~by Hiroaki Samura
Demon Lair II is the twenty-first volume in the English-language release of Blade of the Immortal, Hiroaki Samura's long-running, award-winning manga series. Along with the previous volume, Demon Lair, it forms the conclusion to the series' fourth and penultimate major story arc. Demon Lair II was published by Dark Horse in 2009. The chapters collected in Demon Lair II are the same as those found in the twentieth volume of the Japanese release of Blade of the Immortal, published in 2006. In addition, Demon Lair II also includes a glossary (useful since many terms in Blade of the Immortal are left untranslated, or simply don't have an exact equivalent in English) and a translation of a parody article about Samura originally found in the September 2003 issue of Afternoon, the magazine in which Blade of the Immortal was serialized.
Somehow, Rin and Dōa have successfully fought their way into the secret underground dungeons of Edō Castle. There they have found what, or rather who, they have been looking for: Manji and Isaku, who have both been subjected to cruel experiments meant to find a way to transfer Manji's near-immortality and regenerative abilities to another person. Now the real trick will be getting everyone back out alive and ideally in one piece. As challenging as it was for Rin and Dōa to infiltrate the castle grounds, escaping will be even more problematic. The tunnels underneath the complex are flooding and are ready to collapse; standing between them and their way out are armed guards as well as crazed inmates. The situation above ground, assuming that they can make it that far, is chaos with countless escaped prisoners inside the castle complex and their families outside of its walls on the verge of rioting.
Much like its companion volume Demon Lair, Demon Lair II is largely one long action sequence. There are some important plot revelations and character moments, but for the most part Demon Lair II is made up of one fight after another. What sets Demon Lair II apart form previous volumes, and one of the things that I like the most about the volume, is Samura's use of water. The flooding of the dungeons is a violent event in and of itself. The water is extraordinarily destructive and its effect upon those unlucky enough to be caught up in it is extremely detrimental. Generally speaking, Samura has always made good use of the environment and surroundings as part of his battles in Blade of the Immortal. Demon Lair II is no different and he has given special consideration to the sorts of problems and opportunities fighting in high, cold water would present.
Many of the recent volumes in Blade of the Immortal have focused on the human costs and failures surrounding the immortality experiments. Demon Lair II reveals that some of the successes that Burando, the doctor in charge of the investigation, has had are just as horrifying--he has literally created monsters. To some extent, that particular development wasn't foreshadowed as well as it could have been, but it does go to show just how far Burando has strayed from his ideals. The conclusion of Demon Liar II also brings together a few of the stray plot lines and characters in Blade of the Immortal in preparation for the next and final story arc. Samura introduces a surprise or two along the way, too. I am very curious to see how things begin to play out in the next volume, Footsteps.