Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
At first glance, you'd be given for thinking that “Act 7 – Evil's Shadow” abandons Rin and Manji entirely, seeing as they don't factor into the story whatsoever until the final eight minutes of the episode. Truth be told, until that final episode it is difficult to tell what exactly the episode is trying to do, as it initially feels like a hodgepodge of story threads and side-character material that didn't fit anywhere else. Things do coalesce eventually, though, with the introduction of a man that is certain to be a thorn in our heroes' sides, the sadistic swordsman known as Shira.
Before we get to him, though, Blade of the Immortal needs to introduce us to the clan Shira is affiliated with, the Mugai-ryu, who are a rival school of swordsmanship that is hellbent on destroying Kagehisa's Itto-ryu school. The opening scene is a montage attacks on various Itto-ryu members; Mangatsu manages to survive the rather idiotic attempt on his life, but others aren't so lucky, and with his job for Kagehisa more or less fulfilled, Mangatsu decides to strike out on his own. It's too early to tell how much the Mugai-ryu's presence in the story will amount to, but we've already met some characters who seem like prime secondary character material, like Hyakurin, a blonde woman who seems exceptionally good killing folks – a good skillset to have, considering the show she's in.
Speaking of women I wouldn't have minded seeing be more prominent in the story, the best part of the episode focuses on Mangatsu's relationship with a local prostitute named Ren, and their dynamic only needed a few minutes to become one of the show's best elements so far. Mangatsu is predictably distant and aloof, but he somehow still manages to have chemistry with the very playful Ren. After last week's episode hinted at the man being ever so slightly more decent than his other Itto-ryu colleagues, the moments he spends with Ren show that even though Mangatsu is probably incapable of treating the entire dalliance as little more than convenient fling, he is capable of forging a connection with someone that isn't marked by violence or control. The whole scene is sweet, against all odds, and I immediately found myself hoping that Ren might be a character Blade of the Immortal could revisit in the future.
Naturally, this means she had to be violently murdered literally a minute after Mangatsu bids his goodbyes, and this is where Shira comes in. Shira, you see, is a No Good Very Bad Man, and the major failing of “Evil's Shadow” is how hard it tries to convince you of this fact, when it was already quite apparent from the start. We know Ren is doomed the moment that Shira steps out of the brothel to greet Hyakurin, and she spots a spot of blood on his coat. In all honesty, leaving Ren's death more of an implication would have been effective and horrific enough, but then the episode felt the need to cut to her half-naked, bleeding body, all so we could watch as she struggles and cries in the last moments of her life. It's cruel not just on Shira's part, but on Blade of the Immortal's too, and there was more than a whiff of fetishization to Ren's death that rubbed me the wrong way, too.
Just in case you really didn't get that Shira is a bad man, don't worry, it would be impossible to miss once he shows up to Rin and Manji's camp to offer his support to their cause. Manji is somehow okay with this idea, even though Shira's very first act upon arriving at their camp was to chokeslam Rin to the ground, which was a red flag in and of itself. As if that wasn't enough, though, the episode ends on a positively groan inducing sequence, where Shira murders and barbecues a stray dog that Rin has befriended, all so he can feed it to her and laugh as she retches in guilt and horror when she finds out. Why does he do this? Well, because he's just so crazy and evil of course!
Since subtlety is apparently dead this week, this whole ending is stylized by the camera spasming in all manner of Dutch angles, while Shira's face is positively drowned in nausea-inducing psychedelic color filters. Granted, the show has used similar techniques before, this went too far into goofy edge-lord territory for me. As far as I'm concerned, an episode of Blade of the Immortal should never remind me of a bad Rob Zombie music video, yet here we are: The Mugai-ryu are on the hunt, bodies are hitting the floor, and Shira has arrived to stir up some House of 1000 Corpses-style trouble. He's a murderer, probably a rapist, and he also literally kills puppies. I hope it doesn't take long for Manji to give him the ol' slice-and-dice routine, but something tells me this joker is going to be sticking around for a while…
Odds and Ends
• The only other item of note this week is that Rin is back to training with Manji, and he makes a good point in that she can't simply expect to become a master swordsman in a couple of weeks, no matter how hard she tries. Still, I would love for her to be able to contribute more to story than “Consistently being kidnapped and abused by rapists and murderers” and “Occasionally throwing some fairly useless knives at bad guys”.
• Those dummies that attacked Mangatsu kind of had their deaths coming, I must admit. I mean, they each just stab the palanquin once with their blades, and they don't even check to see if there's a little bit of blood seeping out to verify the kill? The Mugai-ryu has got some chumps on their payroll is all I'm saying.
• I must say that the glossy and goopy way that blood gets drawn in this show can sometimes backfire when it comes to selling the violence, such as when Ren dies. As awful as the scene is, she definitely looks like she's covered head-to-toe in ketchup.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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