Blade of the Immortal
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Blade of the Immortal (TV 2019) ?
In another of Blade of the Immortal's blink-and-you'll-miss-it developments, “Act Nine – Gatherings” manages to fit one of the series most significant character moments for Rin into the span of maybe a minute or so. Presumably because of the whole “being wanted for an absurd amount of murders” deal, it's decided that Manji cannot pass through Kobotoke gate, and Rin makes the unilateral decision to leave her bodyguard behind and make the journey herself. While Rin is also wanted, she is decidedly less conspicuous, Rin turns to the friendly maid she met last week, who takes pity on her and tells her the secret to passing through the checkpoint unscathed: The residents of the nearby Kaminagafusa village can obtain special passes for children and relatives, and there are some locals who are willing (or desperate) enough to pass the privilege along to strangers with enough cash to make it worth the risk. So, off Rin goes, alone for the first time, yet still relying on chance and the kindness of strangers to continue her pursuit of Kagehisa.
Normally, I make it a point to not begin reading the source material for a series, but due to some translation details that I'll discuss further along, I sought out the chapters that “Act Nine” is based on, and I was surprised to find how nearly a dozen chapters worth of story were selectively edited and shuffled to give us this very contained episode. This is par for the course, as I understand it, and since a lot of this skipped material could easily be covered in future episodes, I won't spoil any details, but the point is that, in the manga, this one journey of Rin's was intercut with Manji's own story. With the two protagonists traveling in parallel, and with Manji's half of the story being particularly more action-packed, there is a sense of escalation and character growth on both of our heroes' parts that is lost here. The whole exchange that leads Manji to conclude that journeying through the gate is impossible is, in fact, completely skipped over; the entire inciting incident of this episode is literally boiled down to three or four lines in the first minute of the epiosde. Thus, what took many weeks of buildup in the manga is reduced to one twenty minute journey. Rin meets a reluctant married couple who have left the people-smuggling game completely after an attempt went wrong (which here means that a girl got her head chopped off right in front of them). For the husband, Nakaya, Rin's 21 ryos are apparently all the convincing needed to take a chance on Rin, though his wife Sato has some reservations. The only thing left is to make through the gate.
I actually really like the episode's choice to condense everything into a single episode – Rin's characterization has felt awfully repetitive as of late, and this deceptively low stakes gambit is the perfect opportunity for her to show off her own fortitude. The clipped pacing may be a side effect of taking a bunch of initially disparate scenes and stitching them together, but I like the effect. It is measured and cinematic in the way that Blade of the Immortal often attempts to be, but isn't always successful at. More to the point, it all provides a clear line of build up to Rin's interrogation at the hands of the checkpoint watchman, an observant and skeptical man who can see through Nakaya's terrible lying immediately. Rin is much more resourceful, and at the end of the episode, we see via flashback just how she can be so successful. In an earlier scene, it seemed like Sato was going to attack Rin for risking their safety for something as petty as revenge, but she uses her blade for a much more practical purpose: If Rin is going to go through the checkpoint by pretending to be Nakaya's sister, she will need to know everything that the watchman knows. Family history, life running the inn of a nearby village, and even the physical traumas that came with giving birth at only fourteen.
To that end, Sato suspects that the guards will demand to see physical proof of “Sawa's” labor, and so she carves a convincing enough scar onto Rin's belly. As it so happens, after a tense and grueling round of questioning, the watchman does indeed demand to see this scar. Rin has already given a wonderfully convincing performance – in one of the episode's best touches, she summons the necessary grief over the death of her fake in-laws by remembering the real trauma she suffered at the hands of Kagehisa's goons – but it isn't enough, and instead of risking a close inspection by the local “crone”, she strips right in front of the guards and shows off just enough of her scar to make it through. It's a one-and-done sequence that we don't really get in Blade of the Immortal, at least not without a lot of manic cutting, both of limbs and of footage; seeing the show generate so much palpable tension just by having three characters sit in a room together and talk is an excellent reminder of what the show can do well when it isn't rushing through the material, or indulging in cheap violence for the sake of repeating a well-worn point.
I wasn't expecting to be so enthusiastic about this episode at first, given its absurdly rushed opening, but this is one of the best episodes we've had in a long while, mostly because the show was willing to pump the brakes and give Rin some much needed focus, without the distraction of Manji's killing, or Kagehisa's scheming, or the ridiculously constant threat of being sexually assaulted. This week, Blade of the Immortal gave Rin the chance to use her intelligence and determination in a more creative and interesting way, and though she admits herself that all of this was still by the grace of others who were willing to risk their necks for her sake, her growth as a person and as a warrior feels more palpable than it has in recent weeks. Not only was she willing to shed a little bit of her own blood to get through a tough spot, her quick thinking and inner-strength managed to prevent bloodshed, for once. All she needs to do is get better at actually fighting, and she'll be well on her way to exacting that much sought after vengeance. Whether she will really want it, by the time things are said and done, remains to be seen.
Odds and Ends
• The translation issue I mentioned earlier comes up in the final scene of the episode, when Rin opens up her packed meal and finds both some of her money and a note from Sato. The Amazon translation of Sato's note reads: “"I might as well say, I can't even begin to imagine how you'd use a sum of 21 ryo. While it is selfish, I will be taking about half of it for myself. My husband will be getting his share too, don't worry." This felt even more stilted than usual, and what's more, it didn't make much sense, since it implied that Sato was basically stealing the money that she'd implicitly refused in a flashback from only a minute or two earlier, only to then pack it up for Rin again. As suspected, the scene originally reads as Sato apologizing to Rin because she is intentionally giving back part of the money, which goes against Rin's original wishes. How the translation mixed up the scene so badly is anyone's guess, but it makes me worry about what other significant details might have gotten extremely lost in translation over the past nine episodes…
Blade of the Immortal is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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