~by Hiroaki Samura
The Gathering, Part II collects chapters forty-two through forty-seven of Hiroaki Samura's award-winning manga series Blade of the Immortal. The series has been honored with both a Japan Media Arts Award as well as with an Eisner Award. The Gathering, Part II, released in 2001, is the ninth collected volume of the English-language edition of the series as published by Dark Horse. As I've mentioned in previous reviews of Blade of the Immortal, the chapters collected in the English volumes are slightly different than those that are collected in the Japanese volumes. However, The Gathering, Part II is nearly identical to the eighth volume of the Japanese edition released in 1998. As might be expected from the title, The Gathering, Part II is an extension of the previous volume, The Gathering. It is also the end of the second major story arc in Blade of the Immortal.
After Rin leaves him behind in order to pursue Anotsu, the leader of the Ittō-ryū, on her own, Manji, her bodyguard and traveling companion, will do everything that he can to find her again. In order to obtain the travel permit he needs to leave Edo Manji must fight three vicious swordsmen from the Ittō-ryū, and they're not necessarily going to wait to confront him one at a time. Manji may be nearly immortal but he's not invincible. Elsewhere along the outskirts of the city Rin is faced with her own challenges as she tries to cross through the checkpoint on her way to Kaga. She has sought out the aid of the Nakayas, innkeepers who live near the border and who have helped illegal travelers pass through the checkpoint in the past. Unfortunately, the Nakayas have been under close scrutiny from the checkpoint's guards after a failed attempt to smuggle a girl through ended in her death. It doesn't help matters that Rin is now a wanted criminal, too, and that the authorities are on the lookout for her.
As already mentioned, The Gathering, Part II is really a continuation of The Gathering more than anything else as the events that were put into motion in The Gathering are find some resolution. No major plot developments are introduced in The Gathering, Part II, but that doesn't mean the volume isn't important. While there may not be many new twists and turns to the story, there is still plenty of character development. In The Gathering, Part II this is particularly true for Rin. At this point, I would argue that she is the character who has grown and changed the most in Blade of the Immortal. Rin is often plagued by self-doubt and a lack of confidence in her own abilities, but at the same time she has developed a fierce sense of determination and a tremendous amount of willpower. In The Gathering, Part II, Rin is challenged to prove just how far she is willing to go to seek her revenge. Ultimately, her performance is brilliant.
Manji's fight with the Ittō-ryū swordsmen, which began in The Gathering, is also brought to a conclusion in The Gathering, Part II. It's one of the longer fights to occur in Blade of the Immortal so far and it is brutal. Neither the Ittō-ryū nor Manji have any qualms about fighting dirty as is immediately obvious by watching their strategies and tactics during the fight. Because they are all willing to do almost anything in order to win, their battle is incredibly violent and intense. Manji in particular has to be spontaneous and creative with his martial abilities since he is facing multiple opponents. Although Samura's artwork overall is excellent, sometimes his fight sequences can be fairly chaotic and difficult to follow. However, the significant moments, whether they occur during a battle or during a quiet conversation, are always made absolutely clear. The Gathering Part II is an excellent ending to one of Blade of the Immortal's major story arcs. I'm looking forward to the start of the next arc with the tenth volume, Secrets.