Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
“Act 8 – Mugai-ryu” is, as the title suggests, an episode all about getting the two heroes of Blade of the Immortal closer to the self-described “gang” that is out to destroy the Itto-Ryu, a mission which includes taking out Kagehisa. Though a couple more Mugai-ryu members are introduced to help out in the hunt for the enigmatic swordsman, the focus remains squarely on Manji, Rin, Shira, and Hyakurin. Plot wise, it's an unusually busy affair, seeing as the episode focuses on a central mission that is slightly more complicated than “Rin and Manji run into someone who wants to kill them, almost die, but then eventually kill the bad guy.” A mole has revealed that Kagehisa is about to make his way through the heavily guarded Kobotoke gate; to complicate matters further, he is disguised as a woman, so as to evade both his pursuers and the officials at the checkpoint.
Though the extra layer of objectives gives “Mugai-Ryu” a refreshing feeling compared to its predecessors, I don't want to oversell the focus on strategy and tactics – for all of the emphasis on Rin and Manji teaming up with Shira and Hyakurin, the mission essentially boils down to the group learning about Kagehisa's plan, and then taking watch at various spots along the checkpoint to wait for a woman who looks like Kagehisa. Rin, being the only one who has ever seen the man in person, catches sight of a woman carrying a bundle shaped like Kagehisa's signature weapon, so she and Shira take pursuit while Hyakurin and Eye-Patch Guy are distracted by a decoy, and Manji gets sidetracked by another (he was in the bathroom, you see, and missed out on vital exposition).
The woman with the fake axe is also a distraction, though, which leaves Rin and Shira alone with the decoy's guards, which ends about how you would expect. The men get dismembered by Shira, and the poor decoy is graphically dismembered and sexually assaulted by Shira. As far as character development goes, this is where the episode falters the most, because it's an unnecessarily explicit rape scene that exists to show us what we as the audience already know – Shira is a bastard, and nobody should ever trust him to do anything less than The Worst Possible Thing. Given the events of last episode, we already have a clear idea of this, and while the episode makes a big deal out of Rin realizing that Shira is an irredeemable monster who has no respect for decency or basic empathy…didn't she already know that? The guy literally murdered a dog so he could trick her into eating it, and cackled like a lunatic when he did so. The fact that Rin and Manji have even tolerated Shira's presence throughout this episode is questionable enough, but I have no earthly idea why Manji would leave Rin alone with this very obvious psychopath not once, but twice.
Granted, since Shira is such an unrepentantly detestable monster, it is satisfying when Manji eventually does arrive and slices Shira's hand off. Again, I don't really understand why Manji just lets Shira run away into the woods, but whatever; I'll take shameful dismemberment over having to watch a protracted rape scene any day. My enjoyment of that one cathartic moment doesn't temper my ambivalence for the episode as a whole, though – outside of giving Hyakurin some well deserved screen time, it didn't amount to much outside of Rin once again failing to take on a single opponent, and Manji once again arriving too late to keep Shira from Harvey Weinstein-ing his way all over the episode. They aren't much closer to finding Kagehisa, and Rin has obviously not improved enough as a warrior to be any more capable of accomplishing her goal.
Rin's final line of the episode is “I'm such a fool”, and I can't find a good reason to disagree this time around. There hasn't been one swordsman she's met this entire season that hasn't turned out to be a bloodthirsty murderer hell bent on killing her, and it was indeed very foolish to trust the one who was choke-slamming her to the ground and feeding her dog meat just for the sake of sadism. This is hardly the first brush with failure and death that has convinced Rin that she's finally learned what it takes to complete her mission of revenge – let's hope the lesson sticks, this time.
Odds and Ends
• It seems that the show wants us to make note of Hyakurin's blonde hair, which is not simply a case of an anime letting its characters have whatever colored coiffure they please. I do question why a woman whose entire job depends on being able to blend in with a crowed would go out of her way to dye her hair and rely on a wig, especially since there's no indication that she is of mixed ethnicity, or that her hair was colored that way through some other means.
• Magatsu gets a brief check-in this week, though its simply to show us his discovery of Ren's body (he also gets satisfyingly chewed out by another woman of the brothel). My guess is that there is a showdown between Magatsu and Shira on the horizon, though I'm sure Manji and Rin will get involved somehow.
• I will admit that I found the scene where Rin cleaned Manji's ear to be cute, though I imagine it must have come across as somewhat bizarre for viewers that don't know that this particular methof of ear cleaning is common visual shorthand for intimate bonds. I still don't buy Rin's vague pontificating about discovering the secret to finding her inner strength, though, and I am horrified to think of what horrors lie squirming about in Manji's disgusting ear canals.
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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