Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
The first one to be dealt a killing blow is Makie, which isn't all that surprising, given the hail of gunfire that capped off last week's episode. Or maybe it's Ryo – it's hard to tell in the middle of all the chaos, but the end result is the same. At the very least, while Ryo must resign herself to die the sad and lonely death that she was likely doomed to the moment she was born, Makie gets to go out fighting, slicing apart the sniveling Hanabusa just moments after he ordered the fatal volley of bullets down onto the dueling samurai below. For all of his bluster about building a better future for Japan, he got to die in a pile of snow and how own blood, just like the best of the warriors he was so hell-bent on cutting down, which is a fitting enough end for a character that, in the grand scheme of things, didn't especially matter outside of his function within the plot.
Blade of the Immortal must agree with me regarding Hanabusa's worth to its own story, because it literally fast-forwards through his death scene, presumably because there was just too much material to cover in this one episode, or something. While it's true that I don't really care about Hanabusa getting a satisfying death scene, it's a damn shame that Makie had to be done so dirty. She's been with the show since practically the beginning, and while she never got the due diligence she deserved, these final episodes had me thinking she'd at least get to die with some dignity. But nope, we just had to literally cut out any semblance of dramatic tension and speed up the footage of her most tragic moments so we could get to the real set piece of the finale: The climactic battles between Habaki, Kegehisa, Manji, and Rin.
Except, if you came into the finale of Blade of the Immortal hoping for the samurai showdown to end all showdowns, do I have bad news for you: The two fights that conclude this series may well be the worst action cuts we've gotten to date. In a move that feels an awful lot like artistic shortcuts masquerading as abstract stylistic choices, both scenes are cut and directed more like montages than climaxes: No dialogue, barely any comprehensible staging, and an emphasis on raw, messy emotions over satisfying storytelling. Kagehisa's defeat of Habaki is a little more forgivable seeing as we got half and episode dedicated to their bout already, but Manji and Kagehisa have barely shared a word with one another this entire series, and their most meaningful interaction is reduced to some silent lip flaps and a few underwhelming strokes of the blade before Manji just decides to let Kagehisa go free. This one gesture doesn't even matter because a couple of minutes later, Rin arrives to swiftly and coldly enact the revenge she's been pursuing since Episode 1. She stabs Kagehisa, Kagehisa monologues a bit about the Itto-ryu being all about freedom, then he dies. That the one death that Blade of the Immortal had been building up to the whole time should feel so toothless has to be the single greatest misstep in a finale that is honestly full of them.
Another strange choice: Rin and Manji share virtually no screen-time together, and, if I'm not mistaken, no meaningful dialogue at all. Once Kagehisa is dead, we cut straight to nearly nine months later: Hyakurin's baby is fit to pop out at any moment, Giichi is wandering about (and I think the old man he passes by is supposed to be Abayama), Magatsu is doing just fine on his own again, and Rin is ready to set off on a solo tour of mourning and forgiveness for all of the damage done by and because of the Itto-ryu. While I understand the ambiguous and melancholy tone this final episode was going for, I think it's odd that we don't even get a token parting shot or exchange for our two main characters, since their relationship formed the backbone of the story. I did appreciate Rin's explanation of why she chose to kill Kagehisa after all – to prevent any more evil or destruction being caused by the Itto-rryu, and Rin's final conversation with Hyakurin is appropriately cathartic. The mother-to-be scolds Rin for being to concerned with adult things, and the poor girl breaks down in tears, presumably because she is morning the childhood she completely lost in the cycle of revenge and murder that consumed her for so long. If these last two episodes had been combined and extended to serve as an hour-long finale, it might have been able to sell the more character-focused moments like these better without feeling so rushed for time as it wrapped up its plot.
A lot of this finale didn't work for me nearly as well as a conclusion ought to, but the very last scene of the series definitely hit all of its marks. Given the title of both the episode and the seires, I really should have expected a major time-skip at some point, but I was still shocked when we jump at least 90 years into the future, if not more, to find Manji by himself once again, weathering the changes of a completely new era in Japan. This is where he encounters the old woman who gave him the blood-worms again, and she introduces him to a little girl named Fuyu. She's the granddaughter of an old friend who bears a suspicious resemblance to a certain other woman Manji used to know, though he can't quite remember her name (at least, that's how the line is translated on Amazon). Fuyu gives Manji a family heirloom intended specifically for him that she says has been passed down for at least four generations, and the old woman gives Manji a new task which may be the most difficult he's ever faced: Rescue Fuyu from her dysfunctional family and protect her in “in this era in which swords are not swung.”
For all of Blade of the Immortal's faults, moments like this epilogue show how terrifically effective it can be even when it isn't reveling in the guts and the glory of swordplay. It's why, of all things, the image the show lingers on in its end-credits has always been the water-wheel. Time is an endless cycle, but the cycle need not consist of vengeance and bloodshed. Rin chose to see her goal of killing Kagehisa through to the end precisely so the killing could stop once and for all, and she went on to dedicate herself to sewing peace, and not discord. Even when her descendants chose to take up the mantle of self-serving disharmony once again, Manji is chosen to be a force for protection, one that does not have to kill to fulfill his duties. Mani protests, but does not refuse, and by the time Fuyu is comfortable enough to take his hand, he can remember that name from his past, so long ago, in what truly was an altogether different time. The wheel may have come back around to him once more, but perhaps this time things can be different. Maybe Manji finally can put his blades down for good.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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