~by Hiroaki Samura
Last Blood, the fourteenth volume in the English-language edition of Hiroaki Samura's manga series Blade of the Immortal was published by Dark Horse Comics in 2005. The chapters collected in the English volumes are different from those collected in the original Japanese volumes; even the actual chapter divisions have been modified in some cases. However, in the case of Last Blood, it is nearly identical in content to the thirteenth volume of the Japanese edition published in 2002. Since Blade of the Immortal began its publication it has been very well received, winning many awards and honors such as a Japan Media Arts Award and an Eisner Award among others. Blade of the Immortal is one of the manga series that I enjoy reading the most. Last Blood is a transitional volume in Blade of the Immortal, marking the end of the third major story arc and the beginning of the fourth.
In a strange turn of events, Rin finds herself fleeing Kaga along with her enemy Anotsu, each one of them helping to keep the other alive. Unfortunately, Anotsu is dying from a infected wound. It's only a matter of time before the remaining students of the Shingyōtō-ryū dōjō catch up with them. Although Anotsu never intended for it to happen, his presence in Kaga brought tragedy down upon the school. The Shingyōtō-ryū members are determined to take his life in return, even if it means their own deaths. And because Rin is accompanying Anotsu, her life is in danger, too. This is the mess that Manji, Rin's bodyguard, walks into. Separated from Rin in Edo when she left him behind to pursue Anotsu on her own, Manji finds her again only to discover that she's being held captive. The Shingyōtō-ryū isn't too keen on the appearance of an unknown swordsman, making a tense situation even more volatile.
As previously mentioned, Last Blood largely serves as a transition volume. Although there are a few very important plot developments, for the most part there is very little evolution in either the story or the characters. Instead, Last Blood is the culmination of everything that has come before it as largely independent storylines begin to collapse together. Every group that has so far had a stake in Blade of the Immortal is involved in Last Blood, resulting in a sort of battle royal between the Ittō-ryū, Shingyōtō-ryū, Mugai-ryū, and even the bakufu itself. And then there's Manji whose main concern is Rin. Depending on the circumstances, Manji has allied himself with the various factions over the course of Blade of the Immortal in order to protect her and keep her safe. With the exception of his loyalty to Rin, Manji's allegiances are constantly shifting as he makes the most of the situations with which he's confronted.
While there may not be much plot or character development in Last Blood there certainly is a fair amount of fighting going on. Blood has been shed and battles have been waged since the beginning of Blade of the Immortal. And, as Last Blood shows, that is something that won't be changing any time soon. In one way or another the different factions are all fighting to change their lives and the society in which they live. Because they choose the sword to live, many will also die by the sword. Last Blood is anything but the last blood that will be shed as their struggles continue. The Ittō-ryū in particular is faced with some major setbacks, but they have always proven themselves to be versatile and adaptable. They will begin to make their next move in the next volume, Trickster.