There may be a feeling that having read eighteen volumes Blade of the Immortal that it’s possible to spot the emotional stunners salted through Hiroaki Samura’s plots. Yeah, right. His superb facility for making the reader care about the cast may be a known technique by this point, but that in no way makes him predictable. These surprises are no cheap melodrama, but entirely logical consequences of the characters he’s built so carefully, and what they’ve experienced, all of which is a long-winded manner of pointing out that Samura takes us all by surprise again in the opening chapter.

It’s the title sequence that concerns us, however. Rin has now learned where Manji might be, and she plans to enter this stronghold and rescue him. This is in the company of the exceptionally talented, but extremely unhinged and unpredictable Dōa. It’s a suspenseful calculated risk. Dōa’s inability to think before she acts could scupper the mission entirely, yet her inordinate skills could ensure success when subterfuge and trickery fails. The title refers to a network of tunnels under the hillside leading to the basement levels of a castle, and while Rin and Dōa work their way beneath the castle gates are being besieged by women whose husbands are missing.

Badger Hole is contingent on clever plotting. Samura uses black bordered flashback pages to reveal some earlier conversations involving both the featured characters, each having a different relevance to the main story. This is a rare volume, however, where Samura departs from his extremely careful character construction to dip down into sensationalism. The main villain of the book is a caricatured sadist, and a rescue welcome, but rather more convenient than would normally be the case.

Constructing naturally flowing English language graphic novels from a story originally serialised monthly in Japan with no set episode lengths is at times logistically problematical. Badger Hole is one of the slimmest volumes in the series, although only $2 cheaper than the following Demon Lair with almost double the page count. That’s also with the glossary explaining Japanese terms expanded to eleven pages and encompassing every entry noted over the previous eighteen books (although some terms used in this volume are notably absent). Unfortunately the way the chapters break down means Badger Hole is not only slimmer, but a slightly lesser volume overall. However, it also features some essential plot developments, so the while the individual book may therefore seem of lesser value, factor it against the quality of Blade of the Immortal as a whole.