Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
If I'm being honest, the mad doctor stuff with Burando isn't terribly interesting, at least not until “Act Fourteen – Amendments” reaches its climactic third act. Everything up until then is mostly mood-setting and gore-gushing, an opportunity to see Manji once again at the mercy of a lot of really sharp things that get lodged into all sorts of places they ought not to be. The episode isn't gory enough to qualify as torture porn, but there's definitely more emphasis placed on communicating just how dire Manji's situation is, while Rin does what little she can from the outside to track him down. It isn't Grade-A material, but it's enough of a shift in tone and pacing to be sufficiently entertaining.
Surprisingly, Rin's story is the one I was the most invested in, as it trades in one of my favorite thriller tropes, where a set of adversaries unknowingly find themselves under the same roof, and its only a matter of time before things go south. In Hitchcockian terms, this is classic suspense, the proverbial bomb underneath the table that the audience is privy to, but the characters are not, making for a naturally exciting premise. In practice, what it boils down to is mostly just comedic relief, which isn't quite as exciting as it could have been, but it's worth a laugh, all the same. The Itto-ryu in question are Isaku and Doua, with the former being a burly but gentle-seeming fellow, and the latter being the tattooed woman that expressed her loyalty to Kagehisa last week. The main conflict in Rin's story comes specifically from Doua, starting with when she immediately tries to kill Rin within moments of meeting her; not because she's Kagehisa's sworn enemy, mind you, but because she figured it would be easier to kill the tenant of the dojo than to ask for her permission to stay. When the ever-patient Rin does allow the two to lodge with her for the time being, Doua goes out of her way to literally tear the dojo apart, and to generally be a turd otherwise.
This plot is another that suffers from the clipped pace at which Blade of the Immortal has adapted its chapters. Outside of Hyakurin learning that Habaki has dismantled the Mugai-ryu in the wake of having captured Manji, the only other major development we get before the final scene of the episode is when Rin is chatting with Isaku and just very casually reveals how her family was horribly murdered by the Itto-ryu. There wasn't anything in the direction that indicated to me that Rin knew she was talking to a member of the clan, but I struggle to think of why she'd go out of her way to bring it up if she wasn't trying to egg Isaku and Doua on. Either way, Isaku's shocked expression is where Rin's plot ends for the week, making the whole sequence feel like a whole lot of setup with very little payoff.
The payoff for Manji's story, though, is much more satisfying, if only because it ends on a reveal and a post-credits cliffhanger that has a lot more dramatic potential than Rin possibly getting kidnapped/attacked by the Itto-ryu again. Before the credits, Burando gets his hand caught in Manji's stomach after he slices it open – you know, as you do – and the fact that his body can not only heal but actively respond to external threats gives him the idea to do a little bit of limb swapping with Manji's cellmate, Dewanosuke, who volunteered to take part in Habaki's “immortality experiments”. In a very slick action beat, Habaki arrives to deal with Manji, who has Burando locked in a chokehold, and Habaki manages to disable Manji by vertically tossing his blade and gouging Manji's arm. More relevant to the experiment, though, is when Habaki slices off the right hands of both Manji and Dewanosuke in a couple of quick, clean strokes. Burando swaps the men's limbs with one another, and based on Dewanosuke's speedy recovery, it seems like the transferring of the blood worms might really be as simple as a physical exchange of blood and body parts.
That Habaki would figure this out and so quickly set to work on uncovering more of Manji's secrets prove that he is both a worthy threat to our heroes, both physically and intellectually, but the post-credits stinger ups the ante even more. Wasting away in another one of Habaki's dungeons is good ol' Shira, who looks a little worse for the wear, but very much alive. As expected, an ambiguous fall off a cliff into a waterfall is a sure sign that your story isn't really done, and while I don't yet know how he will be reentering the story proper, I can only imagine the weird kinds of hell this guy would unleash if he were he to get a taste of Manji's immortality…
Odds and Ends
• Habaki calls for Asaemon “Asa the Beheader” Yamada to come in and assist Burando with his experiments, and at first I thought this was just an alias for Shira, but a bit of Googling tells me these are different people, and that the Shira reveal is just a completely disconnected teaser for future events. The show's strange and inconsistent use of pre- and post-credits scenes continues to puzzle me.
• Thinking more on it, the fact that Rin lets the Itto-ryu pair stay in her home after one of them tries to unambiguously murder her makes me feel like she has to be intentionally baiting them with her name-drop of their clan. Then again, Rin has made a habit of putting too much trust in obviously untrustworthy killers before, so who knows?
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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