Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
It was only a matter of time before Manji and Rin ran into another swordsman that also possessed the blood worms that allow for our hero's titular immortality, and “Song of the Bugs” delivers blood worms in spades. Just in case a bout of worm-imbued immortal swordsmen wasn't enough, the show makes things interesting by having our villain of the weak, Eiku, possess a vial of “worm poison” that is enough to reopen every old wound Manji ever received, dropping him right at death's door for much of the episode. As far as plot development goes, there's precisely one instance where Team Blood Worm gets a vague clue as to Kagehisa's next destination, and it comes in the final minute of the episode. Until that point though, this is a personal sort of bloodbath, similar to when Manji squared off against Makie in episode 3, that advances the themes of the show more than it does the story.
The good news is that “Song of the Bugs” has all of the visual panache and confident direction that some previous episodes have lacked. The character animation is strong and consistent, the artwork looks crisp, and the show even cools it on the manic action editing a bit. Much of the action between Manji and Eiku is off-screen, and the brief flashes of violence we do get are mostly well done – there's a little too much messing around with random screen filters at times, for my taste, but it's a marked improvement over the nonsensical editing and choreography of episode 2.
Eiku also makes for a solid villain, chiefly because of the main difference between him and Manji: Eiku's had the bloodworms for over two hundred years, which means his consideration for the death and destruction he causes has dwindled to absolute zero. Late in the episode, Rin is tricked into thinking that she's met the same old woman who gave both Eiku and Manji the blood worms, but she turns out to be a poor old woman whose grandson was kidnapped by the villainous swordsman. After returning the baby, Eiku doesn't think twice about immediately cutting the woman and the child down; that the baby survives is less a matter of Eiku's mercy and more his disregard for all life. By the time the episode's done, and he's gotten his tormenting of Rin out of the way, all Eiku wants is to either kill Manji or be killed by him. As a being of pure, raw killing potential that is driven completely by wizened apathy, Eiku makes a decent impression, and is a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, the quality of the episode is hampered a good deal by some really lousy writing in spots, to the point where the story basically feels like Blade of the Immortal on auto-pilot. There's absolutely no surprise in seeing Manji get mangled before making his gory comeback to slice Eiku in half, and Rin is once again reduced to a blubbering, helpless mess, only managing to fire off a single (and predictably useless) throwing-knife volleys in between all of her screaming and crying. The absolute worst moment, though, is when Manji is writhing in the pain of being filled with worm poison, only for Rin to suddenly remember that she keeps some tablets of her family's super special antitoxin hidden in one of her hair circles. Never mind that Rin just so happens to have this hitherto unmentioned super medicine just hanging from her hair at all times – I am 99% positive that they've never been mentioned before – but Eiku makes such a big deal of the worm poison being this super rare and incurable thing, but Rin's medicine apparently does the trick just fine. How? Why? The show doesn't bother to explain, and when you factor in the rote characterization that plagues “Song of the Bugs”, you get an episode that manages to be less than the sum of its parts.
We do get to see Manji vivisect Eiku and pin his limbless torso to a tree like a stuck bug in an entomologist's display, so that's cool. So long as the production and mood of an episode are working so well, it's hard for me to outright dislike an episode of Blade of the Immortal, but my feelings on this outing are decidedly mixed. I'm hoping the show strays from the “Manji gets brutalized, Rin gets sad, Manji does some stabs” formula soon, because I don't think that mood and production values alone will be able to sustain an entire season. Blade of the Immortal has proven that it can be great television when it wants to be, but it's just as often content to be merely okay. By the time the show wraps up, I hope the former instincts will have ended up overpowering the latter.
Odds and Ends
• I appreciate how Rin's interaction with food makes for consistently funny gag material. A couple of weeks back she was vomiting all over that one sketchy chef while Manji and Makie did their thing, and here she finally crosses over into being completely indifferent to Manji's suffering when a plate of dango almost becomes a casualty of the fighting.
• You all wouldn't believe how much time I spent researching the proper name for Rin's hair thingies before I just gave up and called them circles. If any fashion-inclined readers can educate this poor, ignorant writer, feel free to sound off in the comments.
• One point of confusion I had was whether Eiku's plot to transfer his blood worms to Rin was a bluff or not. He has a line about how if it were so easy to transfer the worms he would have done it by now, but it still isn't clear whether that whole bit was meant to be foreshadowing for later plot developments, or just a waste of time.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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