Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
It's been awhile since I've ended an episode of Blade of the Immortal feeling genuinely excited to see what happens next, but the show has finally delivered a true, blue winner this week with “Act Sixteen – Altered Limb”. This outing combines some of my favorite genre tropes and smashes them all together for a thrilling time. We've got a prison break gone wrong, a chance for a bunch of secondary characters to come together and shine in the spotlight, and plenty of brutal and explosive action; if that wasn't enough, we even get some shades of zombie horror when Doa and Rin find themselves in the depths of the caves underneath Habaki's estate, where Dr. Burando's twisted experiments have succeeded in creating creatures that are neither living nor dead.
It's the focus on Rin and especially Doa that makes this episode work so well, with the former being criminally underused in her own show, and the latter being a vicious but empathetic killer whose growing bond with Rin is one of my new favorite relationships in the show. The flashbacks to Doa and Usaku's past reveal that she is an Ainu, or at least is closely connected to them somehow, and her violent early years brought her into the care of a European Christian named Feniche Isaac Calvario (a cursory Googling doesn't bring up anything for “Feniche”, but Calvariό is a city in Portugal, so I'm guessing our man is Portuguese). We only get glimpses of the pair's early days, and there isn't much there that is surprising – there's plenty of killing, implied prostitution, and robbery to go around – but it is still one of the sweeter dynamics we've been given in this grim story. It is unclear to me how old Doa is meant to be, exactly, and whether her relationship with Usaku is strictly platonic, but I'm going to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and assume he isn't actively sleeping with a girl who is probably a couple of years younger than Rin, who is only sixteen herself.
The present day material is where “Altered Limb” shines, though, giving Rin and Doa the opportunity to do a little scouting and ass-kicking of their own as they spy on Habaki, uncover Burando's monstrous experiments, and launch a mission to rescue not only Manji and Usaku, but all of the many men Burando has absconded in the recent weeks. The episode still struggles with some awkward pacing and editing – see the “Odds and Ends” section for more on that – but this is a remarkably consistent episode for a show that hasn't ever been known for stitching together its plotlines with grace. This allows for actual tension to build up in the scenes leading up to the girls' infiltration of Habaki's lair, and it helps the non-too-subtle themes of the episode breathe a little too. When an exasperated Rin exclaims at one point that “This is a woman's fight!”, I was worried that the episode was going to stick with the women only making progress through nagging and subterfuge, but Blade of the Immortal doesn't disappoint, at least not this time.
Rin and Doa's mission is one of my favorite sequences of the series so far, blending action, suspense, and spectacle to a superb degree. Doa gets the lion's share of the killing, which makes sense given that she's much more attuned to the work than Rin will ever be, but our Heroine finally gets more to do than be captured this week! Admittedly, she
It wouldn't be Blade of the Immortal if the story didn't have some lows to accompany its highs, though, and “Altered Limb” ends on quite the grim note. Usaku has been straight up vivisected, leaving Doa down for the count, which means Rin has to navigate Dr. Burando's underground labyrinth of horrors all by herself. We haven't seen more than a glimpse of Manji in weeks, so I can only assume he'll work his way back into the fray sooner or later, but I can't help but be worried for Rin as she descends further into the blackness before the credits roll. Blade of the Immortal has taken no small amount of pleasure in seeing her suffer, and Dr. Burando has more than his fair share of malice to provide.
Odds and Ends
• One welcome but very poorly communicated development in this episode is Hyaku's return. I was waiting for her to help out Doa and Rin with Manji's rescue, but instead we get a tonally out of place scene where she and Giichi get into a violent argument over her recently discovered pregnancy. Within the span of a minute or two Hyaku is trying to abort the baby with a rock, Giichi is pinning her to the ground and slapping her, and the two have a heart-to-heart about whether either of them could raise the baby in the manner it deserves. It isn't even entirely clear if this scene is a flashback or something happening while Rin and Doa are doing their thing, and it isn't mentioned again. It's weird.
• Another weird bit of sloppy editing: The ending, or rather the complete lack of an ending. The episode just sort of stops, cutting to the credits at what feels like a random point in the middle of a shot of Rin climbing into another part of the cave. There's no sense of climax or the setting up of a cliffhanger – it's as if the studio ran out of usable footage and just had to shove the credits in to mask the issue.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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