Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal was one of the first manga series that I began reading and remains one of my favorites. I love the depth of Samura’s characters, find the story compelling if a bit strange at times, and absolutely adore his artwork. The fifth volume, On Silent Wings II, is closely tied to the fourth volume, On Silent Wings, as the title suggests. The collected chapters were originally published in Japan in 1995. In 2000, Dark Horse released the English edition. Blade of the Immortal has been honored with a number of awards, including a Japan Media Arts award in 1997 and an Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material in 2000. The more volumes of Blade of the Immortal that I read, the more I like the series, and so I was looking forward to reading On Silent Wings II.
Two years past, Rin’s parents were murdered and her mother brutally raped before her eyes by a group from a rogue sword school known as the Ittō-ryū. Seeking revenge, she hired Manji as a body guard and with his aid, many of the Ittō-ryū have been slain or severely injured. When they happen upon Araya--one of the members--at a festival working as a maker of bizarre masks, Rin has a decision to make. Already doubting herself after an encounter with Anotsu, the leader of the Ittō-ryū, Rin realizes that even those who commit terrible deed have those who love them. Araya has hidden his past from his only son and is raising him alone; Rin is reluctant to put his son through the same suffering that she herself experienced. Still, she is forced into a confrontation with Araya that very well may cost her her life is she isn’t willing to take his.
The two On Silent Wings volumes of Blade of the Immortal have shown significant character development of Rin as she continues to grow and mature as a person. She isn’t as naïve as she once was and realizes the circumstances surrounding her parents murders are complicated. She struggles with her conflicting emotions, wanting revenge while also wanting to see an end to the cycle of hate and violence. But even that desire is extremely optimistic and unlikely to come about unless the society that Rin lives in also changes. Rin is still in the process of comprehending and coming to terms with this. Manji serves not only as her body guard, but also as an emotional support simply by being their and allowing her to work these things out for herself. He is much more knowledgeable about the world and is familiar with the darker aspects of life that Rin has only glimpsed so far. Manji cares about Rin, not just because he has been hired to, and I enjoy watching their relationship develop and deepen.
As with the previous volumes of Blade of the Immortal, I can’t help but be impressed by Samura’s artwork. However, because of the method used to flip the manga to read from left to right, some inconsistencies are introduced and occasionally the flow of panels can be awkward. Fortunately, this doesn’t detract too much from the overall effect of the artwork. Samura continues to improve as an artist which can particularly be seen in his fight scenes. They are not only creative and interesting, but also easier to follow than in previous volumes. Moments of particular importance and impact earn gorgeous, full page spreads. On Silent Wings II is not a particularly good place to jump into Blade of the Immortal, especially considering how closely connected it is to the previous volume. Still, it is a great entry in the series with important character and plot developments as well as an opportunity for Manji to show off his badassery. I’ll definitely be reading the sixth volume, Dark Shadows.