Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
Everything in “Massacre” – including the titular castle battle that makes up a large portion of the episode – feels like Blade of the Immortal moving all of its pieces into position for its endgame. We've still got five episodes left before the series concludes, which is impressive given how much ground the show feels like its covered in the past few weeks. The arc of Manji's imprisonment and torture felt like it dragged somewhat as it went along, but Blade of the Immortal is positively cruising right now. Habaki is on the hunt (though he is curiously absent from this story), Kagehisa and the rest of the Itto-ryu are making their final strikes before leaving Edo for good, and Rin and Manji have naturally found a way to get mixed up in the bloodletting that lies waiting just on the horizon.
Rin's behavior towards Kagehisa invites a lot of speculation, considering how close she's grown to the Itto-ryu over the length of her journey. Not only did she bond with two Itto-ryu disciples while rescuing Manji, She and Kagehisa are practically friends at this point, and though she voiced a desire to go through with her revenge the last time she spoke to the man, I think it is telling that Rin's first instinct upon seeing him being pursued by the Rokki-dan was to shield him. One could argue that she did so and then proceeded to offer her and Manji's services to the Itto-ryu as a way to keep tabs on them as they flee Habaki, but I cannot believe it is that simple. As Rin's strength and experience have grown, her blind lust for violent catharsis seems to have lessened. I could be completely wrong, though, and maybe Blade of the Immortal is going to head with Rin personally tearing Kagehisa's head from his body and shoving on to a pike.
Speaking of the Itto-ryu leader, Kagehisa gets quite a lot of bloody work done of his own this week, with his assault on Hanabusa's stronghold forming the action centerpiece of the episode. It's a mostly-excellent sequence, suffering a little from the show's haphazard editing, but mostly managing to kick ass and take names unimpeded. Though I much prefer the tense, claustrophobic style of action that we saw when Rin broke Manji out of Habaki's dungeon, I'm perfectly happy to watch Kagehisa, Magatsu, and company rip and tear their way through what seems like a hundred imperial guards. The narrative justification for the battle feels flimsy to me, as Kagehisa argues that this last gasp of the Itto-ryu is his attempt to honor the original mission of serving as a “fang of the Shogunate” by serving as a small dose of metaphorical poison to the defenders of the Shogun, so that the whole body of the empire will be rebuilt as an even stronger being when it recovers. To be honest, Kagehisa's personal motivations have always felt undercooked to me; his character arc is one of the least engaging of the entire cast in my estimation. Still, giving the Blade of the Immortal crew an excuse to let loose with the gory goodness is never a bad thing, so I'll abide some middling warrior-philosophy if necessary.
In the episode's biggest surprise, the most keenly felt emotional writing comes from none other than Dr. Burando himself, who just so happens to be the doctor who answers Rin's call for help when Meguro and Tanpopo are attacked and poisoned by one of the Shogunate's own assassins. I honestly didn't recognize the man at first, and I only completely bought that it was Burando when Manji asked him about whether his new bald look and humble practice are a part of his effort to atone. Thankfully, Burnado knows full well that you can't exactly atone for being a civilian slaughtering monster, but he also goes out of his way to make it clear that he's still going to try. Manji himself has long since resigned himself to the life of a murderer, but as the not-so-good doctor himself notes, it doesn't make a lot of sense that the price Manji has to pay for killing so many men is to…kill a bunch more people. Burando believes that his immortality cannot simply be a force of death. The irony would be too cruel and evil for even him to acknowledge. As Blade of the Immortal winds down to its conclusion, it is all the more important for the show to be wrestling with Manji's future. Do he and Rin have any hope for a better life? If so, how many more will have to be cut down before our heroes can finally rest? Habaki is still out there, and Kagehisa's war is far from one. Also, lest we forget, there's a certain insane man with bone-swords for arms out there, and I'm sure he has his own ideas for the future that Mani and Rin deserve…
Odds and Ends
• The joke was unclear last week, but I found it very funny here that Tanpopo and Meguro are so fundamentally incompetent at their job. Literally everyone knows their roles as the Rokki-dan's spies, including Rin and Manji, who they definitely did not recognize before Rin politely laid it all out for them.
• In a kind-of-cute but mostly pointless aside, Meguro gifts Sori with a painting that bears her real name, which is Koto, if my rusty hiragana comprehension serves me right.
• Hyakurin is also still around, attempting to form some kind of reasonable relationship with Giichi, seeing as she's pregnant with his child and all. This is one of those storylines that is either going to end on a happy note, or a horrifyingly grim one. I guess we'll see where it goes!
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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