Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
If “Act Twenty One – Trap” proves anything about Blade of the Immortal, it's that the show might finally be starting to do justice to its female cast, even if it still has a somewhat juvenile preoccupation with boobs and butts. For the longest time, Rin was the sole woman that we could consistently rely on to get any manner of character development, and even then it often felt like she was mostly there to motivate Manji's requisite bouts of bloodletting. Makie was a welcome addition to the story, but her presence in the overall tapestry of the show has been fleeting, and she too exists mostly as the distaff counterpart to Kagehisa. Things picked up quite a bit when Hyakurin became a semi-regular addition to the cast, though we wouldn't get a woman whose character arc wasn't in some way explicitly defined by romantic trauma/sexual assault until Doa joined Rin in rescuing the victims of Habaki's immortality experiments.
Now, not only has Rin's agency and role in the story been much more clearly defined, we also have Meguro and Tanpopo to add some much needed comic relief while still being competent warriors in their own right. None of the women in Blade of the Immortal have roles that are not in some way tied to the men in their lives, but we've at least reached the point where they feel like individual people in their own rights, with desires and strengths that allow them to stand apart in the ensemble. The opening scene – where Magatsu, Meguro and Tanpopo help nurse Rin and Manji back to help – works because we've come to care for these men and women in spite of their mixed and muddled allegiances. Even when the show's pacing isn't exactly doing the scripts any favors, the heart and soul of the story comes through in the end in moments like these, where a handful of barely held-together killers (and one incredibly stubborn teenager) are able to be friends, if only for a little while.
I wish I was as on board with Renzo's presence in the story, which hasn't lived up to its dramatic potential for me. I always figured the cost of Rin's vengeance would come back to her eventually, but the show is intent on drawing out story beat with unnecessary obfuscations. It takes forever for Rin to admit her role in the death of Renzo's father, and she still refuses to implicate him in the torture and murder of his parents; even Magatsu insists on sending Renzo out to discover the truth about his old man and the Itto-ryu on his own. I get why Rin would want to preserve whatever respect the child has for his dad, but it makes for a decidedly unsatisfying payoff to a story thread that can't have many more places to go in the few episodes that remain in Blade of the Immortal's run. We're at the point where the worst thing the show can do is waste time. Just tell the kid his pop was a sociopathic monster, hash out whatever drama comes from that, and move on already.
Even if Rin and Manji don't accomplish much other than standing up on their own two feet again in the first half of “Trap”, the plot keeps moving at the very least, whisking us back to Ryo's mission to fulfill her role in her father's clan and destroy the Itto-ryu. This second half of the episode begins somewhat slowly, but it eventually picks up into yet another thrilling battle to the death, which Blade of the Immortal has been excelling at lately. She's joined by Inroku Ban, a shifty warrior who favors pistols over the blade, and though Ryo and Inroku get within a hair's breadth of killing each other, they eventually join forces when they come to blows with one of the most fascinating Itto-ryu members yet: Koji.
Koji is an elderly fighter who uses subterfuge and his expertise in survival and poison-making to launch his solo assault against Habaki's troops. What makes this sequence especially fun is how trippy it gets; Ryo and Inroku both get asphyxiated with the jars of carbonic acid Koji has littered across the mountainside, giving the episode a chance to flex the surreal visuals that have marked some of the series' most compelling chapters. It's also just a great fight, with Inroku's painful death and Ryo's incredibly close victory giving the whole thing a sense of shifting balance and momentum, a hallmark of all great fight scenes.
Ryo's conflict is a bit simplistic compared to the other women in the cast – she wants to live up to Habaki's expectations, though she's his last living descendant, which puts her at odds with Habaki's men – but it is powerful indeed. I would never want her to actually win against Rin and Manji, but I'll be upset if she doesn't get some kind of vindication before her story is done. There are only a few weeks left before the Blade of the Immortal story concludes for good, and all of these disparate warriors are bound to meet eventually. It is possible Ryo might get her happy ending, just as it is possible that Hyakurin and Giichi might find some kind of peace in their life together, or even Rin and Manji for that matter. There are no guarantees in this web of revenge, though, and I can't even hold out too much hope that our heroes will be able to make it out intact.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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