Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
From the moment Kagehisa Anotsu revealed himself to be the kind of soft-spoken, introspective killer that stories like this love to feature, I suspected that Blade of the Immortal would have him working with our heroes sooner than getting killed by him, even if only temporarily. It also makes sense for the first character to be forced into an uneasy treaty with Kagehisa would be Rin; their first meeting already unsettled our heroine with its bloodlessness, so it would follow that her beliefs and principles would be further challenged by having to serve not as Kagehisa's captive, but his caretaker. For these reasons, the setup of “Act Twelve – Blood of Finality” is a compelling and thrilling turning point for Blade of the Immortal, at least on paper. In execution, though, the success of the episode is a little less cut-and-dry.
That's how it has always been with Blade of the Immortal, though. The story is so fractured and papered over with abridged beats and rearranged threads at this point that the parts of the story that aren't cut to pieces can still feel rushed, and the bits where plenty of story has been removed will still feel sluggish. I don't know how many chapters “Act Twelve” covers in actuality, but it feels like too much, shoving a whole arc's worth of character development and interesting interactions into a single half-hour, hoping that enough will stick to get us to the next chunk of the story. Last week's cliffhanger already established that Rin was going to be encountering Kagehisa all by her lonesome, and I was already prepared for Rin needing to reevaluate her position on murdering Kagehisa for one reason or another – that friction between her mission and her ideals has been her defining character trait all season, after all. Still, despite a decent amount of setup, I still found myself thinking that Rin and Kagehisa's pairing was rushed and somewhat unsatisfying. His descent into tetanus-fueled paralysis certainly bolsters Rin's empathy and sense of sportsmanship, since there's little to be gained from killing a man who can barely pick himself up enough to stand, but the show still fails to completely square the circle of Rin working with and eventually protecting the man who slaughtered her family and got her whole mission of revenge started. It feels like a couple of episodes worth of content could have filled out the pair's traveling together, and instead we just get the bullet points of the journey.
That said, even though the leaps we have to make to get the partnership in motion don't go as smoothly as they ought to have, the actual relationship between Rin and Kagehisa is very interesting. The former is obviously out of her depth and struggling with how to proceed, while the latter is simply trying to survive the ongoing attempts on his life, as well as the illness that is robbing him of even the ability to speak. For much of the episode, I was convinced Kagehisa was going to reveal he was faking or exaggerating his illness all along, but he seems to be on the level. For the man whose ostensible villainy got the gears of Blade in the Immortal's plot turning, it is rather impressive to see how willing the show is to dismantle any illusion of power or fearful machinations that might have once shrouded him. I always figured his role in the story would become more complicated than being that one evil guy that killed Rin's family, and it's good to see the story moving in a nuanced direction with him, rushed as it might be.
In addition to Kagehisa, we also get the return of Makie, which is very welcome, since her relationship with guilt and trauma is a good counterpoint to where Rin is at in her life. Rin wants to be a killer, someone capable of taking revenge and putting her inner demons to rest, where Makie has lived through the bloodshed and trauma of serving as Kagehisa's right hand, and she wants nothing more to do with it. She goes so far as to bind her hand with what I'm pretty sure are the strings of her shamisen, willing is to risk gangrene and death for the sake of her personal penance. I wish we'd gotten to see more of her and Kagehisa both up to this point, as I think it would make their relationship with each other, as well as to the violence they cause, that much more compelling.
At the very least, Blade of the Immortal doesn't skimp on the violence of the present-day story, reuniting the pair of Kagehisa and Rin with Manji, Makie, and Magatsu. The latter three team up to take on a squad of disgruntled swordsmen whose lives were also ruined by Kagehisa's scheming, and it's a fun fight, not the best animated that we've seen, but well-choreographed enough to be entertaining all the same. Again, I don't know how much I buy Rin's deciding to defend Kagehisa and allow him to heal before pursuing and killing him herself, if that is indeed what she intends to do. It makes enough sense for the character if I fill in some of the gaps of her development myself, but I shouldn't have to do that. A good story speaks for itself, and Blade of the Immortal is missing that mark more often than it is hitting it. We're roughly halfway through the story that Blade of the Immortal wants to tell, and it will need to tighten up its focus and execution if it wants second cour of episodes to rise above the bumpy inconsistencies of its first.
Odds and Ends
• There's an ever-so-brief subplot that we cut to this week involving the political movements of those in the Itto-Ryu, Kagimura Habaki. I guess, since Kagehisa's been away for too long, he was usurped as the leader of the school? There's not much to report, given how insubstantial the whole sequence is outside of a slight expositional update. I looked away long enough the first time I watched the episode that I missed most of it, which tells you how important it is to this particular episode's story.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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