Review by Frank Plowright
In this edition, Volume X concludes Blade of the Immortal, ten books combining what were originally 31 presenting Hiroaki Samura’s complete 18th century masterwork. The immortal of the title, Manji, and the young woman he protects, Rin, have been the lead characters, yet such is the complexity of the saga and the beguiling set of personalities Samura introduces around them, they can be off stage for dozens of pages at a time. That was the case through much of Omnibus IX as the hunted Ittō-Ryū swordsmen and their pursuers took precedence, but Manji and Rin are back early in this book.
Almost every featured member of the cast remaining alive is making their way southwards to a port, which is where some arrive early, awaiting the remainder. Shifting moral ground has been a feature throughout, and if there’s any doubt that Habaki’s official position makes him right, Samura sweeps it away in a horrific spotlight showing how little he cares for people in general. This is in a section whose original English title was Beyond Good and Evil, after a line uttered by the Ittō-ryū leader when cornered. The way Habaki sees things is that only the Shogun decides such matters, and as long as he acts on the Shogun’s orders he’s permitted to do whatever’s necessary. Is that justification or absolute belief? We’re never entirely sure, and that’s as good an example as any as to why Samura’s storytelling is so compelling.
This volume continues the process of whittling the cast down. Of course we want Manji and Rin to survive, but many others also have our sympathy, yet Samura’s unsentimental when it comes to death. Circumstances have been set in motion, death is inevitable, and it comes just as easily to the tragic and the misunderstood as it does to the evil and the irredeemable, and over the section that was Vigilance in smaller paperback editions, bodies fall.
It’s seemed as if Samura didn’t intend featuring all cast members who’ve played an important part as the end approached, but several return for the finale, Final Curtain in the smaller paperbacks. The end in itself is surely not anything regular readers wanted, never mind the choices made in how Samura reaches there, but whether or not readers agree with those choices there can’t be any argument that he concludes the series with the emotional depth and sensitivity applied throughout. It’s been an astonishing ride, rich and compelling quality from the opening pages, and even after all this time Samura is still able to shock readers. The clever plotting is exemplified even when distilled to a ten page conversation right at the end between two of the main women featured, which is then followed by an epilogue revealing what we concluded from that conversation wasn’t necessarily true. Magnificent.