~by Hiroaki Samura
Demon Lair is the twentieth volume in the English-language release of Hiroaki Samura's manga series Blade of the Immortal. Published by Dark Horse Comics in 2008, Demon Lair is most closely equivalent to the nineteenth volume of the Japanese edition of the series published in 2006, although it includes a couple of chapters from the eighteenth volume released in 2005 as well. Demon Lair is also the first volume in which none of the chapters were previously released by Dark Horse in a monthly format. In general, Blade of the Immortal has been well received. In 1998 the series won a Japan Media Arts Award and in 2000 it received an Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material. The series also happens to be a personal favorite of mine. Demon Lair marks the beginning of the end of the fourth major story arc in Blade of the Immortal.
Following rumors of an immortality experiment, Rin and Dōa have successfully penetrated the first level of Edo Castle's defenses. It wasn't easy--Rin in particular isn't in the best physical condition after a brutal run in with the guards in the secret tunnels leading to the castle--but the two young women are determined to find Manji and Isaku. Not that they have any hard evidence that the men are being held within the castle complex; their insider information is sketchy at best. Rin and Dōa are so focused on finding and rescuing Manji and Isaku that many of the finer points of their plan have been neglected, which is bound to get them into more trouble along the way. But for two fighters in over their heads, they have done remarkably well to have made it as far as they have.
From beginning to end, Demon Lair is one long, non-stop sequence of battles, fights, and near escapes. The plot might not move forward much, but there is certainly plenty of action to be had. The last few volumes of Blade of the Immortal have really been building up to and setting the stage for Demon Lair. Some of the developments in Demon Lair may not be particularly unexpected, but there are still some nice twists and surprises in store as Manji's storyline and Rin's storyline finally collide again. Samura even mangaes to work in a few brief sweet and touching moments amid all the chaos of Demon Lair. Some of the series' humor also returns; this is welcome even if it does feel a bit out of place--lately Blade of the Immortal has been pretty dark.
One of the things that stands out in Demon Lair is Rin's reactions to what she and Dōa discover in the dungeons and tunnels of Edo Castle. Up until now, the rumours of the immortality experiments have just been rumors. Readers of Blade of the Immortal are well aware of the horrifying experiments, but Rin and Dōa are facing the results of the atrocities for the very first time. Slowly Rin is able to piece together what has been going on underneath the castle and she is outraged. It's a very nice character moment. At the series' start, Rin was concerned about her own personal revenge. More recently, she has been focused on Manji's plight. But now in some small way she is also fighting for the people of Edo. Of course, if she plans on making any sort of difference, she'll need to escape from the castle first.