As glad as I am that Hamasaki Hiroshi is the one in the director’s chair for this adaptation, I don’t envy his job one bit. As I’ve said before, the man clearly gets the source material, so it must be no doubt frustrating for him to have to try to condense its voluminous story into a far shorter amount of episodes than would be ideal and still have it all feel cohesive and coherent. I bring this up again now because this episode is a prime example of what should be the main challenge of this adaptation going forward: the main beats of the plot will probably all be there for the most part, but with so many lengthy dialogue scenes cut or condensed, our interest in and attachment to the characters won’t be nearly as deep as it ought to be for us to be truly moved by their triumphs and defeats, and by the exquisite suffering they endure and overcome, which this episode obviously had plenty of. And don’t get me wrong, I felt it was a powerful story nonetheless, but it was still nowhere near as hard-hitting as it would have been if we had spent more time with Hyakurin and Shinriji, who, in the manga, had already had like ten times more screentime by this point in the story (trust me, that’s not a hyperbole).
Well, with that out of the way, let’s go over the actual events of the episode, which managed to include material from various different plot threads that were volumes apart in the manga (I must confess I found Rin’s scenes here to be rather superfluous though, and wish they had dedicated that time to the supporting cast, because they sure as hell could use it). In order for that to work, though, Hamasaki had to radically alter some events, namely Manji’s side of things, with his encounter with Sori (that’s the painter from episode 2) and Magatsu being extremely simplified here, with them just randomly bumping into each other on the streets.
In the process, there was one change I feel compelled to point out made little sense, which was having Sori go out of his way to show Manji the piece of paper with Shira’s kimono pattern. As Magatsu says later, he sensed Sori knew something but wouldn’t tell him, and that’s because Sori knows Shira is the one Magatsu is looking for and knows how dangerous Shira is, so he wants Magatsu to stay away from him. Manji, however, having had his own share of troubles with Shira, doesn’t withhold that information from the former Itto-ryuu member, and instead decides to help him in his quest for revenge (he’s been doing that a lot these days).
Sadly the Amazon translation once again makes a blunder here and misses a little hint regarding the motivation of Manji, who says “It’s as if… I’m looking at my old self” while contemplating the young Magatsu’s wounded anger. No that it matters much, though, considering how Manji’s own backstory was almost completely skipped over in episode 1, which set the tone for the M.O. of this adaptation: preserve as much of Rin’s story as possible by sacrificing as much of Manji’s as they can afford to — a decision and priority I certainly can’t fault them for, since Rin’s journey is both more important and more interesting.
Anyway, it’s a good thing Manji and Magatsu have now formed an unlikely alliance of sorts to take down Shira, because the latter is up to no good again, this time selling out his comrades in the Mugai-ryuu, whose tragic tale ends up being the focus of this episode. Hyakurin had told Manji earlier that it was mistake to leave Shira alive after wounding him, and Shira himself echoes the sentiment that one should always finish one’s enemies, a viewpoint we can hardly blame the inhabits of this world for holding, so ubiquitous is the lust for revenge in it.
It’s sad we see so little of the dynamic between Hyakurin and Shinriji before they’re brutally torn apart, because it’s not only amusing but also rather endearing. The humble and shy Shinriji is clearly infatuated with Hyakurin, who in turn may not seem to take him very seriously, but clearly appreciates him in her own way. But as is often the case in fiction, tragedy strikes the two not long after Shinriji finds the courage to stutter his way into conveying his feelings for her (albeit with questionable success). A vengeful member of the Itto-ryuu whom Hyakurin neglected to finish two episodes ago gathered up a bunch of his comrades to get payback on the Mugai-ryuu, and Hyakurin ends up being captured and taken away after Shinriji loses his life trying to rescue her, in a scene that sported impressively detailed artwork.
What follows is this series at its darkest and most brutal, but thankfully, as is usually the case, the violence serves as a vehicle to tell a powerful story. Hyakurin’s strong and defiant will amidst such hellish torture is remarkable, and her reminiscences of her time together with Shinriji are bittersweet, as she wistfully reprimands her late partner for looking at her romantically despite also seeing his dead mother in her. Such was Shinriji’s affection for her that even in his last moments he sought to leave behind a clue for Giichi to find her, and once the latter does just that, we quickly realize why Shira said it might have been for the best that he was absent, for he proves to be a force no Itto-ryuu member can reckon with. The final kill, however, goes to Hyakurin herself, and no one can say she didn’t earn that one, which was also beautifully shot.
Finding moments of beauty amidst an endless cycle of brutal violence and revenge seems to be one of the chief concerns of Blade of the Immortal, and the ending of this episode was another striking example of its remarkable ability to do so. After a chilling dream sequence where we learn what Hyakurin meant when she told Rin never to fall for a samurai a few episodes back (and the likely cause of her night terrors), she wakes up to find Giichi by her side, and goes to pay her respects to their departed comrade Shinriji, leaving a strand of her beautiful blonde hair by his grave. And after seeing all the horrible things human beings are capable of throughout the episode, a moment of tender love and sorrow like that becomes all the more poignant.