Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
We're all familiar with Blade of the Immortal's formula by now: Rin and Manji travel to some new destination in search of Kagehisa, and on the way they run into either one of Kagehisa's goons or, as is the case this week, one of the men responsible for the murder of Rin's family. Here, the culprit is Araya Kawakami, and he initially seems like a good man. A talented mask-maker, he is first seen gifting some children his decorative tengu and kitsune masks, though the fact that he stops to decorate one with his own blood is a fairly obvious tell. It is at first unclear how Manji's meeting with Araya is connected to Rin's story, which involves her saving a rude young boy named Renzo from the wrath of a sadistic swordsman, but the eventual tie is the kind of simple, predictable, and tragic twist that Blade of the Immortal trades in: Renzo is Araya's son, and when Renzo takes Rin to meet his father and thank her for her help, the final conflict between the two is set in motion. Even though Rin insists she isn't actually here to kill Araya, we know that his death isn't a matter of if, but when.
Truth be told, Araya does deserve to die. The flashback to the rape of Rin's mother stops just short of depicting the act in full, but we still see the woman get violated and beaten before Araya paints her body in his familiar markings with her dead husband's blood. Magatsu, the masked warrior Manji fought a few weeks back, is the only one to raise an objection, but the men have their way all the same, and the horror of it will be burned in Rin's memory forever. So while the formula of these episodes is maybe feeling a little tired, “Act Six – Wing Roots” marks the first time Rin has truly been confronted with the gravity of the murders she has dedicated her life to committing, and it isn't surprising to see that when she allows herself a glimpse at the possible humanity of the men she despises, she doesn't quite have the resolve to do the bloodletting herself. Araya is a rapist, a sadist, and probably a sociopath, but he's also the father to a genuinely decent boy. Rin believes that she can reconcile the monster with the man and let things go, if only Araya would prostrate himself and beg forgiveness. Araya knows a different truth, though. His decency is simply another one of his intricately carven masks, and if it were ever to slip, the one shred of real human connection he has would be gone from him forever. So he attacks Rin, and then Manji arrives, and so the old song and dance resumes.
I don't say that as a criticism, either. Stories like these are by their very nature formulaic – a terrible act is committed, and then the survivors methodically enact their brutal vengeance, rinse and repeat – so I'm not opposed to Blade of the Immortal ending most of its chapters with a bloody battle against one of Kagehisa's underlings. The action here is well done, and the choreography is as consistently staged and edited as its been in weeks. An anime called “Blade of the Immortal” would feel a bit slight if it were lacking in blades on a regular basis, after all. Both of our heroes acquit themselves well enough, and the small nature of the dueling space gives the episode room to be creative with the warriors' plays; Manji's last minute grab for the blade he used to break into Araya's home is a genuinely interesting save, instead of the cheap cop-out those kind of tricks can often feel like.
Besides, whether or not the action works depends on whether or not the script manages to peel back new layers of theme and character development in the process, and we We get that in this episode. Even though it's a well-worn trope to have the protagonist of a revenge story have to confront the terribleness of their actions, that doesn't make Rin's conflict any less effective. We don't care much when Araya dies, but when Renzo walks in and immediately tries to kill Manji, we feel the dull, painful repetition of it all. My favorite part of the episode was the clever and cynical way it all plays out, with Manji immediately realizing that he has to let the boy “kill him” so that the cycle of violence can be broken, and even then Rin still has to show the grieving boy proof of Manji's “corpse” before he will be satisfied. Something Rin will have to learn one way or the other is the lesson each and every one of the show's deaths is attempting to teach her: The pain and rage that violence begets, and the hunger for retribution that so often follows – these aren't things that can simply fade with time and distance. All too often, these grudges are either violently snuffed out in death, or they slouch along, festering forever, corrupting everything and everyone they touch.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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