~by Hiroaki Samura
Scarlet Swords is the twenty-third volume in the English-language release of Hiroaki Samura's manga series Blade of the Immortal. Published in 2011 by Dark Horse Comics, Scarlet Swords collects the same material as the twenty-second volume in the original Japanese edition of the series, which was released in 2007. Following Footsteps, Scarlet Swords is an early volume in the fifth and final major story arc in Blade of the Immortal. Blade of the Immortal was one of the first manga series that I began reading and collecting and it continues to be one of my personal favorites. The series has been well received both in Japan and abroad. In 1998 Blade of the Immortal earned Samura a Japan Media Arts Award. The series went on to win an Eisner Award in 2000 and has been the recipient of several other honors since then as well.
Time is quickly running out for Habaki Kagimura and the Rokki-dan. Anotsu Kagehisa and the Ittō-ryū have been banished from Edō and must leave the city within days else forfeit their lives. Should the Ittō-ryū make their escape, Kagimura and the Rokki-dan will lose their lives instead. Kagimura has been ordered to commit seppuku in atonement for the debacles surrounding his previous attempts to annihilate the Ittō-ryū and his failed investigation into immortality. The Rokki-dan are a group of death row felons who have been given a chance to redeem themselves if they can wipe out the Ittō-ryū and its leader, but they have been forbidden to leave the city; they must find and destroy the Ittō-ryū before the rogue sword school leaves Edō. One thing is certain: Anotsu and the Ittō-ryū will not make it easy for them.
Scarlet Swords is a volume of journeys and farewells. The Rokki-dan is desperate in its pursuit of the members of the Ittō-ryū, resorting to torture and other dubious means in the search for clues as to the group's whereabouts. The Ittō-ryū are prepared for discovery and have even planned for it; perhaps in part due to the exceptional leadership of Anotsu, the Ittō-ryū frequently shows extraordinary forethought. And the Rokki-dan isn't the only group that the Ittō-ryū needs to worry about--Rin and Manji are still in pursuit of revenge and some of the members of the disbanded Mugai-ryū, the predecessors of the Rokki-dan, are ready to support Kagimura. As the Ittō-ryū swordsmen prepare to leave Edō for the port in Hitachi, so do those who would hunt them down. Goodbyes are said and in some cases incredible sacrifices are made. The journey to Hitachi will be an eventful one for all who are involved.
As Anotsu points out to Rin early on in Scarlet Swords, only two active members of the Ittō-ryū remain from when her parents were brutally killed two years ago--Anotsu himself and his current second-in-command Magatsu Taito. Rin's relationship with Anotsu has several complicating factors and she has even made friends with some of the newer Ittō-ryū members, but she still hasn't forgiven the deaths of her parents nor does she approve of the Ittō-ryū's methods. In the beginning of Blade of the Immortal, the Ittō-ryū was clearly set up as villainous, but as the manga progresses the morality is muddled. The sword school may be extreme, but its members maintain their own sense of honor as they fight against society's injustices. I appreciate the development of the Ittō-ryū in Blade of the Immortal and look forward to seeing how the group continues to change and evolve in the next volume, Massacre.