~by Hiroaki Samura
The thirteen volume of Hiroaki Samura's manga series Blade of the Immortal, Mirror of the Soul, was published by Dark Horse in 2004. The releases of the English-language volumes collect slightly different chapters than the Japanese releases. I recently discovered that some of the chapter divisions are also slightly different. Mirror of the Soul includes chapters sixty-eight through seventy-six of Dark Horses' edition. It is most closely equivalent to the twelfth volume of the original Japanese release, published in 2002. Blade of the Immortal has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including a Japan Media Arts Award in 1997 and an Eisner Award in 2000. I also happen to be quite fond of the series personally. Mirror of the Soul picks up the story directly where the previous volume Autumn Frost leaves off. Since Autumn Frost ends with the implication of a major (although not unexpected) plot twist, I was looking forward to seeing how the story developed in Mirror of the Soul.
Kagehisa Anotsu, leader of the increasingly powerful sword school known as the Ittō-ryū, has agreed to the absorption of the Shingyōtō-ryū dōjō despite some of its students misgivings. In order to secure the schools' cooperation, Anotsu marries Hisoka, the foster daughter of the Shingyōtō-ryū's head. But even though he was reached Kaga safely and the wedding proceeds without any major complications, there are still those who see the Ittō-ryū as a threat and would attempt to take Anotsu's life. Broke and starving, Rin, whose parents' deaths were caused by the Ittō-ryū, has also reached Kaga in pursuit of Anotsu. A chance encounter brings the two of them together on the road when suddenly Rin finds herself caught in the middle of an assassination attempt. Manji, the bodyguard Rin abandoned in order to find Anotsu, has finally managed to leave Edo, but arrives in Kaga too late to find either Anotsu or Rin. And now that both she and Anotsu are on the run, Manji will have his work cut out for him to find them again.
At the beginning of Blade of the Immortal I was prepared to dislike Anotsu as he appeared to be the series' villain. But as the manga progresses, he has proven to be a much more complicated character than that. At times its difficult to even call him an antagonist, one of the reasons he makes such a fascinating character. His and Rin's relationship is also very interesting to see. Even though she wants him dead he holds nothing against her and understands her fury. Mirror of the Soul is the first time Rin witnesses Anotsu go all out as he fights for his life, realizing once again just how out-classed she is. It's also one of the first times Anotsu is seen actually fighting with his axe--an exotic and devastating weapon with which he is able to deal an impressive amount of damage. Because the weapon is so unusual, and because Anotsu is so skilled, he is at a distinct advantage against opponents who aren't sure how to respond to it.
Mirror of the Soul also shows Anotsu at his most vulnerable. He ends up having to rely on Rin as much as she relies on him, an odd but compelling situation for the enemies to find themselves in. Illness, disease, and injury could be a fate worse than death in an era where medical expertise is limited. Anotsu's physical well-being isn't the only thing at risk in Mirror of the Soul. His reunion with Makie is tragic (I was, however, very happy to see her return to the series) and is bound to take an emotional and mental toll on him. His plans for the Ittō-ryū are also in danger of unraveling. Anotsu may be an incredibly skilled strategist, but even he isn't able to plan for every possible development. I am very curious to see how he will handle everything that has been thrown at him in Mirror of the Soul; the series continues with the next volume, Last Blood.