Review by Frank Plowright
An odd and almost abstracted cover represents the midst of combat, plenty of which is found within Blizzard. Since the very beginning Blade of the Immortal has featured excessive and gruesome violence. Brutal death and loss of limbs have been hardly uncommon, and although combat scenes have been beautifully composed and drawn, they’re never portrayed in a manner glorifying violence. If anything the explicit display of what finely sharpened swords can do has the opposite effect, but has the repetition dulled that effect? On the basis of Blizzard, certainly not. There have been epic battles previously, but Hiroaki Samura’s resolution to the combat between Manji and Shira begun in Snowfall at Dawn is the most intense battle sequence he’s produced. It’s not for the faint hearted, and very clever. What might otherwise be improbable is contextualised by Samura via another swordsman speculating on what’s happening in front of him. Let’s just say the freezing conditions are important.
Having noted that, the commentary is at times clumsy and expository. Samura needs to explain why neither Manji or Shira are suffering from the damage they’re inflicting as they hack at each other, but the subtlety associated with the strip lapses here. There’s an epilogue. It’s hardly a spoiler to note that with only another five volumes to go before the end of the series Samura is drawing his large cast together, and plenty of them won’t make that finale, and in a final battle it wasn’t going to be Shira walking away. His death, though, is prolonged and terrible, befitting the pain he inflicted on so many others. Again, while retributive, and explicitly illustrated, it’s gut churning rather than exploitative, and it occurs as part of a great character scene.
As ethical considerations have been a concern throughout the series, Samura returns to them for the final chapter, with an unlikely saviour laying down the law. It’s a clever piece, pointing out how far Rin has come in absorbing other influences since her parents were murdered. She’s contrasted with another youngster also at the crossroads and uncertain of what to make of his life. As with so much about Blade of the Immortal, it’s unconventional and it’s moving. Manji and Rin aren’t moving much after their exertions, so Mist of the Spider’s Web shifts the focus again.