~by Hiroaki Samura
Shortcut is the sixteenth volume in Dark Horse's release of Hiroaki Samura's manga series Blade of the Immortal. Due to the differences between the Japanese and English releases of the series, Shortcut is actually equivalent to the fifteenth volume published in Japan in 2004. Shortcut itself was released in 2006. Blade of the Immortal has won several awards, including a Japan Media Arts Award and and Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material. I myself have been quite fond of Blade of the Immortal since its beginning. I enjoy the series' morally ambiguous characters, anachronistic style, and dynamic artwork. Shortcut picks up the story immediately where the previous volume, Trickster, leaves off. Things weren't looking particularly good for Manji in Trickster, so I definitely wanted to see how the events in Shortcut would unfold.
Rin hasn't seen her bodyguard Manji since he was invited into the residence of Habaki Kagimura, the leader of the shogunate's banshū samurai as well as the head of the Mugai-ryū assassins. Fearing the worst, Rin does her best to try to find him but she is unable to make much progress. She is right to worry. Manji's disappearance has nothing to do with being forced to join the Mugai-ryū. Instead, Kagimura is very interested in Manji and his apparent immortality, something that Kagimura has personally been witness to. On top of Manji being missing, Rin suddenly has a couple of uninvited house guests to deal with, too. Isaku Yasonokami and Dōa Yoshino make a strange pair--he's a hulk of a man while she's a petite young woman who orders him around. Little does Rin know that she is helping to hide two members of the Ittō-ryū, the group responsible for the death of her parents.
I find Isaku and Dōa to be very intriguing characters. Not much is really known yet about either of them. Except for their apparent devotion to each other and their association with the Ittō-ryū, they largely remain a mystery. From the far northern reaches of Japan, they are out of place in Edo society. I'm curious to find out how they became involved with the Ittō-ryū, but it does go to show how accepting the sword school is of outsiders. This is in direct contrast to the majority of Japanese society during this time period. The shogunate's isolationist policies made it extremely dangerous for anyone to even leave the country and hierarchical social classes were rigidly enforced. In part, this is what the Ittō-ryū is fighting against, so it shouldn't be too surprising that social outcasts and criminals are to be counted among their number.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of power is Kagimura. He is very in control of himself and those around him, using his position as the bangashira to his advantage. Blade of the Immortal has shown Kagimura to be cunning and manipulative and not above using unsavory methods to reach his goals. This is very unfortunate for Manji in Shortcut. Simply put, being immortal can really suck. This certainly isn't new to Manji who has repeatedly, and literally, been hacked to pieces in the past. But Shortcut is the first time in Blade of the Immortal that the extent of his immortality has deliberately, thoroughly, and methodically been put to the test. If things weren't looking good for Manji in Trickster, they're looking even worse for him in Shortcut. What else is in store for Manji will be revealed in the next volume, On the Perfection of Anatomy.