Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
This week's Blade of the Immortal is another one that feels an awful lot like a clip show in places, hurriedly rushing us past the basic plot points of stories that were originally much fuller in order to fit everything in to a digestible half-hour chunk. Granted, these clips clarify some of last week's more obscure events, and offer a slightly clearer direction for the show's plot as it settles in to its back half, but “Act Thirteen – Twilight” still represents my least favorite kind of Blade of the Immortal story, because it is hardly a story at all, at least not until Manji's fight with Giichi the Glasses Guy sets him down a path that is going to make things very inconvenient for our heroes, to say the least.
But first, the exposition: It turns out that brief dinner scene we saw in the previous episode was the prelude to a slaughter. The Itto-ryu's allies have been scattered to the wind by the Shogunate appointed leader of the Mugai-ryu, Kagimura Habaki. This has left Kagehisa backed into a corner, with only a half-dozen or so of his closest retainers left to carry on the Itto-ryu's fight. This makes for a decent enough framework for the series' new plot direction, I suppose. It's the Itto-ryu versus the Mugai-ryu, with Manji and Rin caught in the middle of it all. The problem is, there's very little drama to be found in the dialogue and action itself, just a couple of old faces surrounded by a bunch of new ones, all of whom feel more like pieces on the world's bloodiest chessboard than anything else.
Even the big fight of the week is a letdown. Giichi is the main contender this time around, and you'll remember him as the stoic fellow with the tiny glasses and chain-blades that saved Hyakurin awhile back. He seems like an okay guy, and a potentially interesting foil for Manji, but this episode has him once again playing errand boy, but, instead of saving his friend, he is trying to conscript Manji into the Mugai-ryu. Manji doesn't take to this, naturally, so they brawl, and Manji has to do a little of his immortal flexing to get out of it. Giichi loses, as is to be expected, but Manji takes Giichi up on his offer to meet with Kagimura, if only to get close enough to the guy so as to kill him. It's a very routine confrontation overall, so much so that the anticlimax is almost a punchline. After a few decent action beats, Manji just breaks Giichi's weapon, and Giichi just shrugs and says “Well, I'm beat, I guess we'll finish this later, maybe.” It's never a good sign when even the characters knowledge that a fight scene only existed to kill time, and get one character from Point A to Point B.”
If there is one thing I appreciated about Manji's meeting with Kagimura, it's that it finally brings Manji's immortality back to the forefront of the story. You'd think with a title like “Blade of the Immortal”, this story would have been more concerned with exploring the cursed gift that is Manji's entire existence, but being unable to die has mostly been a minor perk for our hero thus far, an excuse to make the sword fights extra bloody, while still leaving Manji capable of continuing on in the next episode. Finally, someone in authority has thought to question just how in the hell Manji is so bad at dying, and while I can't say that Kagimura is an exceptionally interesting antagonist so far, his base level of professional curiosity in Manji's whole deal is enough to make him a competent one.
Long story short, Rin is left all alone again when Manji goes off to confront Kagimura, and Manji is beaten by an ambush and shackled in chains for his troubles. Based on the sterile examination slab in Manji's cell, combined with the ominous music that brings us to the end credits, my guess is that a certain someone has gotten the bright idea to cut Manji open and find out what makes him tick, exactly. It doesn't bode well at all for Manji, but he's gotten out of worse scrapes, and his misfortune might at least make for a more interesting and cohesive episode of the show.
Odds and Ends
• Man, you'd almost forget Rin was the heroine of her own show, based on episodes like these. At the beginning of the episode, we see that she has improved her swordplay to slice six sticks in midair with her blade. This could be impressive, or it could be hilariously useless, depending on one's perspective. She also sneaks a kiss on a sleeping Manji which is…a thing that happens, I guess.
• Also, a very brief post-credits scene show us that some of Kagehisa's followers have come to rest at the same hovel as Rin at the end of the episode. Why this minor bit of plot couldn't just be placed in whatever future episode it will actually impact is beyond me. Then again, I don't know if I've ever understood the reasoning behind what Blade of the Immortal uses for its pre- and post-credits sequences, since they're almost always completely skippable.
• In another blink-and-you'll miss it moment, one of the Itto-ryu cuts down a very young looking boy named Makoto. I think he was working for Kagimura, but he only gets maybe five seconds of screen-time before immediately getting killed. My guess is that this is another character who got a lot more to do in the manga?Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.
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