~written by Ian Edginton
~illustrated by Vicenç Villagrasa and José Luis Río
I picked up the trade collection of The Immortal: Demon in the Blood for one reason--the comic series is an adaptation of Fumi Nakamura's award-winning novel Ura-Enma, published by Vertical under the title Enma the Immortal. I have read, and absolutely loved, Enma the Immortal. I was interested in seeing how another team of creators would handle the story. Ian Edginton wrote the series script, working with the artists Vicenç Villagrasa, responsible for pencils, and José Luis Río, responsible for inks and colors. I know of Edginton's work, but before reading The Immortal I was unfamiliar with either of the two artists. The Immortal was first published by Dark Horse Comics in four monthly issues beginning in December 2011. Later it was collected and released as a single, complete volume in 2012. I missed the series when it was first issued, and so looked forward to reading the trade collection.
Amane Ichinose is a traitor and a spy. After being confronted by his fellow Shinsengumi members, he barely escapes with his life. Bleeding and dying, he stumbles onto the doorstep of Baikou Houshou, a talented tattooist. The old man rescues Ichinose, saving his life, but at the same time curses him with immortality. Houshou has given Ichinose an oni-gome, a tattoo which binds a demon to him, keeping him alive. Ichinose isn't the only one with an oni-gome granting immortality. Yasha, Houshou's erstwhile apprentice, tattooed his own oni-gome, becoming a cannibalistic monster in the process as the demon bound to him devours his soul. Ichinose comes to realize that Yasha may have been responsible for the death of his sister and is determined to find him no longer how long it takes. After all, time is the one thing Ichinose now has more than enough of.
The Immortal doesn't actually adapt the entirety of Enma the Immortal, which makes sense for such a short comic series. Instead, the comic focuses its attention on the first two thirds of the novel, taking the story up through the Yokohama Ripper arc. It was a good decision. However, steampunk elements were added to the story of The Immortal. Except for some interesting and attractive illustrations, they don't seem to serve much of a purpose for either the plot or the setting. I actually found them to be somewhat distracting and even at odds with the supernatural elements of the story. Edginton is particularly known for some of his other steampunk series and steampunk is a popular genre right now, but its inclusion in The Immortal was largely unnecessary.
Ultimately, I can't say that I was overly impressed with The Immortal. But it's not because of my loyalty to or love of source material. The comic gets off to a weak start, rushing through the necessary introductory material. The ending, too, isn't very satisfying; the rules governing how the oni-gome work seem to suddenly change during the story's climax. But everything in between the beginning and end is pretty great. Ichinose is easily the most well developed character in the series. I enjoyed seeing how he changes as a person over the years even while physically he remains the same. I think The Immortal could have used one or two more issues to more fully develop and flesh out the other characters and address some of the problems with pacing in the series. As it is, the comic is somewhat frustrating overall, especially considering there were parts of it that I highly enjoyed.