~by Hiroaki Samura
Badger Hole is the nineteenth volume in the English-language release of Hiroaki Samura's long-running manga series Blade of the Immortal. Published by Dark Horse in 2008, Badger Hole collects five of the eight chapters that appeared in the eighteenth volume of the Japanese edition of Blade of the Immortal, released in 2005. Because of how Dark Horse is releasing the series--individual volumes collect chapters by story arc rather than number or page count--Badger Hole ends up being one of the shorter volumes. Blade of the Immortal has been well received in both the East and the West. The series won a Japan Media Arts Award in 1998 and an Eisner Award in 2000, among other honors. Blade of the Immortal was one of the first manga series that I started reading and it continues to be one of my favorites.
After Manji and Isaku both go missing, and are presumably imprisoned, Rin and Dōa have been working together to find them. Rumours of an immortality experiment have led the two young women to a guarded and secluded passageway known as the Badger Hole by the locals. There are jobs to be had there hauling out and disposing of the dead bodies of prisoners and, thanks to the experiments, in increasingly large numbers. If Rin's theory is correct, the Badger Hole is the entrance to a series of labyrinthine tunnels leading to Edo Castle itself where she believes that Manji at least is being held. And so Rin and Dōa prepare to infiltrate the Badger Hole under the guise of beggars looking for work. With Dōa's fighting skills and Rin's quick thinking, along with a little luck, they hope to successfully stage a rescue, but things don't always go exactly as planned.
While the previous few volumes of Blade of the Immortal have largely focused on the plight of Manji, the other felons, and the doctors involved with the immortality experiments, in Badger Hole Samura turns his attention to the women of the series. At various points in Blade of the Immortal Rin, Dōa, and Hyakurin--one of the assassins of the disbanded Mugai-ryū--have all been shown to be just as strong as the series' men and in some cases even stronger. In Badger Hole it is the men who need rescuing and the women are prepared to do anything they can to see them safe again. And it's not just Rin, Dōa, and Hyakurin. The women of Edo, those who have lost their fathers, husbands, and sons to the experiments (even though they don't know that's the reason their loved ones have gone missing), also have power, strength, and an important role to play.
In some ways, this empowerment is completely undone by the ending of Badger Hole. Dōa and Rin get into some trouble and it takes a deus ex machina and the introduction of a new Ittō-ryū member to get them out of it. Ozuhan may suddenly appear from nowhere, but the resulting battle is nicely choreographed and dynamic. He has an eerie presence about him and his style of fighting is very different from most of the other characters in the series. Ozuhan does ends up stealing the spotlight from the women, but it seems as though he will be an interesting addition to the series. Badger Hole also reveals Dōa's first encounter with Anotsu, the leader of the Ittō-ryū who she more or less worships, something I've been looking forward to seeing since her introduction. There's still more of Dōa's story that hasn't been told, so I look forward to learning more about her in the next volume, Demon Lair.