Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
This week on Blade of the Immortal, it's the Manji and Magatsu Power Hower, with special guest star, Shira! There's also a trio of bald, mustachioed goons that Shira has hired to even the odds between him and the two, but make no mistake, “Act Eleven – Fall Frost” is all about the rematch between the show's sleaziest villain, the rival that cut off his hand, and the lover of the woman he so carelessly killed. It's a classic action melodrama setup, and it's all that is needed to lay the groundwork for a week of blood, thrills, and a whole hell of a lot of monologue.
I was down on Shira in his past appearances, because his overly obvious role as the unstable maniac of the group never felt like anything more than a cliché shortcut to easy conflict. He's still a ridiculously over-the-top psycho, but here his role as a straightforwardly cackling heavy for our heroes to do battle with suits him more. When he shows his face again, we see his hair has gone bone-white since Manji chopped off his arm, which is actually quite appropriate, seeing as the new hair color is a result of how many times he blacked out in the process of carving the exposed bones on his right arm into blades. This is the exact kind of stupid-yet-kind-of-awesome thing I wouldn't mind Blade of the Immortal indulging in more, because even if I don't know how such a thing could be physically possible even in the show's heightened universe, I'm not about to complain about watching a guy try to stab another guy with his own bones.
The episode is also a decent showcase for Magatsu, who has been given short shrift ever since his first, underwhelming fight against Manji. Our titular immortal bastard gets a few licks in early on, and is the one who figures out that Shira's reliance on using only one arm is his key weakness in this fight, as he still cannot easily find his balance. It's Magatsu's fight, though, and Manji wisely steps out of the way to handle the wacky mercenaries while Magatsu exacts his revenge on Shira, and most of the episode is devoted to their duel. While it's not the flashiest battle we've seen, what makes it work is the reliance on the character's use of physical space and their own battered bodies as weapons, rather than an overabundance of incomprehensible editing and crazy color filters. This is just two men who want to kill each other really badly doing their absolute damnedest to do so, and simple means better in this case.
The one major downside, in my opinion, is Shira's excessive monologuing. Sure, Manji lampshades the guy's penchant for going on and on about how twisted and filled with vengeance he is, and how it makes it really easy to get one over on him, but that doesn't make it any less obnoxious. To his credit, Tōru Nara does a great job communicating Shira's increasingly crazed and self-destructive state of mind, but a bit too much of this fight is devoted to the usual back and forth, for my liking. The fight in the abandoned shed is itself one of the more visceral displays Blade of the Immortal has given us so far, but it keeps getting interrupted by Shira's wacky old sociopathic blood-lust , and Magatsu's cool-headed ruefulness. At least, he is cool headed until Shira starts going on in graphic detail about how much he enjoyed assaulting Ren before murdering her, which, sure, we get it Shira. You're a real bad guy. Magatsu's subsequent mental break is such a predictable beat that Shira even makes a joke about it, which is kind of amusing, but it isn't a good enough punchline to justify the rest of the clichés used to set it up. Thankfully, the action itself is good enough to smooth over the rough patches, but I can't help but imagine a much better version of this whole scene that was able to exercise just a little more restraint.
In plots like this, the climax is king, and Blade of the Immortal wisely uses its familiar beats in a more productive way to make sure it sticks the landing. Setting up Shira's disrupted center of gravity with Manji earlier in the episode serves as a clean setup to the payoff of Magatsu tackling Shira right off of a waterfall cliff-side. With only one good hand, Shira is left to dangle at Magatsu's mercy, and there's the usual push-pull of Shira's cocksure rage and Magatsu's detached, single-minded purpose. From the moment Shira tumbles over the cliff, you just know that he's going to lose that other arm, but it's still quite satisfying to see Magatsu lop it off. When you take Shira's (presumably) dead body and Magatsu learning that Kagehisa is in Kaga, it's easy to consider this mission a success, even if Magatsu had to get stabbed a half-dozen times to get the job done.
We've spent so long in muddled territory, as far as the plot is concerned, that I was pleasantly surprised to get a one-off battle episode that delivered everything it needed to, more-or-less, and did so with style and verve. The begrudging partnership between Manji and Magatsu, along with their funny banter, was enough to get me on board with “Fall Frost”, but watching Shira get brutalized for twenty-minutes was the cherry on top of the bloody sundae that Blade of the Immortal can be, so long as it gets out of its own way first.
Odds and Ends
• I genuinely couldn't help but cringe every time Shira's bone-knife-things so much as brushed up against anything. I normally find the old “I'm fueling my rage with incomprehensible amounts of masochistic agony” shtick to be more groan inducing than anything, but in Shira's case, I get it. It might be one of silliest and most willfully stupid things I've ever seen an anime villain do, but I get it.
• This week's Rin Report only comes in just before the end credits, which shows her collapsing from exhaustion after days of walking through the Japanese countryside. She's thankfully found and revived by none other than….Kagehisa! Cue ominous music and prerequisite Rin shriek. What does this mean for our heroine? Given that there's still thirteen episodes of this series to look forward to, it can't possibly be that bad, right?
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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