Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
As far as progressing the plot is concerned, “Act Fifteen – Acquisition of Guts” isn't much to write home about. Dr. Burando continues his experiments on Manji and Dewanosuke, and while things look up for a while, Dewanosuke's minor healing abilities are no match for Habaki's blade, and the pressure of throwing even more bodies at the immortality experiments drives Burando insane. Meanwhile, Rin, Doa, and Isaku get into some trouble with the law, leading to the girls being on the run while Isaku, a Christian, is captured. That's basically the long and short of the entire plot of the episode, and based on that alone you would be forgiven for labeling it as filler.
As a mood piece, though, “Acquisition of Guts” shines in a way Blade of the Immortal hasn't in a good many weeks, allowing the story to get soaked in a grim and grimy atmosphere that puts a very fine point on Manji's current predicament. The focal point of all this eeriness is the good Dr. Burando himself, whose mental breakdown is easily the most out-there and risky stylistic gambit the show has pulled this far. I was unsure of the whole sequence, at first, when the screen was just centered on a pair of disembodied eyeballs and a naked Burando, curled up in the fetal position as his grip on reality begins to shatter. To be frank, I suspected that the effect was as much a cost saving measure as an artistic choice, but the further we get into Burando's head, the more interesting and strange the visuals get. The ghostly figures scratched into the not-quite-pure white background are unsettling in a way that is hard to pin down, and the transition from their surreal dance to the grotesque drawings smeared on the wall of Burando's cell at the asylum is a slick trick indeed.
While the episode's aesthetic breakdown is an effective one – shades of Burando's madness flicker about across the screen throughout, as if the animation cells themselves are infected with it – its affect on Blade of the Immortal's plot can't help but be tangential, which is what really hurts this chapter. The sense of time passing is obfuscated in a way that I think is intentional, but it nonetheless feels kind of weird to watch this whole side story about a character we don't especially care about go down for what we come to learn is literal months. What is Rin up to this entire time? Why does Manji get barely any screen time in an episode so focused on his torture and imprisonment? Questions like these would be easier to brush aside or ignore completely if Burando were someone we'd come to really be invested in, or if Manji's capture didn't feel like just another roadblock waiting to be undone, but that isn't the case. I don't care about Burando much at all, and I've seen enough of the wall-eyed-psycho types in anime to be numb to his Mad Doctor routine.
The Isaku and Doa detour is an okay one, for what its worth. There isn't enough of a sense of their relationship with Rin to allow the tragedy of Isaku's capture to hit home, but the pair's fight with the local guards is nifty, all the same. Doa leaps and dashes about with superhuman speed, and Isaku just stands there playing support like the loyal sidekick he is. I'm also curious to see whether Isaku being a Christian will play into his development at all, or lead to any surprising conversations or revelations. Otherwise, it's probably just a nod to the historical tensions between Christians and the Japanese authorities of the time, which I suppose is a novel way to ratchet up the tension.
This isn't the weakest of Blade of the Immortal's recent episodes, thanks largely in part to its willingness to get weird with Burando's story, but I'm getting impatient with this arc. Habaki is a fine villain, but the Itto-ryu plot has been on standstill for what feels like forever, and watching Manji get tortured week after week is no substitute for the perfectly good conflict the show was already cooking up. The show at least ought to pay off its Shira tease from last week. I may not like that guy very much, but things are hardly ever boring when he's around.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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