Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blade of the Immortal 08: In Which Manji Gets Some

Manji and Rin's search for Anotsu Kagehisa lead them to Fukagawa where Manji comes face to face with the beautiful but tragic Otono-Tachibana Makie...
EPISODE 08: Strumming
More Screencaps from Blade of the Immortal 08

Anotsu is an inn with a woman, telling her a story about his childhood. When he was only a boy, he encountered a feral dog and was saved by a girl-child. This girl's skills made an impression on him, not only because he saw for himself how she cut the dog at close quarters yet still managed not to get a single drop of blood on her body, but also because of the sadness he saw her in her profile. When he says this last part, he turns to look at her meaningfully but the woman keeps her eyes lowered like a supplicant.Several days later, Manji and Rin find themselves in Fukagawa, where Shizuma Eiku said they would find Anotsu. A woman, strumming a shamisen likewise arrives in town and makes friends with one of the children there. As they talk, the girl catches sight of the elegant kanzaki (hair clip) that the shamisen player is carrying. The shamisen player says that her mother gave it to her, prompting the girl to ask why she is not wearing it on her hair. The shamisen player does not answer and instead just stares at the kanzaki as though it holds many sad memories for her.In another part of town, Manji is waiting for Rin when the shamisen player comes up to him with a proposition. At first, Manji rejects her offer but later agrees after he gets a good look at her face. The two of them end up in an alley and Manji begins the ritual. However, before things could get heated, he suddenly lets out a laugh and then pulls out a small dagger from underneath her clothes. The woman lies, saying that the weapon is only for self-defense, but Manji, after tasting the blade, discovers that it is lined with poison. With her secret out, the shamisen player reveals that a young samurai with long hair and narrow eyes has put her up to it in exchange for 20 ryou. Manji, of course, does not know what Anotsu looks like but assumes she means the same person. Then as he turns to leave, the woman takes apart her shamisen, revealing a lethal-looking weapon inside. She then introduces herself as Otono-Tachibana Makie, a swordswoman for the Ittou-ryuu.The fight ends quickly with Makie ending up on the ground. Manji again spares her life, telling her that she is better off a whore than a swordswoman. Unknown to him, he is echoing the very same words that Makie's mother once said to her. After Manji leaves, Makie gives her kanzaki to the girl she met earlier. That evening, Makie, now dressed as a geisha, plays her shamisen in front of guests at the inn. One of the men, recognizing her from a brothel, rudely propositions her but O-Hatsu, a fellow geisha, saves her from shame by sharply reminding the erring guest that the women at that inn are geisha who are paid to entertain only with conversation and art. It is revealed later that O-Hatsu used to work at a brothel but ran away when she fell in love with a man. But the man later committed suicide, forcing O-Hatsu to return to her old life. O-Hatsu says that once in the wrong path, a woman has no right to dream.Somewhere in another part of town, Rin is still sulking after discovering that Manji was getting it on with a woman behind her back. Manji teases her about being jealous, much to Rin's consternation. He manages to goad Rin into trying to show him how "grown" she is, only for him to end up in a laughing fit. Rin finally ends the conversation by hitting him on the head with a sake bottle and ordering him out of her room.Anotsu discovers that Makie is working as a geisha and becomes angry with her, saying that he did not buy her from the brothel that day only to have her return to that life. For her part, Makie says that she wants to work in order to pay him back the money but Anotsu wants none of it. Changing subjects, he then asks her about her encounter with Manji. Makie says that Manji is brave and strong. At this, Anotsu comments that the only swordsman who could defeat him (Anotsu) is Makie herself. In the ensuing silence, Makie tells him what her mother once told her about becoming a whore rather than a swordsman but adds that she can't even do either one whole-heartedly. Anotsu then promises her that someday he will make her his woman. Makie starts to cry quietly as she realizes, no matter how much she wants to believe otherwise, the truth behind his words: Anotsu wants her for her strength alone.Much later, the rude man from earlier, with two of his friends, happens upon Makie at the bridge. They announce that they were hired by her former employer to bring her back, by force if they have to. To their surprise, Makie only grabs hold of her hair and lops it all off. Then, with infinitely sad eyes, she murmurs that she understands. The next moment, she is sitting on the ground, looking up at the sky while all around her are the severed the limbs of her attackers and not a single drop of blood on her.

Blade of the Immortal sets itself apart for having some of the more interesting -- and extremely well-developed -- female characters I have ever come across in a manga, let alone in a shounen series such as this. This episode marks the introduction of one such character: Otono-Tachibana Makie.

I like Makie in the manga because I've always been drawn towards characters with a sense of tragedy around them. Come to think of it, nearly every female in Blade of the Immortal has gone through a tragic or traumatic past. But Makie remains one of my favorite characters from the series (right next to Hyakurin). So when I finally saw the anime version of the character, I was thrilled.

Makie is voiced by Noto Mamiko, whose done a lot of voice-acting roles in series I have never seen. But while I'm not familiar with her prior works, I think Noto Mamiko has done the character justice. Based on my readings from the manga, I always imagined Makie as rather soft-spoken with an otherwise toneless voice, accentuated by grief. The seiyuu has that right down pat, which makes me love this anime version of Makie even more. I can't wait for the next episode when she shows Manji her real moves. It's going to be awesome.

I just have one little issue: they didn't elaborate on Anotsu and Makie's first meeting. Probably it's not that important as what you can glean from a flashback is something that can also be fleshed out in the present storyline. Still, it would have explained a little of Anotsu's motives. In particular, he said, when he first met Makie and realized that she was stronger than him, that he was going to find another way to defeat her. I don't know if he purposely made Makie fall in love with him (or maybe she is just that sort of sad character who falls in with the bad crowd) but there is no doubt in my mind that knowing how she feels he takes advantage of it. That's the sort of character Anotsu is. I don't find him vile. He is a very well-written antagonist.

BTW, this update took a looonnngggg time because the subs came out way late. KSN is the only group subbing the series and so far they've been regularly releasing the episodes. With this one, however, I don't know what happened. They sure took their sweet time. Anyway, I'm just glad they haven't decided to drop the series.

I hope we won't have to wait too long for the next update. This -- the Makie arc -- is a turning point in the series actually as after this bigger things are going to happen.