human greed.

Samura’s art always has been one of the best amongst the “seinen” category. You know how most of the shounen art is the same, even the panel structure; to me, even shoujo art doesn’t greatly differ. The only genre with a huge variety of different styles is seinen. Of course there are always exceptions, but I guess as the seinen topics offer more variety, so does the art. I strongly crave unique styles and Samura is on the top of my list. His illustrations, at first glace, appear rather dull and plain…but it fully shows its potential if you take the time to immerse yourself more thoroughly, to embrace every little detail that is embedded into each frame.

Overall, I would say volume 20 was an excellently crafted way of ending this arc, leaving hints to new revelations in the next volume. I’m anticipating its release in March to see what further developments Manji and Rin’s cute relationship will have and what Samura plans to do with the Itto-Ryu, especially after they leave the scene in high spirits.

Story: 6/7 – We finally get the arc to finish and it contained some interesting plot twists at the end.
Art: 6+/7 – One of the best art there is out there. Only a few exist, whose art is on the same level.
Enjoyment: 6/7 – I loved the fights, but I’m also happy that the story is finally progressing, I’m eagerly awaiting volume 21, as it seems major story progress will be made there.
Overall: 6/7

Comment on Egmont’s release: While the manga is probably as thick as the 240 pages heavy Astral Project volume, it’s also the smallest if compared to the releases of other German publisher. This affects the art of Samura as the pictures sometimes seem a bit too small. The lettering, editing and translation seems fine; this is as much as I can say without knowing Japanese and not comparing it to the actual RAW.