Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blade of the Immortal 11: In Which Manji Gets Molested

And Kawakami Araya shows his true face...
EPISODE 11: Feathers
More Screencaps from Blade of the Immortal 11

The episode begins with the flashback previously shown in Episode 2 of this series. Rin's grandfather is telling her about what a former classmate of his once said: "The wind is so strong that it moves the waves of my heart, and the wings of vengeance will never rest." But Rin is too young at the time to understand what the words mean.
Now, the words come back to haunt her as she sits in front of Kawakami Araya, one of the Ittou-ryuu swordsmen responsible for the massacre of her family. After Rin's story is told, Araya sends Renzo out to buy tea from the boat shop, which is some considerable distance away. Then, with the boy gone, Araya turns to Rin, fully expecting her to take her vengeance. But instead Rin just tells him that she did not come to kill him. Araya scoffs at this attempt to be noble and even questions the respect she has for her parents, asking if their lives are so cheap that she would accept a mere apology. He wonders also why she would let him go but not the other ten comrades she and Manji killed. Rin answers that if he were someone else, if he weren't the only one that Renzo had, she would end his life.
Again, Rin demands an apology and Araya seems finally willing to ask for it. But he does it in a condescending manner and even then it's just a ruse to get her off her guard before he lunges towards her. Rin, who has a hidden dagger up her sleeve, manages to cut Araya's arm but is helpless against his superior strength. Then Araya, using his own blood, paints Rin's face and body, much like he does with his masks, and much like he did with Rin's mother two years ago. After a while, he rests up and surveys his work. By this time, Rin has fallen unconscious.
After putting the finishing touches to Rin's face, Araya is about to choke the life out of her when he hears a noise coming from outside. Thinking that it is Renzo back from his errand, he goes downstairs to meet him only to find no one there. He quickly realizes the ruse and hurries upstairs. But by then Manji has entered the room, Rin in his arms. Manji compliments Araya for his work and wonders if it is make-up for Rin to meet her maker. Araya does not deny this, prompting Manji to ask what he (Araya) expects to get from taking the life of a girl who has nothing. Araya answers that this is his true face, which he can never reveal to his son.
Then, to Manji's surprise, Araya matter-of-factly goes about preparing the setting for their battle. The final result is a trap-like enclosure in an already confined room. Manji, who is unused to the limitations imposed by this bizarre battlefield of Araya's imagination, quickly finds himself at a huge disadvantage. Araya does not even own a sword but has no trouble divesting Manji of his countless weapons. At one point, Araya pins Manji to the floor and is in the process of mutilating his body when Rin, now awake, pushes one of the cabinets over the two of them. She, however, makes a careless mistake, allowing Araya to grab her and push her against the wall. Fortunately, Manji recovers in time to stop him.
The two men continue the fight, using only daggers this time. Araya manages to stab Manji in the shoulder, pushing him towards the window as he goes. But before he could deal the finishing blow, Manji grabs a knife from somewhere and sticks it into Araya's body. The Ittou-ryuu falls back as Manji reenters the room, explaining that he used that knife to climb into the room but left it stuck to the wall outside. Smiling ironically, Araya pulls out the knife and offers it to Rin for her to finish what she set out to do. But Rin once more declares her earlier resolve not to kill him, prompting Araya to offer the knife to Manji, instead.
Rin begs Manji not to do it. She says that the cycle of vengeance would never stop. But Manji does not let her words stop him. He finishes Araya at the same time Renzo arrives and sees the whole thing happen. Manji fibs that Araya owed him a gambling debt and that he was taking advantage of Rin. But before he could finish though, an enraged Renzo grabs the first weapon he could find and stabs Manji with it. Then, still crying, Renzo runs out of the room, leaving Rin to pick Manji up. Later, Rin is praying over Araya's grave when she encounters a much calmer Renzo. The boy at first does not believe that his father's killer is dead but after Rin shows him where she buried the body, he finally accepts it. Much, much later, Rin meets up with a healed Manji at a shrine, and the two of them set off once more.

I gotta hand it to Araya. The dude knows how to handle creepy. Paint your victims red? With your own blood? CREEPY.

And more development for Rin. I said that her encounter with Makie would prompt this, but Rin is still obviously going through a transitional period so it's not certain yet and she still has a lot to go before she can arrive at the final answers to all her questions.

Now to the best part --

What I really like about Blade of the Immortal is how characters have their own identities and beliefs, and how these are not necessarily affected by what others think. That's very realistic. Compare it to other series where one character would have this particular mindset and how suddenly everyone is swept in by a single argument that is not even particularly brilliant or persuasive. In reality, people don't change over night, and sometimes people don't change at all. What we perceive as change may just be superficial and what is hidden underneath remains. Araya, despite his having a son and his recent awareness of fatherly responsibility, cannot erase his past nor forever hide his true nature. He cannot even bring himself to accept Rin's forgiveness just like that, so he does not ask for it, not even in his final moments. His last words of sorry were not for Rin or Manji but for Renzo.

Granted, Blade of the Immortal is gratuitously violent at times but its appeal -- at least, for me -- lies in its excellent perception on the nuances of character. Seeing this episode makes me want for more of the manga, and it makes me a little sad to find out that this series has only 13 episodes, with no news of a second season coming up.