~by Hiroaki Samura
When I first discovered the existence of a Blade of the Immortal artbook, I was both thrilled and dismayed. Thrilled because Blade of the Immortal is one of my favorite manga series, the artwork being a major reason why. Dismayed because in 2008, the book had only been released in Japan as Glittering Waves: Collected Illustrations from Blade of the Immortal. Never should I have feared--the marvelous folks at Dark Horse, who publish the Blade of the Immortal materials in English, not only released the artbook in 2010 as The Art of Blade of the Immortal, but released it with additional, exclusive material. Even though I haven't actually finished reading the series yet, I was still incredibly excited to finally be able to get my hands on a copy of the artbook. In fact, I think I may have even squealed.
The Art of Blade of the Immortal primarily collects materials from 1993 to 2004. (Hiraoki Samura mentions in his afterward that he hopes to be able to release a second artbook collecting material from later in the series' run.) The book includes images from covers, chapter breaks, various promotional materials, posters, a piece created specifically for the book, and two close up photographs of Samura at work. There is also a photograph of either a woman's back tattoo or skin painting--I'm not entirely sure which or what it is from, but it is very cool. Most of the images are of Samura's pencil work, although there is a good selection of color work (primarily oil paintings, I believe) and a few ink pieces as well. In all, there is nearly 150 pages of gorgeous art.
The Dark Horse edition is quiet nice and includes thirty-four exclusive images, a foreword by Geof Darrow, and an afterword by Samura. (Japanese text is translated by Camellia Nieh.) The additional artwork collected includes illustrations from the Blade of the Immortal: Legend of the Sword Demon novel written by Junichi Ohsako, images from the DVD slipcases from the anime's release, and three colorized versions of art that previously appeared in the book, offering a nice subject for comparison. The index continues to list the artwork according to their Japanese publication and appearances whenever possible. While it would have been nice to have reference to the English editions included, some of the material was not made readily available outside of Japan, so this decision does make some sense.
I adore Samura's artwork and I was not disappointed with The Art of Blade of the Immortal which presents it beautifully (as I am sure its Japanese predecessor Glittering Waves did as well). Samura's figures are realistic with a hint of stylistic exaggeration which I find immensely appealing. My favorite by far has always been his pencil work which I find to be literally breathtaking. His paintings are also stunning, although I find some of the color choices a bit odd. Comparatively, I'm not as fond of Samura's ink work, but there are some very lovely examples included in the artbook. However, I was somewhat surprised that none of Samura's gorgeous "death mandalas" were collected. The paper quality is very good and the printing of the images are nice and crisp. Except for the photographs, plenty of gutter space is given so none of the art is hidden. Although, this does make for a somewhat awkward presentation for the two page spreads since the margin is retained and the images framed, but at least none of the details are lost. The spine and binding is designed in such a way that the book to easily remains open to any given page, making viewing quite a pleasure; I can sit and comfortably stare at Samura's work for hours. I would definitely recommend The Art of Blade of the Immortal to any fan of the series but also to anyone interested in wonderful art wonderfully presented. I really do hope that a second volume will be released.